Ex-etiquette: When you can't stand your ex

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

Q. Reading your column, it is obvious that you are an advocate of both parents spending time together with the children after a breakup. I have no desire to spend time with my ex. We bring out the worst in each other and I don’t want the kids to see that. So, if you can’t or don’t want to, what is good ex-etiquette?

A. I’m an advocate of cooperative co-parenting. That does not necessarily mean spending time together. Some co-parents may do a great job of working together, but spending holidays together just doesn’t work for them. As a matter of fact, there are quite a few reasons why spending time together after a breakup is not a good idea — beginning with the impression it gives the kids. Just about every child I have worked with wants their parents to reconcile, but it is often not in the cards.

Therefore, spending time together could give the children false hope that mom and dad will get back together. That’s why it is so important to make sure there has been enough time after the breakup so the kids and parents can settle into a new routine. The goal is to present a relaxed, united front for the kids. That means if you are attending your child’s Little League game, for example, sit nearby, cordially cheer them on, but be mindful of what too friendly says to the kids, especially if you or your co-parent has a new significant other.

On the other hand, you are right — the last thing your children should see is their parents at odds. This includes not only special events, but when you exchange the kids. Sometimes parents wait for exchanges to talk to each other. They let their animosity build and become completely irrational at exchanges — all in front of the kids. Then they are surprised when their children say they don’t want to go to the other home. It’s not the other home many shy away from, it’s the volatile exchanges.


Other than holidays, there are other days that actually require co-parents to both attend. School plays, graduations and sporting events, just to name a few. Plus, the child’s other milestones, like religious coming-of-age ceremonies or as they get older, weddings or funerals. These are times when our children need both their parents and even if you don’t want to be in the same vicinity of your ex, you have to remember it’s not about you. It’s about, “putting the kids first” (Good Ex-Etiquette for Parents rule No. 1) and being there for them. They didn’t ask you to break up. That’s why it is your obligation to look for ways to allow them to flourish amid the choice that YOU and YOUR CO-PARENT made. Acting civil is a good beginning.

To help any holiday or milestone run smoothly, parents who don’t live together need a solid plan to follow. This is the reason holidays are included in your children’s parenting plan. Being organized will ensure that the kids feel secure. Look for ways to coordinate efforts and make the appropriate adjustments. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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