Q: I have been with a man for 5 years. We're both divorced with kids and amicable ex relationships. He does every single holiday, kid's birthday, and adult birthday with his ex. Also, when his family comes to town, most events will include her. I'm fine with that. I'm always invited and strongly encouraged to attend. Occasionally the out of town family guests will tell me that there is a lot of bad blood between them and the ex and they would prefer she not be included. I stay mute because I think it is up to my man and his ex to decide what's appropriate. Problem is, I often don't want to participate because the situation feels awkward to me. I'm not able to relax knowing the people around me are uneasy and feel forced into these situations. Based on all this, is it really so bad that my man and his ex celebrate an occasional holiday with their mutual children without me? I am often told it is a horrible idea. I have children of my own, so if I skip a Thanksgiving dinner with my man and his ex, it allows me to have a nice meal with my children. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: When I began writing this column over twenty-five years ago, it was all very new to suggest exes celebrate holidays together for the sake of the children. Over time former couples and their families have tried it on for size and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. If it's done for the kids and parents can keep their drama out of it, it works. If it fuels the fire, it's not a good idea.
That said, it sounds like your family does it well, but you bring up a great point -- do "new" couples always have to spend the holidays together? I'm not just talking about you and your partner spending holidays with his ex. I'm talking about partners who each have children from past relationships -- do they always have to spend the holidays together?
The beauty of building a relationship today is that you really can do anything you want. If you and your partner are clear and express to those around you your clear goal for your relationship, most will get in line to support you. Those nay-sayers are usually those who approach relationships with an old-school divorce attitude. It's fear based. "Obviously, she still wants your guy." Or, "Don't leave them alone. You never know what will happen." Or, "Once divorced, you don't talk to the ex!" Truth is, with joint custody, it makes it very difficult to never interact with an ex so looking for ways to creatively celebrate the holidays is to your credit.
Here's a simple rule of thumb about celebrating the holidays with an ex: If it's a milestone, like a child's birthday, graduation, a Christening, Bah Mitzvah, Quinceanera, centered around the kids, then of course all should attend. Do you have to celebrate every possible holiday with his ex? The dog's birthday? Not if all are not on board. Good ex-etiquette is simply a model for good behavior after a break-up -- a model for calm discussion and compromise when faced with conflict. (Good Ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 10, Look for the Compromise.")
So, if this Thanksgiving, you don't want to spend the holiday with his ex, discuss it with your partner. If he wants to go -- fine. The fact that you also have children and it will give you an opportunity to spend a holiday together, is a great point. I wouldn't make a steady diet of it, however. "Occasional" is the key word.
Finally, retreating when things get uncomfortable never settles anything. It just perpetuates the problem. Make sure you're positively motivated when making this decision. That's good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c)2019 Jann Blackstone
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