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Ex-etiquette: Solid family life starts with parents' united front

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. My girlfriend and I will be moving in together in the next few months. We are combining four children in all -- she has a boy and a girl and so do I. My children are older and they are adamant about not sharing a room with "little kids." I have promised them that they would not have to. My girlfriend does not agree. There is a basement that I can finish off for one more bedroom, but my girlfriend works from home and wants to make that room an office. What's good ex-etiquette?

A. Well there are few red flags here -- the first one, that you promised your children something that was improbable without your girlfriend being in agreement. I suspect that was done out of guilt and not wanting to upset their life any more than a divorce and shared custody already has. But, even if you were still with their mother, family configurations change. You may have had another child, a relative may have to live with you, one of the kids goes away to school, life moves on and things simply change. Telling them that it won't is just plain not true. More importantly, however, you forgot who the primary relationship was. Yes, your kids are incredibly important, but your family will be the most solid when the parent figures are on the same page. It starts with an agreement with you and your girlfriend, and together you look for solutions to combine the family that will allow both of your children to feel safe and secure in their environment.

My suggestion is for the perfect scenario, and it may be improbable for you at this time, but I'm putting it out there for both you and others who may be at a crossroads like yours. It's not always advisable to move a new partner and/or their children into one of the partner's homes. That's their territory, people can be very possessive of their space even though they don't know it, and without the proper mental preparation, it can be a disaster. They may not like how you clean the sink, fold their shirts, eat in front of the TV, and small things can drive a wedge between even the most loving couples -- and kids just exacerbates the problems. That means, ideally, look for a space that accommodates all of you and starts out as both of yours. Granted, this will take a lot of preparation, but unless you can come to an agreement in exactly how things will be done -- from who will share rooms to chores and responsibilities -- prior to moving in, it will not be fun for anyone.

It also sounds as if you will be combining children in different stages of development. This can be troublesome for both young and old. Teen behavior is often far more provocative than elementary school children's behavior. Living in the same room will impact both of their abilities to be themselves and "act their age."

The bottom line -- get on the same page with your girlfriend, then break the news to the kids. Teens will want to weigh-in, which is developmentally appropriate, but ultimately, it's your call. You can always put off moving in together. Make sure it's really the right time for everyone. 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, Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website at

(c)2020 Jann Blackstone

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