Q. My ex and I broke up two years ago. I see my kids three weekends a month, picking them up after school on Friday and taking them to school on Monday. I just remarried. My wife's kids live with us most of the time. I don't see my kids as much as I would like and it's been a fight for additional time since day one. Now that we are sequestered in place because of this virus, I feel guilty that I live with my wife's kids full-time and rarely see my own. What's good ex-etiquette?
A. Coping with coronavirus life has changed things, to be sure. But parents confided the same concern you have expressed for years prior to being asked to stay home to protect us all from this illness. No one likes to be told when they can see their kids, but if there is a parenting plan in place, according to the law, that's what you have to do -- to a point. If parents agree to deviate from their parenting plan, they can. The beauty of truly co-parenting is that the parents view each other as their ally, not their enemy, and recognize that if they work together and are flexible with time, both parents, but especially the kids, are happier.
But, that doesn't alleviate any guilt you might feel because you live with your wife's children and see them more often than your own. This usually happens when a parent recognizes how much the break-up affected their kids and thinks every possible moment with their children will in some way make up for the choice to get divorced. It won't. But you can alleviate your child's anxiety not by demanding additional time, but relaxing and look for ways to optimize each other's time with the kids, not restrict it.
That's how you deal with the time factor, but how do you overcome your personal sense of guilt? Guilt is linked to someone's moral code -- their feelings of right or wrong -- and when coping with guilt you're coping with how you process your personal choices.
Here's a good place to start when analyzing your guilt concerning this particular issue:
Are you feeling this way because of the reason mentioned above -- your choices -- or is it because something your children have said?
If a child is telling either parent that they want to see the other parent more often, it's the parents' job to put their own issues aside and examine why their child is saying this. If you can see your current parenting plan is causing your child anxiety, change it.
Either way, in order to process guilt properly you must first forgive yourself, but more importantly commit to not making the same mistakes over and over again. This is not to say don't divorce again. That's too broad of a statement. More, it's saying, take a look at why you got a divorce and try to change THAT behavior. It may be time to sit down with a therapist, examine why you are feeling like this, and put a plan in place to better address it. 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)2020 Jann Blackstone
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