Q. Today when I came home from work, I walked into my bonusdaughter and daughter having a serious conversation. They are both 15 and have developed a great friendship. My bonusdaughter was very upset. Evidently, she got in a fight with her mother, but she didn't feel comfortable talking to me about it. She did, however, confide in my daughter. How do I handle this? Do I push? Do I stand back? If it were my daughter, I would be more persistent about trying to help her sort through her feelings, but it's my bonusdaughter and I don't want to pry. What's good ex-etiquette?
A. Really good question!
So many feel the rules are different with bio kids and bonus kids, but it's not as much as you think. Both bio and bonus divorced parents tend to walk on egg shells if a certain dynamic has been established; it's once parents are no longer together, threat of their children going to the other home lurks.
The older the child gets, the more they may use this tact and parents often find themselves being more lenient than they would like for fear of angering a child and off they go to the other home.
But your child deserves both parents. That's why it is so important that parents put their own issues aside and support each other in raising their children to respect them.
But that is so difficult to do when you're angry with your ex and really don't respect them yourself. The key is to love your child more than you disrespect the ex. It's a tall order, but possible, if you truly put your children first. (Good ex-etiquette for parents rule #1)
In your case, the solution is to get the teen talking about how they feel so that you have the full picture and can help as best you can. That help may include simply staying out of it, but you need as much information as possible to make that judgment.
A child will not confide in you if he or she thinks you will betray their confidence -- plus, telling you as the mother figure in the house about a problem that your bonusdaughter has with her own mother brings up all sorts of allegiance and betrayal issues. Your daughter is a more neutral party and she has become a friend. That's why she was privy to your bonusdaughter's confidences and not you.
But try not to let frustration impact your better judgment. Have patience and lay the groundwork for ensuring your bonusdaughter's (and any teen) confidence by:
1. Appearing to stay neutral.
2. Establishing trust by being a mentor rather than a dictator
3. Not diminishing her concerns
4. Asking for her opinion on how to solve the problem
5. Listen to her solution
6. Temper her solution with adult knowledge if it is needed.
Finally, both girls must know that protecting someone's secrets when they're in danger or making bad choices is not healthy for anyone, and if a family member is in trouble, you may have to intercede. Even a therapist may break the therapist/patient confidence if the patient is a "danger to themselves or others." That should be an understood rule in your home. 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 email@example.com.)
(c)2020 Jann Blackstone
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