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Ex-etiquette: Accept help and don't badmouth father in front of kids

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. My kids are always looking for excuses to get their dad and me together. Last time, because my car broke down, they thought it was just fine for all of us to drive 50 miles together to watch our daughter’s violin recital. I think it’s weird. I’d rather stay home than drive with their dad ANYWHERE and I told them so. I think exes are exes for a reason and in my case, the reason was he is a loser. I suppose you think I’m wrong. So, let me hear it. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Yep, you’re right. I think you’re wrong. Rarely do I come right out and say that, but in this case, I will.

It sounds to me like your children have a better grasp of co-parenting than you do. No one says you have to hang out together. In fact, that can be very confusing for the children and I’d advise against it, particularly right after the split and especially if your emotions run as high as it appears they do.

But if your car breaks down and you need a ride to watch your child at a special event? That’s the exact reason “Ask for help if you need it" became Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #2 of the Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents. There’s no one who loves your child as much as you do — except maybe their other parent. So it would be logical that they are the first one you ask for help if the problem involves the children you share.


Good ex-etiquette for Parents rule #3 is “No badmouthing.” Sometimes parents get caught up in their personal vendettas and don’t realize they are actually badmouthing their child’s other parent. They might be on the phone complaining about their ex to their friend and not realize the kids are in the next room hearing every word. Unfortunately, badmouthing is badmouthing, whether you are conscious you are doing it or not. When your kids hear it, they personalize it. That’s their dad or mom you are talking about — their DNA, half of them.

You said you would rather stay home than reach out to dad under any circumstance —and you knowingly said this in front of your children. Basically, you told them you would rather miss one of their special events than ride with the family to watch their sister play in her recital. How do you think your children felt hearing that? Particularly the child playing in the recital. My guess is it hurt her feelings. “Mom’s car broke down, my dad will take her, but she chooses to not see me play because she doesn’t like my dad.” That’s some legacy you’re leaving your children.

Yes, exes are exes for a reason, but you’re an ex-spouse, not an ex-parent. Don’t let the animosity you feel for their father interfere with your responsibility to your children. Spending time with an ex can certainly be irritating, but in the case of an emergency for one of the children? That’s good ex-etiquette.

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