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Ex-etiquette: Son has moved on, but mom hasn't

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. My 21-year-old son who lives with me recently broke up with his girlfriend of two years. This was not a mutual split. He has found another, moved on and his past girlfriend is very hurt. I understand his decision, but I dearly miss his former girlfriend. She was part of our family for two years and I feel like I've lost a child. I would like to stay in touch. My son says he doesn't care, but I don’t want to encourage the past girlfriend on my son’s behalf. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Your problem is no different than what any “in-law” faces when their child breaks up with someone. You are attached, they move on for whatever reason, and you miss them.

I’m an advocate of in-laws staying in touch with their children’s past partners, but that is based on the best interest of the children produced from the relationship. Then you are grandma staying in touch with your grandchildren’s mother or father. When there are no children, you really have to do some soul searching.

So, let’s take a look at this…


First, you said the breakup was not mutual. Therefore, your ongoing relationship with your son’s past girlfriend may give her false hope of getting back together with your son. Your conversations will inevitably include him. She’ll know what he’s doing, follow him through social media through being friends with you, etc. That will keep him forefront in her mind and if she really does want to get over him, your presence will make that more difficult—at least for now.

Second, now that your son has moved on, you will probably want to bond with the new girlfriend, as well. By encouraging a relationship with her boyfriend’s past girlfriend, she may perceive your attachment as betrayal: “You like her better, so I don’t like you.” New girlfriend doesn’t like boyfriend’s mom equals new girlfriend and son will not be around much. To complicate the issue, your son lives with you. If you want that to continue, it’s not a good idea to alienate the girlfriend. Plus, he could eventually end up living with this girlfriend or possibly marrying her and then you will definitely not see him as often as you like. So, this all boils down to tread softly in the past.

The 10 rules of good ex-etiquette to which I often refer in this column are a guide for dealing with ex relations. Good Ex-etiquette Rule No. 8 is, “Be honest and straightforward.” In this case that means don’t try to secretly maintain the old relationship while cultivating the new. One or both will find out and both may feel betrayed. If you do talk to your son’s former girlfriend, be honest. “I love you and miss you, but I think it is best we let some time pass before we speak on a regular basis” tells her honestly how you feel, leaves the door open possibly down the road, and curbs any feelings of rejection. Then watch how your son’s new relationship progresses. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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