Q: My husband is still in love with his ex. He says he’s not, but I think he’s lying. Evidently, she cheated and he left, but when she drops off the kids, he insists she come to the door. Sometimes he invites her in while the kids get their stuff. When he can’t pick up the kids, she’s the first one he calls — never me. They always celebrate the holidays at my husband’s parents’ home and it drives me crazy that she’s there. He says they do it for the kids, but I think it’s more. I don’t want anything to do with her. The last time she left the littlest one, who is 5, said, “You don’t like my Mommy, do you?” I didn’t know what to say. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: If your resentment is so obvious that a 5-year-old can see it, it’s time to make some changes. A child says something like that to you, even if you hate the ex’s guts, you find a way to ease the child’s concern.
Have to say it: Some things you mention aren’t necessarily indicators of left-over love. If the kids are 5-ish, wanting the other parent to come to the door when they return home is good judgment. The kids are too young to walk across the street, or even up a driveway in the dark by themselves. And, inviting her in is polite if she’s waiting outside. Why would you treat her differently than you would treat anyone else in that situation … especially if the kids are watching?
Next, being available to pick up the kids when the other parent can’t, again, is not an indicator of love for the parent as much as it’s an indicator of love for the kids. It’s putting the kids first. (ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 1) and a great example of following ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 2, “Ask for help if you need it.” The first person you should call is the kids’ other parent. It’s understandable that you’re upset that your husband doesn’t call you. That will come in time. If there should be a new approach because you’re available, speak up. Volunteer to help instead of being resentful that you’re not included.
So, the holidays are coming up and you’re dreading spending it with her at you husband’s parent’s home. It sounds like that was their practice before you came into the picture. Getting in the middle of well-established tradition can cause huge problems for a new marriage, not to mention resentment from family members that may be difficult to undo. Of course, now that you are married, things can certainly change, but go slow and be patient. It may help you reframe all this is you refer to the ex as the kids’ mother. Sometimes that small shift eases the sting.
Finally, just remember, “Resentment is letting someone live in your mind — rent free.” I like that one a lot and the reason I included, “Don’t hold grudges” as rule No. 6 of the Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette. Sounds more like she’s trying to be a good co-parent instead of a love connection. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com.