Q: I have been divorced for five years. It was an amicable divorce. We both have been in long-term relationships. Our kids are grown and have their own families. My ex is still a HUGE part of my family. Goes to events, holidays if I’m not there and my family spends time with him all the time. Call me selfish but, when does this end? My boundaries seem not to matter. It hurts my feelings that my parents choose him over me.
A: I’m always surprised by how often I get asked this, or some variance of this question. It seems to all boil down to “him or me” — and I can’t believe they’re choosing him.
The truth is, they’re not, but they may be choosing both of you. That doesn’t mean they like him best, it means they recognize that he is your ex, but he is also their grandchildren’s father or their children’s uncle, and that doesn’t stop because the two of are no longer together.
The big question is, how do you maneuver that?
It seems your family has already figured that out. Your question stated that your ex “goes to events and holidays if I’m not there,” so, although you may think your family is choosing him, they are respecting your position. It also appears that they may think of him as your family representative if you aren’t there — and that can be irritating if they still see him as family and you do not — particularly if both of you have new partners.
Everyone wants these relationships clearly defined and put into nice little neat boxes — the ex-box, the new partner box — put the top on and don’t let anyone out when the other is there — certainly don’t have allegiance to old when the new one is around. But, it’s just not like that.
Unlike years ago when exes didn’t interact once divorced, today’s relationships are not necessarily severed just because two people break up. Joint custody of the children puts everyone in contact with each other, the kids go back and forth, and in the midst of all that, the extended family continues to interact with someone you wish would just move on.
But, move on to where? If you have had children, you are related for life through your children. There are those who cannot interact because of things like past domestic violence or drug and alcohol issues, but if you are or have co-parented your children, even if your kids are older and have their own families, you have set a precedent for an ongoing interaction of some sort.
It may not be every holiday, but those relationships will be lurking at your children or grandchildren or niece and nephew’s milestone events because they are related, as well. It’s your job to handle those interactions with as much grace as you can muster as a role model for your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews. 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, bonusfamilies.com.