Q: My husband shares equal custody with his ex, but she’s a loser with a capital “L.” She was just caught shoplifting and we suspect she’s drinking again. Unfortunately, the kids overheard their dad and me talking about her and they’ve been very distant. My husband would petition for custody, but his ex now lives with her mother and the kids love their grandma. We would hate to block the kids’ time with grandma, but we worry about their safety when grandma is not around. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: Red flag! You acknowledged the kids love for grandma, but not for mom. She may be messing up, but that doesn’t mean the kids don’t want to see her. If the kids are not safe with her, then it would be good ex-etiquette to step in, however, don’t be so presumptuous to think the kids will only be affected by not seeing their grandmother.

Just because dad petitions for primary custody doesn’t mean anyone’s time with the kids has to completely stop. It could simply mean that for now, until mom gets her stuff together, the parents agree that the kids stay with dad and visit grandma when they can arrange it — and they visit mom when grandma is around. Nothing has to be permanent — and, the truth is, it shouldn’t be. Even if there weren’t the problems that you describe, parents must learn to make adjustments as the needs of the parents or the children change.

Truth is, I have the utmost respect for parents who can make the call to let the kids stay with the other parent because they see he or she is temporarily more stable. When it gets really tricky is when the parent won’t return to the former parenting plan even though the other parent made all the adjustments required. Quite a few of the 10 rules of good ex-etiquette speak to this situation. Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 5 is, “Don’t hold grudges,” No. 6 is, “Don’t be spiteful,” No. 8 is, “Be honest and straight forward, and rule No. 10, “Look for the compromise.” All of these rules offer insight into the way to handle this situation. For information on how to implement change using the Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents, go to the Bonus Families website ( key word: ten rules.

Finally, there’s another important rule of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents that seems to have been overlooked — No. 3, “Don’t badmouth.” It’s human nature to want to vent, but if you’re doing it within earshot of the kids, it’s sure to backfire.

Dr. Jann Blackstone isthe founder of Bonus Families, Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website at

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