Ex-etiquette: Have a sense of humor over copycat

Jann Blackstone

Q. My ex-husband’s new wife copies me and it’s driving me crazy. She dresses like me, changed her hair to match mine, and my kids just announced that they recently got a new car — same model and color as the one I drive. We rarely talk, so I’m not sure how to handle it, but with the kids going back and forth, if they notice so must other people. It’s embarrassing, and I think a little strange. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. The best ex-etiquette starts with a sense of humor — and if you can’t laugh at this one, that’s a red flag. I could discuss the deep psychological implications of why she’s doing this — but bottom line, if it’s true and not just your imagination, the woman is incredibly intimidated by you — on all sorts of levels — the most obvious being she’s (either consciously or subconsciously) trying to model a life that ultimately ended in divorce. Got therapy?

All kidding aside, she’s at the mercy of whatever your ex has told her. You don’t know if he painted you as “the one that got away” or he was caught looking a little too long at an old picture of the two of you. She may be intimidated for a very good reason, and her way of competing is to imitate or possibly re-create what she was told was a better time.

If that’s the case, relying on good ex-etiquette, put yourself in her shoes (Good ex-etiquette for Parents rule #7). Ask yourself this question: Would you want to be in your place or in hers? I vote for yours.

Something that I did think was a little strange was not so much that she’s copying you, but that you rarely talk to her. If the kids are going back and forth, not talking to someone who lives with them 50 percent of the time and is a parent figure seems a little strange to me. That you can change.

Why? For your kids. You don’t have to be buddies, but being cordial will make the kids’ lives easier. If you don’t know where to start, try comparing notes about homework or an upcoming field trip or fill her in on something you don’t think Dad knows, like your child prefers a particular type of toothpaste.

The more you can positively communicate with the other home, the better off your kids will be. Plus, not talking to the other side automatically turns the child into a messenger. “Tell your mom the check is going to be late this month” or “Tell your dad not to be late to pick you up” just puts the child right in the middle.

If mom or dad is angry about what’s being passed on, who is going to hear about it?

The child. Set a kid up like that and you’re setting everyone up for failure. The child will shy away from passing on the information and only communicate what he or she thinks will prevent arguments — or he or she will lie to keep the peace. Bottom line, if you only get your information from a child you can bet a lot of the information is wrong.

Start with better communication between homes, and see if you see a change. You may want to find a good therapist to help you hash things out. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #8: Be honest and straightforward.) That’s good ex-etiquette.