Q: My boyfriend has been divorced for four years. We have lived together for two years. He has three kids, ages 5, 7 and 9. His ex-mother-in-law takes care of his kids when they are not with their mother, which is the majority of the time. The evening visits are usually at the ex-mother-in-law’s home. The ex just adopted two more kids — an 8-month-old and a 2-year-old. These kids are also at the ex-mother-in-law’s home and are now bonding with my boyfriend’s children. His ex is also in and out of this house while he is there. He knows this setup makes me uncomfortable. Should I accept? Or should he change?
A: Lots of red flags here! I’ll do my best to help you deal with the most obvious ones. First, “Should I accept or should he change?” Anytime you have to ask someone to change, take a look at it. Yes, there are times when someone might be insensitive and you have to call the insensitivity to their attention, but that’s not what’s happening here. You’re asking who is right and who is wrong — the rules of good ex-etiquette can definitely help point you in the right direction.
Good ex-etiquette rule number four is “Bio parents make the rules, bonus parents support them.” This means as the new partner you shouldn’t interfere with an already established child care arrangement — especially if the child care is grandma. It’s understandable that it makes you uncomfortable that the ex is around, however, that’s life in the wonderful world of co-parenting and if you’ve been living with this guy for two years, this shouldn’t be new to you. Either you’re not listening or your boyfriend’s not talking. Do your best to get on the same page.
It may be that your boyfriend needs to be more clear when establishing boundaries — not only with the ex, but with you. Everyone has to understand their role and do their best to stay within the lines or else people start stepping on toes, and that’s when you have problems. If you’re adamant that you don’t like an already established setup, it may provoke your boyfriend to be less than honest with you — and as a result, he may not share his motivation for his decisions. That’s why, if you want the new relationship to continue, let dad and mom make the decisions and you do your best to help. If you can’t go along comfortably, don’t give ultimatums, refer to ex-etiquette rule number 10, “Look for the compromise.” If you don’t want to compromise, that’s a red flag that it may be time to move on.
In regard to the ex adopting children and their bonding with your boyfriend’s children: It sounds as if you don’t approve and if that is true, once again, refer to ex-etiquette rule number 4. Once the adoption is finalized the adopted children are adopted siblings. Based on that, it’s right that they bond with their siblings, and grandma’s home is a perfect place to initiate and reinforce that bond.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distributed by MCT Information Services