Q After my husband and his ex split, she moved just far enough away to make it difficult for my husband to see his two kids. His ex quickly moved in with another man and has encouraged this guy to actively participate. The kids call him Daddy, which drives my husband crazy, and the ex is doing everything she can to cut my husband out of the kids' lives. A particular irritant is that we have not seen a report card in two years. What's good ex-etiquette?
A There's a lot going on here, so I'm going to start with the most obvious: Good ex-etiquette begins with putting the kids first, and rarely is that done by moving away. Although wanting a new start after a breakup is understandable, if done without taking into consideration how that move will impact the kids' relationship with their other parent, it's really pretty selfish. Complicate that with a common belief that once a parent moves away it's the parent who has been left behind who has the responsibility to figure out how to see the kids (which is not necessarily so), and you have the makings of a first-class divorce war.
Some background: Although this is changing, most of us are raised to believe the best kind of family is a mommy and a daddy and two point how many children. Once there's a breakup and guilt sets in, it's not uncommon for some parents to try to re-create that "best kind of family" by recoupling, getting the new parent figure involved and actively acing out the other parent.
This is often done quite subtly. Parents may suggest their child call the new partner Mommy or Daddy and refer to the bioparent by their first name. Or the new partner becomes the coach for the child's Little League games while the other parent isn't informed about the extracurricular activities. Information becomes power, and whoever knows the most about the child is the better parent. Parents control that power by withholding information about their child.
The truth is, your children will be healthier if they retain a loving relationship with both parents after a break and the new stepparent, as well. Therefore, the more information about the children a parent shares, the better parent he or she is.
This all boils down to your husband has a right to see the kids on a regular basis. Unfortunately, how often is dependent on how far away mom has chosen to move. But he can see them, and regular contact is important.
Finally, Dad does not have to depend on Mom to send report cards. Dad probably has joint legal custody. He can call the school, introduce himself to the teacher by phone and have the teacher send all school info directly to him by email. Middle schools and high schools have online portals where parents can monitor their child's progress online. Skype is also an excellent tool to aid in long-distance parenting. Call the kids!
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.