Q My ex asked me if the kids could come over for an hour or two and spend some time with his wife on Mother's Day. Is he kidding me? We have been divorced for five years and I hate that they spend time with her. I guess I have to get used to it because the kids seem to really like her -- and I don't foresee them breaking up in the near future. Do you have any ex-etiquette tips to deal with this? I'm jealous beyond belief, but I know I have to get a handle on it. Help!
A So many moms and bonus moms write me about this around Mother's Day. Thank you for being so honest. Ironically, Mother's Day started as a day of peace. In the late 1870s, a proclamation was written suggesting that mothers come together to end war. Here are some tips that will hopefully help both parties set a peaceful pace all year round.
It starts with Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 1: Put the children first.
1. Put the kids first. Set your jealousies aside so that, in their own way, the children can acknowledge the good both mom and bonus mom bring to their lives.
2. Teach children to see their relationship with each of you as two separate relationships -- not either/or. Remember, it's not a competition. Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 4 very clearly explains: Parents make the rules, bonus parents uphold them. Each of you has a place in the children's lives. Don't let your actions make the kids feel as if they have to choose between the two of you.
3. Give your child permission to have a relationship with their mom or bonus mom. Kids look to their parents for direction and approval. Giving them permission to form a loving bond with their stepparent -- or to openly discuss their devotion to their bio parent, makes for happy, secure children, and eliminates those gut-wrenching allegiance issues that make kids feel that caring for one betrays the other.
4. Dads play a huge part. Kids model their parents' behavior, therefore the attitude of the bio parent -- in this case, Dad -- may be key to how a child views the bio mom/bonus mom relationship. Set precedent all year long by teaching children to respect their bio mother ... yes, that woman you no longer live with ... all the while having a clear understanding of the part your new partner now plays in your children's lives. Now you are doing your part to cut those allegiance issues to a minimum every day, but especially when Mother's Day rolls around.
5. Know that it takes time. Some recent studies point to it taking seven years before a stepfamily congeals into a working unit. This includes positively interacting with the child's other parent and/or an ex's new partner. Unfortunately, while we are getting our stuff together, time doesn't stop for our children. Go at your own pace, with your mutual goal being to put the kids' needs first. If and when you feel comfortable sharing the day, that's when you should attempt it. Not before.