Q: My ex and I broke up two years ago. We have a son who will be 6 next week. We are very close — I’m his coach and his mother is the team mom, even though we are divorced.

My ex is planning to throw him a party at her place. She has a new boyfriend now, and he will probably be there. Can I go, too? Will it be too confusing for my son?

A: It’s your ex’s home, and it’s really up to her to do the inviting, but you are Dad — and an active one at that. If your child’s mother and you have been attending parties together for the last two years, then it shouldn’t stop just because Mom has a new boyfriend. It’s the boyfriend’s attendance that is questionable — unless now that Mom is involved with someone else, she would rather celebrate separately. If that is the case, that’s what will be confusing to your son.

You have already set a precedent — you have continued to attend special occasions together even after the breakup for the last two years. If you stop now because the new boyfriend will be there, your son may equate your absence with the new boyfriend’s presence and resent the boyfriend. You may not care if that happens, but if Mom’s trying to make it work with this new guy, she will want your son to like him. And, truthfully, if he’s a serious boyfriend with the intent of being with Mom long term, it’s in your son’s best interest to develop a positive relationship with him. 

Many people can easily navigate the breakup, but find that once one or both parents find new partners, the trouble begins. The jealousy that is really difficult to overcome relates to how much the children care for the new partner. That’s when moms and dads who were previously rational about the breakup become irrational, worrying if their child will like the new partner best.

The truth is, children know who their parents are, and the more they are allowed to feel comfortable with the people in their life, the better adjusted they will be. If Mom or Dad makes their anxiety obvious, that’s when kids feel stressed and develop betrayal issues. That’s when it’s not uncommon for a child whose parents have broken up to feel guilty when it’s time to go to the other parent’s home and end up feeling unsettled in both homes. 

Our children are always watching how we handle ourselves and will model our behavior — positive or negative. Holidays and special occasions are particularly stressful times and, therefore, perfect opportunities for divorced parents to demonstrate cooperation in the best interest of their children.

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:

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