Q: I am seeing a single mom of a 6-year-old boy. She lives in another city and the boy’s father lives in another country. He sees his son twice a year, usually with his new wife. A solo trip (no wife) brought him here, so he is spending five days visiting his son, all to the good. However, he is staying at the house rather than a hotel. Though mom (my girlfriend) left when the boy was less than 1 year old and father has remarried, staying in the same house seems grossly inappropriate. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: I think you are looking for someone to agree with you that the father staying at the mother’s home is inappropriate, and that could be true, however, not enough was told as to why Dad has opted to stay at mom’s home, so to make a blanket statement as to the rightness or wrongness of it is impossible. Of course most would think it’s inappropriate — this is your girlfriend and her ex is sleeping over — however, if this was common practice prior to your coming into the picture, attempting to dictate policy now is not good ex-etiquette. How the parents co-parent their child is up to them (Ex-Etiquette rule No. 4, “Parents make the rules, bonus parents uphold them.”) It’s up to you to do your best to support their choices in the best interest of the child.
What if you can’t? What if the rules go against your moral grain? For example, your new partner is more friendly than you would like with an ex or possibly parties more than you think is good when the kids are around. Those topics are often deal breakers and need to be discussed at the beginning of a relationship. Don’t nag-if you have to tell anyone the “proper” way to act, it’s not worth it. Enlist ex-etiquette rule No. 8, “Be honest and straight forward.” Talk to your girlfriend about your expectations and listen to why she has made the made the choice to have her child’s father stay.
Finally, I caution you about jumping to conclusions about what’s happening at mom’s house. Dad staying over doesn’t automatically mean the parents are intimate. Staying there may just be a matter of convenience, or finances may be at the root of this. When all is said and done, if you don’t agree with your girlfriend’s choice, you always have the option to leave. Sounds harsh, but that choice is always there.
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: