January 23, 2011

Exetiquette: 'Bonus parents' must respect bio-boundaries

By JANN BLACKSTONE-FORD and SHARYL JUPE

Q: Is it good ex-etiquette for my ex's new wife to do everything for my children? I mean, she's volunteering in their class and picking them up from school and helping them with their homework, and taking them out shopping. It's all on their dad's time, but by the time they return to my home, there's nothing for me to do! I want my kids back and for her to stay out of it. What do I do?

A: Something co-parents often forget before they remarry is to consider how this remarriage will impact the co-parenting agreement that has already been in place. Until remarriage, boundaries are often clear (you take Billy to his doctor appointment, I'll take Lucy to gymnastics). However, the responsibilities of the new parent figures are rarely considered, and that's when moms and bonus moms or dads and bonus dads start to butt heads -- especially if you have a bonus parent who is truly invested in the children's welfare. That can feel overwhelming to a bio- parent and create resentment.

It's confusing for bonus parents as well. They may have children of their own who must visit the doctor or dentist or participate in after-school sports, and it seems crazy to leave one set of kids home while they take their own bio-kids to the same places their bonus kids must go. For this reason, it's important to have clear boundaries in place before the marriage -- and the reason we included Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 4 -- "Bio- parents make the rules, bonus parents uphold them" -- into the 10 Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette for Parents.

It's the only rule that comes with a postscript: If bonus parents are left in charge, they must be empowered to make decisions for the welfare of the children, based on the boundaries established by the bio- parents. This becomes especially tricky when bonus parents have kids of their own and there are rules in place before combining families. That's why it's so important for everyone to get on the same page, preferably before the parents officially move in together and combine families. And, that means doing something that very few exes (and their new partners) want to do: talk to each other and look for a compromise in the best interest of all the kids in their care.

In regard to your particular problem, something that worked for us was to openly divide the responsibilities. We began by considering what we were good at, and created our own niches. Jann was the bookworm; she helped the kids with their special school reports. Sharyl was in charge of making the hair, doctor and dentist appointments. Since all the parents worked, we all picked up the slack whenever necessary, but we rarely crossed over into the other's responsibility. And we learned never to assume anything; if there is a question, always ask.

 

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