Wednesday, June 19, 2013
By Jann Blackstone-Ford
Q: My 10-year-old bonusdaughter just showed me the Halloween costume her mother bought her to wear while trick-or-treating. Excuse me, but the child will look like a slut in that outfit! I have children about that age and I would never let them out in something like that. Give me some ex-etiquette tips I can work with here. I can see a huge fight coming on.
A: I haven't heard you mention one thing about your bonusdaughter's father, which is a huge red flag and suggests that there may be an ongoing battle between Mom and bonusmom concerning house rules and morals and Dad may have a tendency to stand on the sidelines and let the women fight it out. However, if Dad was more invested, there might not be the question of what's appropriate for his 10-year-old daughter to wear. So, my first ex-etiquette tip is if these parents are co-parenting, Dad has to find his voice. Both Dad and Mom have to get into the act and you, as the bonusmom, support their rules. (That's ex-etiquette rule No. 4.)
What happens if your rules are different than their rules? After all, you have kids of your own to consider. That's a tough one, and the time for peaceful negotiation. There has to be conversation, planning and clear boundaries when combining families. Then vow to support what is mutually decided or you will continue to be confronted with disagreements and chaos. It won't stop until you all work together to stop it – it is hoped – keeping the kids out of the middle.
In terms of rules for trick-or-treat attire, I can offer what we agreed upon for our collective children. If the child was young enough to go from house to house asking for candy, the child dressed in clothes appropriate for a child. Once the child grew out of the desire to go trick-or-treating, that's when clothes got a little bit crazy. There is a transition age that causes havoc in most homes and that's middle school. Most girls look far older than they really are, they want to dress provocatively like they see in the media, but it's completely inappropriate. That's when parents and bonusparents have to stand firmly together or the child will quickly learn she can play one against the other. If you hear the words, "Mom (or Dad ) lets me do it," it's an indicator the child doesn't think you will verify it with the other parent. Very bad ex-etiquette! When divorced parents peacefully problem-solve (not fight) in front of their children, it will teach the children to respect the other parent and how to negotiate with someone with whom you may not get along all the time. That's good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation." Reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org