February 17, 2013

Ex-Etiquette: Partner's wrong to ask that ex not see child


Q: I'm a lesbian with a son from previous hetero marriage. My ex-partner and I raised my son together for 7 years. We split up 2 years ago, but she is still in my son's life and spends a few hours with him every other week. My new partner is resentful of even the small amount of time my son spends with his ex-stepmom and demands that I no longer allow my son to see or have anything to do with her. Should I end my son's relationship with his ex-stepmom in order to make my new partner happy?

A: In a word? No. If you have to end a relationship, may I suggest you think about finding someone who doesn't ask you to consider her needs over the needs of your child? That's a huge red flag – and my answer has nothing to do with the fact that you are a lesbian. Any partner who asks you to end your child's contact with a past partner when that past partner and child have developed a productive, supportive, loving relationship, needs to check their motives -- and you need to consider if they are the right choice for a partner. Now granted, without cultivation, the relationship between your child and former partner may slow down on its own, but it's certainly not up to your new partner to demand it. That's very poor ex-etiquette.

Open requests to end interaction with past partners are usually based on the fear that the former partners may reconcile, possibly fueled by their mutual love for the child. Fear of reconciliation is not uncommon when a relationship is new, but if allowed to fester, it will eventually undermine the new relationship.

It's your responsibility to make sure you aren't doing anything to contribute to your new partner's insecurity. Openly show her that the reason you continue to interact with your ex is for your child. Truth be told, a new partner trying to prevent interaction rarely prevents reconciliation. It does however, put stress on something that's new and fragile -- and when pressure is applied to something fragile, it usually breaks.

Ex-etiquette rule No. 4 is "bioparents make the rules, bonusparents uphold them." That means it's up to the bioparents to establish clear boundaries and up to their partners to do their best to respect the rules that are in place.

Something your new partner may not be taking into consideration: If your child knows your new partner is behind his not being able to see your ex, it could undermine any relationship she's trying to build with him. Children have enough love to go around -- it's the adults that complicate things. 

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation." Reach her at:



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