Q: My husband’s ex has an annoying habit that neither my husband nor I know how to handle. Every Father’s Day she calls my husband to wish him a “Happy Father’s Day” and sweet talks him for a few minutes. They have been divorced for more than 10 years and the kids are in college, yet it happens every year! It is our well-founded belief that she does this just to rub me the wrong way. Should we tell her to stop or allow it to continue to keep the peace?

A: There are times that wishing an ex Happy Mother’s Day or Happy Father’s Day is offered as a gesture of respect, but the act can be easily misunderstood as “games” by a new partner. The way you describe it, it does sound as if the ex is getting flirty on purpose, but more often than not, a parent simply uses the day as a catalyst to tell the other parent that he or she is doing a good job. However, compliments of that sort can be given on any day, not just Mother’s Day or Father’s Day when emotion runs high and new partners could perceive the acknowledgement as playing games or an attempt to reconcile. Truthfully, it’s all in how you say it. If it’s an honest attempt at reconciliation, that’s one thing. If it’s not and you’re playing games, that’s bad ex-etiquette.

Now to answer your specific question: Since both of you are convinced that your husband’s ex has an ulterior motive, asking her to stop is certainly in order. To begin, good ex-etiquette suggests that your husband be the one to establish appropriate boundaries. If you say something, he may appreciate your loyalty, but if the ex is playing games, your obvious anger will just fuel the fire. Next, get clear about what you both want stopped before he has the conversation. Do you want the phone calls to cease all together or just the interaction kept to “about the kids”? Remember, the kids are grown and out of the house, and your interaction with your husband’s ex should be minimal — but, for the sake of the kids, no matter their age, demanding that parents do not talk at all is impractical and very bad ex-etiquette. So if that’s what you are looking for, check your motives. It could be this yearly phone call plays in your head all year long and your jealousy is getting the best of you. All this could be as simple as your husband replying, “Thank you” and politely hanging up the phone.

When things really get complicated is when parents have to juggle multiple kids from multiple relationships. That’s when it is especially important to rely on Ex-etiquette rule No. 1: Put the children first. Use the kids as the criteria for your decisions and interactions and it will eliminate the search for ulterior motives — on Father’s Day or any day.

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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