Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation.
Q. I just finished reading your book “Ex-Etiquette for Parents.” Kudos for this clear and concise guide to etiquette for blended families and showing how it can be done! Having been a bonusmom for 18 years now, I was proud to read that we did many things “right” in terms of co-parenting. My husband and ex-wife did not communicate or work particularly well together, and I ended up being the one to mediate in an effort to help the “team” reach win-win situations for everyone.
However, now that the kids are 20 and 25 years old, we are finding the ex-wife continues to want to be connected to his family. She lives alone and is not remarried, but it is upsetting when we come in town to visit that she’s invited to all the family functions.
Any advice for us to navigate and make the boundaries clear long after the child custody is no longer in effect??
A. Oh my, and you started your letter as if you “got” it, then I fear I lost you. Child custody stops when children turn 18, but being a bonusfamily is forever. If you are concerned about seeing Mom at special events now that the children have reached adulthood, just remember—she was at their birth. She’ll be at their weddings, at their baby’s births, baptisms, or bar mitzvahs. She may even be present at a holiday or two–because she is their mother.
So when is it going to stop? You might be able to get a better perspective if you reframe your question. Basically you’re asking, “When should my children’s grandparents (or aunts and uncles) stop inviting their mother to family functions?” And, you can probably anticipate my answer. If at all possible, never.
Granted, not all can be as progressive as your family has been over the years, and it sounds as if you have personally contributed to your family’s success. It also sounds as if you’re tired now, and it’s understandable now you might wish you could just live your life without out all the bonusfamily issues–but you can’t. You married a man with children—and that usually means a man with an ex. If you’re putting the children first (Good ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1) and you’ve supported the biological parents in their efforts to co-parent (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #4), that doesn’t stop when the kids become adults because life doesn’t stop when those kids become adults. Those adult kids have kids and your husband and his ex will be their grandparents. That was established long before you came into the picture. Hopefully you will be thought of as a grandparent, as well. Cooperation is good ex-etiquette.
You were asking for clear boundaries–so, does that mean you can never celebrate the kids’ benchmarks without mom around? Private celebrations are always in order—at your own home or if you are hosting a dinner at a restaurant, but don’t expect others to censor their guest list, (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #9, “Respect the other’s turf”) especially if you have lead the way toward bonus status all these years.