Q: My ex and I have always shared our now 10-year-old daughter equally and have worked through everything amicably. Our divorce decree doesn’t even have holidays set because we have always agreed how to share our daughter’s time. He married a woman with two children six months ago and now everything has changed. He refuses to work with me and wants a set holiday schedule that matches his wife’s children’s schedule. I’m furious. What’s worse is my daughter can tell how angry I am, and it makes the back and forth between homes awkward for her for the first time in years. What’s good Ex-Etiquette?
Answer: The biggest red flag? That your daughter knows you’re angry with her father and the transition from home to home has become difficult for her. Plus, if she’s aware of the tension, she’ll probably want to know why you’re angry, and if not presented properly, it could look like it’s your ex’s wife and her kids’ fault, since this all came about since Dad remarried.
For many, that may not be a concern — who cares if my daughter doesn’t like my ex’s new wife? Truth is, you should care. If your daughter has to go back and forth between homes (by agreement or court order) why would you ever want her to be miserable for half of her life?
As irritating as it may be right now to have to conform to a schedule after things have been so casual, it may actually be easier in the long run. A schedule will allow both of you to plan your time with your daughter, and allow your daughter to know where she will be as well. At 10 she probably wants to spend the night with friends or have them over, and no schedule means she’s negotiating with both parents. “Mom, can Janie come over tonight?” “Well, honey, your dad called while you were at school and wants to take you out to dinner ...” So who looks like the bad guy? Some days it may be you — she wants to go with her dad. Some days it might be her dad — she wants to spend the night with a friend. A schedule would solve the problem, with the ability to be flexible just in case something special does come up.
The same holds true with a holiday schedule. Alternating the holidays will allow everyone to know what to expect, and this is especially important because your ex is trying to successfully combine families. Again, you may not think that is your concern, but your daughter is spending time at both homes, and as an active member of both families, it’s important that she develop positive relationships with everyone. A good way to do that is to establish holiday family traditions while celebrating together. You will have your traditions with your daughter and Dad will have his.
Bottom line, consider Ex-Etiquette rule No. 10 as a guide, “Compromise whenever possible” — always in the best interest of the children in our care.
One last thing, don’t sit around and mope when your daughter is with her dad for the holidays. Start new traditions of your own. For example, my husband and I spend the holidays with my best friend and her family every other year.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.