Q: My ex and I broke up four years after his infidelity. Unfortunately, this played out in front of our youngest daughter, who is now 21 and has a very strained relationship with her father. He has forgotten a lot of how he acted, particularly fueled by alcohol at the time, and does not understand our daughter's attitude. He thinks it's something I've said, which is laughable at this point. I have since remarried and my daughter and my husband get along quite well, but my ex will not be around my husband and forces the kids to choose where they will spend special occasions. This weekend our daughter had an emergency appendectomy and as my husband and I rushed to the hospital, she called and asked me to call her father. According to good Ex-Etiquette, should I have called?
Answer: Normally I would say no - fixing your adult daughter's relationship with her father is between them, and certainly not your responsibility. If she was well enough to call you, she was well enough to call her dad. Period. But, if their relationship is estranged and she is in the hospital, I'm not surprised she asked you to be the intermediary.
It's still a dangerous place for you to be and could backfire. If you and your ex were cordial, it would be standard practice to call him if your daughter was in the hospital - it's their estranged relationship that complicates things. Maybe this emergency will be the catalyst for everyone to put their issues aside and come together in the name of a sick child.
Under these circumstances, it would be good Ex-Etiquette to contact dad, but how you pass on the information is crucial. The conversation should stick to the facts - if she is out of danger, the name of the hospital, when the operation will be, contact information of the doctor so he can talk to him or her in person. If he starts to fuss, consider Ex-Etiquette rule No. 3, no badmouthing; rule No. 5 don't hold grudges; and No. 6, don't be spiteful. Resist the chance to editorialize about how he screwed up and if he and your daughter were talking, he would have known about this from the beginning.
You also should let him know that your husband and you will be present. (Those who subscribe to good Ex-Etiquette act like grown-up human beings when required to be in each other's presence, particularly in front of their children.)
Something else to consider, after checking with adult children who have faced the situation you describe: If a beloved bonusparent is denied entry during an emergency because of the desires of their other parent, it may actually further estrange the other parent from the child. I've heard it many times. Kids get really tired of their parents acting like children.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.