Q: My ex and I always worked through everything together. Our divorce decree doesn't even have holidays set, as we agreed to talk it out and work through it. Now that he is married, he refuses to work with me on anything. The other night my 9-year-old daughter called to say goodnight and then proceeded to tell me that her stepmom was taking her for a haircut the next day. I was very hurt and upset and feel that her stepmother is overstepping her bounds. What's good Ex-Etiquette?
A: Good Ex-Etiquette would be to establish boundaries between homes, and stick to them. In other words, assign tasks so that the parents and parent figures know what their responsibilities are and then offer them to the children in their care. Then the mom and bonusmom, or dad and bonusdad, offer the kids their best and are not in competition with each other.
For example, when my bonuskids were young and went back and forth between their parents' homes on a weekly basis, their mom and I bumped heads until we assigned ourselves various tasks — and stuck to them so we wouldn't step on each other's toes. We actually sat down with each other and agreed that I was in charge of schoolwork — reports, tutoring, etc. — and she was adamant that she was in charge of their personal grooming. That meant if the kids needed haircuts, it waited until they went back to Mom's. By the same token, if they had a report due, they hung out at my house so I could help them with it. We never had another issue if we stuck to our agreement.
These agreements are, of course, based on the type of parenting plan in place. The one I lived by wouldn't work if the kids saw their mom every other weekend or possibly spent a month in the summer with her. So, it's important that parents who are no longer together remember that life is actually a well-choreographed dance between houses that you fine-tune to fit your lifestyle. Although many who are no longer together believe they won't have to interact with their ex once they break up, the truth is, it's in the best interest of the kids if parents coordinate efforts and do their best to compare notes.
It may be human nature to feel in competition with an ex's new partner (or your partner's ex) but you can overcome it by not comparing yourselves to each other in any way. (She's thinner, he has a better job, they had kids and we don't.) It undermines your self-confidence. Be who you are and offer the kids your best. Rely on Ex-Etiquette rule No. 10: Compromise whenever possible. Let the rest of it go.