Q My husband and I would like you to weigh in on a disagreement we are having. I think he should no longer buy Christmas presents for his ex "from the kids" now that she has remarried. I think her new husband should do that. My husband disagrees and feels it continues to be his responsibility. What's good ex-etiquette?
A Good ex-etiquette is good behavior after divorce or separation. It starts with both parents -- and their new partners -- putting the children first. (Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 1.) From the tone of your question it sounds as if you think your husband's responsibilities to teach his children manners and respect for their mother should stop when she remarries, and that's just not true. Divorce severs the ties between husband and wife, but their responsibility as mother and father continues forever, no matter if they are married or involved with someone else.
Your husband and his ex obviously co-parent, and that can take some getting used to, particularly if you are of the mind that exes are the enemy. Many tell me their greatest concern is if their new spouse is truly interacting with their ex because of co-parenting responsibilities or because they are secretly looking for a way to reconcile.
Truth is, you just can't worry about that stuff. It will consume you if you do -- and if jealousy of the ex is really that big of a concern, you shouldn't be with someone who openly co-parents. If they are doing it right, they will be in contact on a regular basis. If that bothers you, you could make that difficult. Too often people don't address the red flags in their relationships prior to officially calling themselves a "couple" for fear that the other will leave them. They get together and then start dictating the way things should be. Extremely bad ex-etiquette -- and chances are, it will backfire.
Now, let's answer your specific question: You didn't say how old these children are, but if they are not adults or don't have a job of their own, it would be Dad's responsibility to buy a present for their mother "from the kids." If Dad is not around, and there is a bonus Dad in their life, it would be his responsibility. If there isn't, and buying presents for Mom or Dad is important to the children, then it's Grandma's or Grandpa's responsibility or another relative or good friend. Rather than "buying" a present, a close adult may want to guide the children in a crafts day to make presents for their parents. You set the stage for this all year 'round. It doesn't start a month before Christmas.
I took my kids and bonus kids out to buy presents for their parents many times over the years. It was a yearly tradition where we all shopped together -- yours, mine and ours. Sometimes their father was present, sometimes he had to work and he wasn't. It was the love and concern that was emphasized -- not the parental labels of Mom, Dad, ex, etc.
Finally, it may help if you start calling "her" the "children's mother" rather than "his ex." That simple change makes a huge difference and keeps the kids in the forefront. And, that's good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the author of Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation, and the founder of Bonus Families -- bonusfamilies.com. Contact her at
High Profile on 12/02/2018
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