Q: I read your column all the time, and in your answers, you often refer to Ex-Etiquette rule No. 7 or Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 5. What are you talking about? Are there really specific rules of good ex-etiquette?
A: I can honestly say that I am asked about "the rules" just about every day. The whole thing started years ago – divorced parents were constantly writing for a guide or list– something to stick on the refrigerator or on their phone to remind them to calm down when their ex started to drive them nuts and they could no longer think rationally. So, after much deliberation – I came up with the Ten Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette. The rules first appeared in my book, Ex-etiquette for Parents, written years ago; designed to guide you through the emotional rollercoaster of dealing with an ex, an ex's new partner, a bonus relation or a present or former in-law who is making your life miserable and driving you out of your mind. They're not rocket science, but they work.
For example, say your ex calls you up complaining that you're not returning the kid's clothes. That's a huge bone of contention in the world of "Co-parenting with an ex." It seems parents who are no longer together and are at odds tend to hoard the kid's clothes – "They're mine, I bought them. You're not returning them, obviously on purpose just to make me angry, so I hate you, shut up, you $#!#&^!!"
Well, the ex may be doing precisely that, but relying on the rules of good ex-etiquette as your guide is an easy way to break the tit-for-tat cycle.
Rule No. 1: "Put your kids first" reminds you that, in truth, the clothes in question are the kid's clothes – not yours, and the kids are who need to be considered, not the two adults who have lost sight of what's important.
Rule No. 2: "Ask for help when you need it," opens up a possibility that few exes consider – looking to each other for help. After all, no one loves your child as much as you–except maybe their other parent. Few understand they still have a mutual interest after a break-up. Their children. Keeping that in mind can solve just about every problem you face.
No. 3: "Don't badmouth", reminds you not to lose it in front of your child when the clothes are not returned. Badmouthing the other parent will not bring you closer to your child. Most kids rebel, personalize the negativity – and it will backfire. In other words, the child may very well reject you for saying something bad about their other parent–even if it's true.
Rules No. 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 remind you not to be spiteful, hold grudges, to be honest when interacting, and respect each other. All these things prevent arguments, help us look for the greater good, and ultimately set a good example for the kids who look to us as role models.
Finally, rule No. 10 suggests you look for answers outside of the box and compromise if you can.
Just about every problem you face after a breakup can be positively addressed by following the rules of good ex-etiquette. You just have to remember to use them – and the easiest way? Just look at your kids. What if you don't have kids, do the rules still apply? Absolutely, and that list can be found on the Bonus Families web site in the Ex-etiquette Department, as well. Key word: ten rules no kids.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)