Q: My ex-husband has another family, complete with a "wife" (unmarried) and child. He used to travel for business, so I was understanding when he told me he had to stay overnight out of town. This went on for three years! Our children are four and five. His child with her is two. I am bitter and humiliated and very angry – and I absolutely do not want to co-parent with this man, but the courts awarded us joint custody and said I had to do it. It makes me sick to think I must let our children see him and I have to talk to him about what school they attend, etc. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Wow, everyone can certainly understand why you feel the way you do, BUT, and BUT is capitalized for a reason, the courts don't see it that way. My guess is if he didn't marry her, then technically he didn't break the law. He broke a moral law, and he's a disgusting human being for creating such havoc for so many different people, but the courts stick to the legal law and that means your children have the right to have both their parents in their lives – so you were awarded joint custody.
In your defense, joint custody asks parents to be super-human. It asks parents to overcome the most base emotions – anger, hurt, fear, pain – for the sake of their children – all the while dealing with someone who may have hurt them to the core. It feels like it's impossible to do, but if you love your children, with time, you'll find a way. Not for him, not for you, but for them.
Something else to consider – at four and five it's doubtful your kids have any sense of daddy's wrong doing. All they care about is if Daddy loves them. If you look at it from that standpoint, co-parenting is the right option, and there are ways to do it that will allow your children to be an active member of both households without too much interaction between mom or dad.
1. A change in philosophy: Parallel Parenting rather than co-parenting. Parallel parenting is an approach to parenting in which divorced parents co-parent by having limited direct contact because they have demonstrated that they are unable to communicate with each other in a respectful manner. Within such an agreement, parents agree on major decisions regarding children's upbringing but separately decide the logistics of routine, day-to-day parenting.
2. Use a co-parenting app: There are various apps out there – some are better than others – but the good ones have a forum where parents can interact by leaving messages and posting schedules on a server and do not have to formally converse to get information.
3. Educate yourself: I had zero experience co-parenting with an ex or his ex-wife before I did it. Granted it was YEARS ago, but there were no guide books and very little information available. That's not true today. Aside from my books and websites, there is a wealth of both professional and firsthand information at your fingertips. Read books, join groups, talk to people who have overcome their animosity (there are some) in the best interest of their kids. Let them be your role models. That's good ex-etiquette.
(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.)