Q: Is it appropriate for my husband to meet privately with his ex-wife, regardless of whether it is about the children? Should this bother me? What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Ah, quite a common question, but what jumps out at me is not the question, per se, but that you are unsure about how to feel. I am often asked, "Should I be upset?" "Am I overreacting?" "Should this bother me?" and I always find myself asking the computer out loud — "Why are you asking me?" It's not a matter of whether you should or shouldn't. It's a matter of "you do," so let's look at ways to get on the other side of it because you have married a man with children — and where there are children, there's usually an ex not far behind.
The answer: Clear boundaries and honest expectations. (Good ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 8, "Be honest and straightforward in all your ex-endeavors.")
You may have heard me use the term "old-school divorce" in the past. This is the kind of divorce from years ago where co-parenting was not a consideration — the mother received primary custody and Dad saw the children every other weekend. You walked away from each other. Never really talked after the door slammed, so all those insecurities associated with the kids and the ex really didn't enter the picture because it was what it was and interaction was so minimal.
Enter joint custody and everything changed. Now the courts, the psychological community, society, etc., all believe co-parenting is in the best interest of the children and if you want to do it right, exes must interact — in the best interest of the children, of course. As a result, the wounds associated with the breakup may take longer to heal, and insecurities and jealousies pop up. Intellectually, people know how they should feel, but emotionally, they're not so sure. "He's with her alone. Should I be jealous?"
When you marry someone who has joint custody, you both have to be very clear about your feelings for each other, your kids, your exes and what you envision for the future. A little of the magic may have to be put to the side because before being swept off your feet the conversation you must have with a partner who has children has to openly discuss your expectations. If you are honest, you will acknowledge that some of those expectations are different now than years before. Years ago simply talking to an ex was a problem. Now, the courts expect you to talk to your child's other parent and chastise you if you say, "I can't talk to him. We just don't get along!"
Something that has not changed over the years — propriety. With that in mind, let me ask one qualifying question to your question.
Clarify "privately." Does "privately" mean at her home behind closed doors, or does "privately" mean at Starbucks, having a cup of coffee while discussing who is going to throw Julianne's graduation party?
I think I've made my point. I vote for Starbucks. 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.