Q: I have been with a man for five years. We're both divorced with kids and amicable ex relationships. He does every single holiday, kid's birthday, and adult birthday with his ex. Also, when his family comes to town, most events will include her. I'm fine with that. I'm always invited and encouraged to attend. Occasionally the out-of-town family will tell me that there is a lot of bad blood between them and the ex and they would prefer she not be included. I stay mute because I think it is up to my man and his ex to decide what's appropriate.
Problem is, I often don't want to participate because the situation feels awkward to me. I'm not able to relax knowing the people around me feel forced into these situations. Based on all this, is it really so bad that my man and his ex celebrate an occasional holiday with their mutual children without me? I am often told it is a horrible idea. I have children of my own, so if I skip a Thanksgiving dinner with my man and his ex, it allows me to have a nice meal with my children. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: When I began writing this column more than 25 years ago, it was all very new to suggest that exes celebrate holidays together for the sake of the children. Over time former couples and their families have tried it on for size and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. If it's done for the kids and parents can keep their drama out of it, it works. If it fuels the fire, it's not a good idea.
That said, it sounds like your family does it well, but you bring up a great point — do "new" couples always have to spend the holidays together? I'm not just talking about you and your partner spending holidays with his ex. I'm talking about partners who each have children from past relationships.
The beauty of building a relationship is that you really can do anything you want. If you and your partner have a clear goal for your relationship, most will get in line to support you. Those naysayers are usually those who approach relationships with an old-school divorce attitude. "Don't leave them alone. You never know what will happen." Or, "Once divorced, you don't talk to the ex!" Truth is, looking for ways to creatively celebrate the holidays is to your credit.
Here's a simple rule of thumb: If it's a milestone, like a birthday, graduation, christening, bar mitzvah, Quinceanera, centered around the kids, then of course all should attend. Do you have to celebrate every possible holiday with his ex? Not if all are not on board. Good ex-etiquette is simply a model for good behavior after a breakup. (Good Ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 10, Look for the Compromise.)
So, if this Thanksgiving, you don't want to spend the holiday with his ex, discuss it with your partner. If he wants to go — fine. The fact that you also have children and it will give you an opportunity to spend a holiday together is a great point. I wouldn't make a steady diet of it, however. "Occasional" is the key word.
Finally, retreating when things get uncomfortable never settles anything. Make sure you're positively motivated when making this decision. That's good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the founder of bonusfamilies.com.