Co-parenting requires communication
Q: My 6-year-old son lives primarily with my ex-wife, and I see him every weekend. This weekend he walked in the door and announced, "Mommy is having a baby! I'm going to be a big brother!" My ex-wife is not married, only living with someone, and I'm not sure I approve of her having a child. We get along, but I'm furious that my son, not his mother, gave me the news. This can't be good ex-etiquette.
A: OK, hold the phone. Neither of you are practicing good ex-etiquette, and here's why. Etiquette is a "code of behavior based on consideration, kindness and unselfishness," so it would follow suit that good ex-etiquette would be based on the same principles. If you are co-parenting, when something important happens at either home where your child lives, it is important to share that information with your co-parent. This includes the birth of a baby.
But that doesn't let you off the hook. All moral considerations aside — and we will address differing morals in another column — as much as you may not approve of your ex's behavior, you can't control her life or her decisions. (Ex-etiquette rule No. 9: Respect each other's turf.) You can, however, expect her to be a better communicator to ensure more effective co-parenting and reduce power struggles.
Power struggles are common among divorced parents. And what serves as the bartering chip for this struggle for power? Information. Don't tell your ex that your son has Little League practice on Saturday until the absolute last minute. Don't volunteer that he loves to cook at your house. "You didn't know that Billy loved to cook? Well, what kind of parent are you?" Whoever has more information is more in control, and therefore has more power.
When your ex does not confide in you, it actually puts your son, not you, in an awkward position. Now your son is the bearer of unexpected news, and if Dad gets angry when the information is passed on, your son may think it's his fault. When the child is placed in the middle, no matter how you look at it, it's very bad ex-etiquette.
Don't fall into the payback trap. Set the stage for positive interaction in the future by informing your ex-wife of important things with plenty of lead time and then politely point out when she doesn't follow suit.