Q: My boyfriend of two years has three great kids. We spend a lot of time doing things with his family.The ex also spends a lot time with them (sometimes at the same time we are there). I feel like she has no boundaries with me or anyone else. She walks right into our house. I guess I want to know -- am I asking too much to want my boyfriend to ask her to not be there all the time?
A: Red flags are waving all over your house and the biggest one has nothing to do with Ex Etiquette. We are concerned that you are not establishing your own boundaries and, as a result, are afraid to talk to your boyfriend about something that is important to you.
Now, we think it's wonderful that your boyfriend and his ex have such a great relationship that they can comfortably interact for the sake of the kids. However, even though your boyfriend and his ex established their relationship prior to you coming into the picture -- and we often say that bonusparents should not interfere with the way parents establish rules (ex etiquette rule No. 4) -- the casualness of their relationship must change once one of them recouples.
The biggest problem is if the kids notice that their relationship has changed and equate that change with you. That could estrange them from you and make bonding difficult. So it's really important that boundaries are well-established and that each adult understands their role and how that role translates into being role models for the children.
And, you are right -- your boyfriend is the one to initiate that conversation with his ex, explaining what you and he have previously agreed is appropriate for your home. Tact and timing are very important! When your boyfriend initiates that conversation and how he presents the information could make or break the situation. It's best your boyfriend and his ex have that conversation in a public place -- say, over coffee -- not at your home.
Be honest and straightforward (Ex Etiquette rule No. 8) and be as respectful as possible -- always for the sake of the kids.
Jann Blackstone-Ford and her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents," are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com).