Q: I'm currently in the middle of a divorce. We have an 11-year-old daughter. My ex has had multiple girlfriends since we separated and tells our daughter all about them.
She also has seen numerous text messages on his phone that were inappropriate. She's going on her first vacation with her dad next week.
He's having a "friend" meet them for the weekend. How do I help my daughter deal with this upsetting scenario? She is very upset about dad's "friend."
A: We know we don't have to tell you what you describe is very bad ex-etiquette! Begin by talking to Dad, but remember it's all about how you say it. If you aren't careful, he'll think either you're telling him what to do or that you're jealous, so speak to him about it from your child's point of view.
"I'd like to share something our daughter talked to me about yesterday. I encouraged her to talk to you, but she says she's embarrassed. You know she loves you very much, so I'm presenting this to you in the hopes that you will address it with her."
Parents often think that their children won't catch on to the sexual undertones of their new dates. However, between the media, friends' influence and sex education at around fifth or sixth grade, an 11-year-old definitely gets it. And is probably "grossed out" if Dad isn't discrete.
Dad also may not understand that if she's uncomfortable, she will soon balk at visiting on her scheduled times.
At that point, parents who did not realize that they were being indiscrete blame the other parent for undermining their visitation. Now you have two parents fighting, but with no insight into the real problem, so the parents polarize and the child sides with the more discrete parent. Dad's setting himself up for failure.
Your predicament is the exact reason we suggest parents keep their dates away from the kids until they know if the relationship is serious. Kids feel the most comfortable when they can trust their environment and depend on the role models that keep them safe and secure.
If parents openly sleep with multiple partners or move people in and out of the house at whim, eventually the kids learn not to invest in the people their parents bring home, whether they're friends or lovers.
As a result, the kids recreate the same sort of relationships as adults.
To help your daughter, empathize with her feelings without badmouthing Dad and reinforce that she should be talking directly to him.
We suggest she talk about how she feels, without placing blame.
Start by saying something like, "Dad, it really makes me uncomfortable when ..." And, if he's not listening, it's on him.
Dr. 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).