Q: My husband and his ex share equal custody of their kids. That's fine, but my husband's ex-wife calls constantly, whether the kids are here or not, about nonemergency/urgent matters pertaining to the children despite the fact that she has been repeatedly, politely and firmly asked not to call except in cases of emergency. Today she called to tell my husband that Jason lost his first tooth. A tooth? He's got tons of them! It's driving me crazy. What do I do?
A: Oh, my so many red flags. Let's take this one thing at a time. First issue? Your expectations. Sounds to us like you are expecting to have very little interaction with his ex and if mom and dad are co-parenting, that is completely unreasonable. They should be calling each other -- everyone (including you) should be doing their best to follow the first rule of good ex etiquette, "Put the children first."
We think mom was doing exactly what she was supposed to when calling dad about their son losing his first tooth. That's a big deal and definitely something that should be shared by parents who are attempting to co-parent after divorce. Now, if she's calling five times a day about how Jason didn't pick up his room or hit his sister, that's ridiculous and mom needs to get a grip, but losing your first tooth is a milestone.
It sounds a little like you may be attempting to dictate policy, and if that's so, be careful. Ex Etiquette rule No. 4 is, "Bio parents make the rules, bonusparents uphold them." If you are attempting to set precedent, you may alienate these parents and set yourself up as the outsider. Although some parents need a little help getting organized after a break-up, how it is done makes all the difference in the world.
We have another Ex-Etiquette rule for you to consider: Etiquette rule No. 9, "Respect each other's turf," and we support you in your need for privacy. However, to get that privacy you must be very clear in establishing boundaries -- and that's your husband's job, not yours. If he's being wimpy, that could explain the ex's persistence. Your husband needs to be kind but clear about what he expects and while doing that he can also establish your importance in the mix.
If your husband has made the boundaries clear and she's still calling, it's time to use voicemail. Make sure he listens to his messages on a regular basis just in case there's an emergency. Return all necessary phone calls in a timely fashion and move on with your life. Some divorced parents just have a longer learning curve than others.
Finally, you also may need to adjust your attitude a little, too. That learning curve to acclimating to bonusfamily life? It affects everyone in the class.
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).