Through realistic and trusted advice, this innovative new guide brings the celebration back to the holidays for blended families. Answering a myriad of questions unique to blended families, this comprehensive resource offers suggestions on how to determine who hosts milestone birthday parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, and Quinceaneras; coordinate who attends sporting events and concerts; and how to respectfully attend a former relative’s funeral. A resource guide listing websites and books completes this new manners manual, which guides blended families from the first recitals and holidays apart to sporting events and graduations with fewer arguments and more respect.
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About the Author
Jann Blackstone-Ford is a certified divorce and stepfamily mediator and has contributed to The Christian Science Monitor, Redbook, and Working Mother. She is the founder and director of Bonus Families, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the peaceful coexistence between separated or divorced parents and their new families. She is the coauthor of Ex-Etiquette for Parents and Ex-Etiquette for Weddings and the author of The Custody Solution Sourcebook, Midlife Motherhood, and My Parents Are Divorced, Too. Sharyl Jupe is a regular columnist for the Bonus Families website and the coauthor of Ex-Etiquette for Parents and Ex-Etiquette for Weddings. Together they raise two children they share through marriage.
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Ex-Etiquette for Holidays and Other Family Celebrations
By Jann Blackstone-Ford, Sharyl Jupe
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2008 Jann Blackstone-Ford, M.A.
All rights reserved.
Laying the Groundwork for Family Gatherings
"The true test of intelligence is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do."
— John Holt, author and educator
Your behavior in a time of stress and conflict determines whether the conflict will accelerate or will serve as an opportunity to problem-solve. Over the years, Sharyl and I have found that facing a conflict isn't necessarily a bad thing. Conflict can be a way to call attention to something that needs to be changed — to recognize a difference of opinion, discuss the differences, and find a solution — and we apply this attitude to just about every interaction with our exes — or each other for that matter.
Many of us were raised with the old-school philosophy that interaction with an ex ends with the breakup. Why would anyone want to interact with an ex? After all, he or she is part of the past. Time to move on, right? For some people that may be true, but for those who share children, or perhaps a business, friends, relatives, even pets, after a breakup, dealing with an ex can be very much in the present. The boundaries associated with dealing with an ex today are blurry at best. As a result, a completely new type of communication must be learned that enables exes to easily interact. We call it good ex-etiquette.
What Is Ex-Etiquette?
Years ago Emily Post explained that etiquette is "a code of behavior based on consideration, kindness, and unselfishness." Ex-etiquette is simply applying that code to interaction with your ex. Many people will laugh at the prospect of interacting politely with an ex. Most exes go out of their way not to be around each other. If they do happen to end up under the same roof, one might head for the door or possibly hole up in the bathroom until the other has gone. But given our changing, more relaxed social mores, the increase in joint custody arrangements, and the trend toward more involved co-parenting, families need a new set of guidelines to follow. If divorced couples (and their extended families) want to peacefully share in the major milestones of their children's lives, or if they want to combine families in such a way that the kids don't experience divided loyalties, they can look to the rules of good ex-etiquette for guidance.
The Ten Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette for Holidays and Other Family Celebrations
No one can get your blood boiling quite as quickly as a former spouse. Unfortunately, when you are in that state it makes it impossible to make good decisions for your children. Bonus Families is often asked for some quick tips to which parents can refer — something they can remember at the peak of their anger that will bring them back to what is important — their children's welfare. That's why we developed the "Ten Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette" years ago. We have adapted the original rules to apply expressly to holidays and family get-togethers. If you remember only one thing when attempting to resolve a conflict with an ex or former family member, the first rule, "Put the children first," will always steer you in the right direction.
The Ten Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette for Holidays and Other Family Celebrations
1. Put the children first.
2. Remember the spirit of the special occasion or holiday.
3. Never badmouth your ex, extended-family members, the host, or others.
4. Get organized well in advance.
5. Don't be spiteful.
6. Don't hold grudges.
7. Use empathy when problem solving.
8. Be honest and straightforward.
9. Respect each other's turf, holiday rituals, and family traditions.
10. Compromise whenever possible.
A New Way of Thinking
Sharyl and I understand how easily an ex can push your buttons — we have both experienced emotionally charged breakups. The memories associated with a breakup are rarely positive, and it's important to understand how those memories can affect your present attitude and behavior to the point that even the smallest interaction with your ex becomes intolerable.
Let's say that hiking over the rocks at the seashore is one of your favorite activities. It's something you have done for many years to relax and get some exercise. There's one place near your home that you particularly like. It's steep and dangerous but lovely at the same time, and you love the way the salt smells in the air and how the colors change as the sun sets over the rocks. The last time you ventured out on your hike, however, you slipped and fell. Your arm was broken, and the pain was excruciating. No one was around to help, and you had to drive to the nearest hospital by yourself. As you drove, you mentally rehashed the fall. You examined your arm about twenty times, and each time you saw yourself falling in your mind. You got to the hospital, and the doctor told you that an operation would be needed to set the bone properly. There would be a scar, and since your arm was broken in a few places the healing process would be long, painful, and difficult.
Later, once your arm has healed, do you think you will be anxious to go back to your favorite place? The sea still smells the same. The way the sun hits the rocks at sunset hasn't changed. But the way you think about your favorite place has shifted, because now you associate climbing on those rocks not with comfort but with pain. And each time you look at your arm and see the scar, it reminds you of the pain you had to endure.
We hope that the metaphor is obvious. At one point many of us found comfort with other partners, only to be faced later with a painful breakup. Now we no longer associate our former partners with anything positive, only with anger and pain. We remember what they did to us — or what we did to them — and hurt prevents us from positive interactions. We anticipate seeing them again and immediately start feeling the anger, resentment, regret, embarrassment, or guilt associated with those previous interactions. Our preconceived notions color our attitude about interaction, and when we are invited to a special occasion along with someone who conjures up these awful feelings, we either do not want to go or resent that we have to, which only perpetuates the negative thoughts-negative behavior chain of events. What to do?
Break Old Thought Patterns
It's hard work to interact with someone who may have hurt you — especially if he or she is now happy and you're not, which just adds insult to injury — and it's understandable if you have resigned yourself to being a "justified-for-being-angry" victim. But if you can change your thoughts about and negative associations of your ex, you can change your behavior toward him or her when you have to interact. Eventually, you will no longer feel like a victim or dread interacting with your ex.
Why is positive interaction with your ex so important? First, if you have children, you're not just interacting with your ex but with your children's father or mother. Granted, your ex may have been a jerk to you, but this has nothing to do with his or her parental responsibility and ability. You will have to interact with your child's other parent now and forever. The quicker you can rise above your ex's poor behavior, the better parent you will be. You will be able to enjoy your child's milestone events and family celebrations. Finally, you will be free of the past and feel like you are in positive control of your life and your family.
Here's a personal story that illustrates how to break the old negative thoughts-negative behavior chain. Larry and I had been married for six months, and during that time Sharyl and I were constantly at odds. We never had any issues of jealousy over my husband — her ex. For us it was always issues with the kids. We suffered from what I call the "Best Family Syndrome." Each of us feared that the kids would prefer to be at the other's home, with the "best family." This fear put us in a state of constant conflict — Sharyl and I were always angry about something. In addition, although I never would have admitted it then, now I can easily say that I resented the kids' having to go back and forth between homes every other week, and I worried about how it affected all of them — Larry and Sharyl's two, my daughter from a previous marriage, and later, when Larry and I had a daughter, the little one as well.
This particular time it was the kids' spring break. Even though there was a set visitation schedule, spring break was not part of the holidays' split, so whoever had the kids that week automatically had them for the entire vacation. The kids' father and I wanted to stick to the visitation schedule, because we had them through the break and wanted to take them on some special day trips. I just knew Sharyl would want to change things in some way. As spring break got closer, I began to get anxious.
Preparing dinner each night was a time when I was alone. I'd stop working at about four o'clock in the afternoon. The kids were doing homework, their dad wasn't home yet, and there was no one around to distract me. As I took out all the utensils to begin the preparations I'd start hashing things over in my mind. Life was pretty stressful in those days, and Sharyl and I were each always convinced that the other had an ulterior motive, some kind of strategy to win the kids' time and affection.
As I'd begin to prepare dinner each night I'd think, "I know exactly what she is going to do. She's going to try to take the kids to Disneyland during the break." As I chopped up vegetables I'd think something like, "And she's going to call us up and ask if she could have the kids for an extended weekend so she can do that." As I sautéed the vegetables I'd think, "We can't afford Disneyland, and then my daughter will be sad because she can't go." With each step of the preparation I'd layer on a new worry: how do I explain to her that Melanie and Steven can go to Disneyland but she can't? I did this day after day until I found myself dreading to walk into the kitchen to cook dinner. And I like to cook! What was going on?
That's when I took a hard look at my thought process while preparing the food. With each step of the preparation I became angrier until all my joy was gone. I subconsciously connected preparing dinner with my angry thoughts — so I avoided preparing dinner.
This was a huge revelation to me. I realized at that moment that if I had thought myself into being angry, I could think myself out of it. I made a vow to change what I thought about as I prepared dinner. Instead of anticipating something negative, I concentrated on my love for my family — in this case how much I enjoyed preparing a meal. I began to mentally liken each step of the preparation to wrapping a present for my loved ones. First, I took note of how happy I was to be married to my husband. He loves to eat, and I envisioned his smile when he realized I was making his favorite dinner. Next, rather than worry that my daughter would be slighted by a decision Sharyl might make, I took note of the privilege I felt to be included as a caregiver to her wonderful kids. I thought about how happy I was that they had fully accepted my daughter as their sister. And, I had to admit, those wonderful kids were half Sharyl's, and rather than resent her I needed to respect her for being their mother.
Over the next few days, not only did I reclaim my enjoyment of preparing dinner for my family but also, because of my new attitude, the next time I talked to Sharyl I didn't have one bad thing to say to her. Oh, and one more thing: she never did request extra time to take the kids to Disneyland!
Changing your thoughts about someone will change not only your own mood but also the way you approach the other person at your next meeting. You cannot control someone else's thoughts, but you certainly can have control of your own. When you control your thoughts, you control your life; you break the negative thoughts-negative behavior chain, and everyone wins.
The Importance of Tact and Timing
Tact and timing are two major components in preventing a communication breakdown with an ex or an ex's new partner. For example, if you are late picking up your child from your ex's house, and he or she has been waiting for an hour, it might not be a really good occasion to ask for extra time with the child next week! A better choice would be to wait a few days and then call. During your conversation, try, "Hey, I'm sorry I kept you waiting last time. I will be on time next time." After he or she accepts your apology, then say, "By the way, the Raiders are playing this weekend, and you know how much Zach loves the Raiders. I was thinking about getting tickets, but he'll be with you on Sunday. Is there any way to rearrange the schedule so that I can take him to the game?" Or let's say you just happen to see your ex out and about. It's her turn to have the kids, and you wonder who the heck is watching them. Saying, "Having fun? So, who's is watching Kayla and Zachary?" may not be a good choice if you want to avoid a public argument. A more tactful approach would be to say, "Boy, it's difficult to find good babysitters. I have a heck of a time finding someone the kids like. Who did you call? ...Maybe we should keep things consistent from house to house, and I will ask her to babysit when I need a sitter?" That's using good ex-etiquette and tact and timing in your interaction. There will be times when exes have every right to ask questions, but be smart about when you ask. Before you speak, think. Because if you share something with your ex, whether it's kids, a business, an animal, or even friends, this will not be the last time you talk to this person — communication is ongoing.
Set the Example for Good Communication
People often complain, "But my ex won't cooperate with me. I can't make communication with my ex work all by myself." Yes, you can. Like most people, you probably believe that communication is a two-way street. If one of you puts up a barrier to cordial interaction, then it is unlikely things will change. But things can change if even one person is committed to positive interaction. Some call it the power of attraction. Some call it karma. Some would say you reap what you sow. We've already talked about developing a new mind-set when dealing with your ex — one that breaks the negative thoughts-negative behavior chain. So let's assume you now change your belief about your ex before you interact. Your attitude and behavior are now different, and you'll be amazed at how your positive example alone can make the outcome of your interaction different.
This is when people typically say something like "But I have changed my attitude toward my ex, and my ex still hasn't changed. How do I get him to return my phone calls?" The "How do I get x to do y?" question is one of the most common we receive. Basically, the person is asking, "How do I make someone do what I want them to do instead of what they want to do?" In other words, how can I control the outcome? The answer, of course, is that you can't control anyone. How your ex responds to you depends upon the groundwork you have laid. If you find that someone is difficult, it could be that they are negatively anticipating a meeting with you. They don't want to deal with you either! Know this: you can only control yourself — your thoughts, your actions. You can lead by example. If you want your phone calls returned, make sure you return phone calls. If you don't like it when your ex is late, don't try to get even or to exact payback by being late yourself. I learned from personal experience that changing my thoughts and behavior toward Sharyl brought about a larger change in our relationship. Dwell on the positive and you will behave positively, and soon the other person will, too. It all begins with you.
Don't Play the Victim
In saying that you need to change your attitude and behavior, I don't mean to suggest that it's all your fault, that "it's all in your head," or to underestimate how miserable divorce can be, or to minimize the hurt and resentment that you may justifiably still feel. Divorce is one of the most painful experiences we can face. One of the reasons people cling to their anger, resentment, or even jealousy after a divorce is because they sense that once those emotions are gone, the only thing that will be left is the pain. Anger and jealousy can serve as Band-Aids for that pain. If your ex perceives you as angry and adjusts his or her behavior accordingly, then you have control — and that makes you right. To be right in the face of a breakup — that's the ultimate vindication. You're the good guy. It wasn't your fault, no matter what happened. Hold on to that anger and you will remain the wronged one and the good guy forever.
Excerpted from Ex-Etiquette for Holidays and Other Family Celebrations by Jann Blackstone-Ford, Sharyl Jupe. Copyright © 2008 Jann Blackstone-Ford, M.A.. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Laying the Groundwork for Family Gatherings,
2. Ex-Etiquette for Holidays,
3. Ex-Etiquette for New Arrivals, Birthdays, and Other Milestone Events,
4. Ex-Etiquette for School Events and Extracurricular Activities,
5. Ex-Etiquette at Times of Loss and Grieving,