Dear Dr. Jann: I’ve been married for a year to a man who has a son from a previous marriage. The boy is seven years old and my husband and his ex share custody. We see the boy every weekend, starting on Friday after school, and Tuesday nights for dinner. I take care of him most of the time when he’s at our home and we have a very close relationship. On Sunday we dropped him off at his mother’s house–I’ve never met her. My husband walked up to the door with his son and they went into the house while I waited in the car. My husband soon came out, but continued to talk to his ex at the door. He did not motion for me, so I just stayed inside and watched them. I felt very uncomfortable. Would it have been too aggressive if I got out of the car to meet her? Would it have been more appropriate if my husband introduced me?
Dr. Jann says: What would have been the best ex-etiquette would have been for your husband to introduce you to his child’s mother when the two of you decided on a future together. That way, you could have openly expressed your desire to support them in their efforts to make their child’s life as stress free as possible—and set the stage for working together in the future. As it is, you got married without meeting the child’s mother—and as a result, no groundwork was laid for future communication. I am not surprised you feel uncomfortable. She probably feels uncomfortable as well.
I understand firsthand how difficult it is to converse with your partner’s ex or your ex’s new partner. My husband shared equal custody with his ex as his kids grew up and when the kids were at our home, I spent most of the time with them. For years the kids mother and I dreaded talking to each other—but we learned out of necessity. To ensure the health of the children in our care, we had to work together. If someone told us that we should cooperate with each other, hopefully we would have come to our senses much sooner. So, I are telling you, and mom and dad–it’s time to work together for the sake of this child.
First step? You meet each other. Yes, all three of you in the same room! If and when his ex-wife plans to remarry, be expecting another such meeting with the roles reverse. Remember to be cordial. They will feel as awkward as you do right now.
I suggest a neutral public place. Meeting in public reduces the risk of really stupid behavior. Introductions are all that is necessary the first time, maybe over a cup of coffee. A great tool? Bring a picture of the child and set it down right in the middle of the three of you. If you begin to lose your perspective, pick up the picture. That will remind you why you are there. Say it with me…”For the sake of the kids.”