Friday, 29 September 2017

Ex-etiquette: Honoring parents, acknowledging stepparents

Q. My parents broke up years ago and chose new partners that are far better suited for them. I was raised by four people I knew loved me. I was never asked to choose homes or parents. However, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day poses a problem for me. Got any ideas how I can acknowledge my stepparents while not slighting my mom and dad? What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Good ex-etiquette is good behavior after divorce or separation based on the best interest of the child you share, and it sounds as if you have had parent figures who have done their best to do just that — put you first. Based on that, you may be worrying for nothing. If it was common place for your mom and dad to put their issues aside and let you love everyone who cares for you, it’s unlikely they will be offended by your affection for their partners. That’s how they raised you. Unfortunately, your question is proof that even though parents do a good job at co-parenting, a child of divorce can still feel torn. No one asked you to compare, yet you still feel as if acknowledging one means you may be slighting the other. It doesn’t have to be an “either/or situation.” It can be “also” if you let it.

The truth is, you have already answered your own question. It’s obvious you have a clear understanding that Mom is Mom and Dad is Dad, plus, you feel lucky to have two other people in your life who have loved and cared for you — so that’s exactly what you say. (Ex-etiquette rule No. 8, “Be honest and straightforward.”)

“On this day of all days, when it comes to mind how grateful I am to have a Mother (or Father) I adore, I would also like to thank you, (name of the partner), for your love and support.”

Sounds a little formal, I know, but something like that in your own words acknowledges your parent as a priority and lets your bonusparent know how grateful you are for his or her contribution. You may also want to consider acknowledging mom or dad. Good ex-etiquette does establish a pecking order — “Parents make the rules; bonusparents uphold them.” (Ex-etiquette rule No. 4)

From a mother’s perspective, it’s a great comfort to know your child is loved in their other parent’s home — and it goes a long way if it is acknowledged. Right around Mother’s Day was the first time my bonuskids’ mom acknowledged my contribution — she started out with something like, “Now that time has passed, and things have calmed down I know my kids are safe with you, and that’s all I really ever cared about.”

Then she came out and said, “Thank you for loving my kids.”

I liked that a lot. Still, do.

Finally, be kind to yourself. Do your best not to put yourself in the middle. Your parents didn’t. That was good ex-etiquette.

Happy Mother’s Day!


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