"The majority of parents who are no longer together will get involved with someone else, and they will do this while attempting to raise children from a previous marriage," the woman explain. And in this kind of environment it is necessary to forge a new and civil relationship with your ex. Jann and Sheryl women coined the term "bonus parents," to remove the stigma of the word "step" and began trying to better define ex-etiquette.
In their book, Jann and Sheryl outline the ten rules of good ex-etiquette.
- Put the children first.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- No badmouthing.
- Biological parents make the rules; bonus parents uphold them.
- Don't be spiteful.
- Don't hold grudges.
- Use empathy when solving a problem.
- Be honest and straightforward.
- Respect each other's turf.
- Compromise whenever possible.
They also point out the need to cooperate with your ex for the sake of your children. "It's hard work to get along with someone you despites," write Jann and Sheryl. "Find consolation in the fact that you are not doing it for yourself. You are doing it for the people you love the most—your kids." The women recommend three tactics to help you cooperate.
- Break old patterns of communication.
- Let go of negative emotions.
- Acknowledge your mutual interests.
While working together with your ex may be difficult, if you have children involved Jann and Sheryl write that you must find a way to work together, regardless of your past history or experiences. Often, cooperation requires a complete change in the way you think. "Since I had learned to be angry in my plight," writes Jann, "I decided I could learn not to be angry. Rather than rehearse all of the bad things in my head each morning, I made myself think about the good things—how happy I was to be married to my husband. How happy I was that the kids had accepted me and seem to be adjusting so well. Everyone was healthy. Every time a bad thought come to my mind about Sheryl I pushed it out and replaced it with a more positive thought about my life."
After taking control of your negative thoughts, you must acknowledge common interests. "Divorced parents have at least two mutual interests," writes Jann. "First they both love the same children, and if they put aside their differences they will acknowledge their mutual importance in their children's lives."
"Second, both parents see the importance of establishing a separate happy life after divorce. When they are no longer fighting, they can more on to successful happy lives—and so can their parents."
Building on this foundation of mutual interests, Jann and Sheryl say the next big step is to build a working relationship. They recommend approaching the relationship as a business relationship, having a clear shared goal, cultivating respect, picking your fights, being honest and straightforward and looking for opportunities to compromise.
While it may not be easy, Jann and Sheryl note that building a relationship with your ex is the most important thing you can do for your children. In their book, they also provide more specific instruction on how to act in certain family circumstances. When your ex is bad mouthing you, Jann and Sheryl recommend confronting your ex with their behavior:
Parents who badmouth their ex in front of the children may not understand the negative effects of their behavior. They just know they are angry and they want the child to identify and understand their anger.
They forget, however, that children have shared loyalties. The inner conflict that badmouthing creates in children can be devastating for them — and, at times it backfires on the parent doing the badmouthing.
This may be what is happening in this home. The child loves both parents. When his mother badmouths his father, the child takes it personally. He didn’t want to tell his father what his mother was doing because he also identifies with his mom.
Rather than take sides, he clammed up and chose not to visit her again. Here are some steps you can take if you find that you are the victim of your ex’s badmouthing: Ask your child how he feels about what he heard and listen to his explanation.
Empathize with him by saying that you understand how disturbing it must be to hear those things. If the child has been told something that is untrue, explain that the other parent was mistaken and then clarify the misinformation immediately.
Do not retaliate by saying cruel things about the other parent. It only makes matters worse.
For more information on ex-etiquette visit Jann and Sheryl's web site, BonusFamilies.com.