Q: A year ago my ex had an affair and left me and our two children to live with her. He has always wanted to see the kids, but because of his bad judgment I think I should supervise his visits and they should be in the home I now share with my parents. He agreed for a while, but now says he feels awkward visiting at my parents’ home and doesn’t believe his visits should be supervised. The kids don’t know why he left and he wants to introduce this woman to them! He’s threatening to take me to court. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Well, what we have here is a moral vs legal dilemma. Having an affair and moving in with the other woman is morally questionable, but not illegal, so if your ex does take you to court my guess is that a parenting plan will be put in place.
You wanted supervised visits because you thought dad’s judgment was impaired, but it’s doubtful a judge will see it that way. No matter how a judge feels personally, he or she must make their decision based on the law using the best interest of the children as their guide. Supervised visits are ordered when the children’s safety is in question or possibly if a child is not familiar with the visiting parent. Then a supervisor with whom the child is familiar might be present until the child feels comfortable with the visiting parent. But, none of these things have taken place. The kids know dad and you have not mentioned that you feel they are not safe with him — only that he used poor judgment when he chose to have an affair. Based on that, it’s doubtful the visits will be ordered “supervised.”
I am not advocating affairs, but it’s understandable why dad might feel uncomfortable visiting the children at your house — and I have to agree with him — for the sake of the children. Even if you can keep your temper and do your best to cover up the pain you might be feeling, your parents may not be able to, and that means the children are subjected to the tension and stress of seeing their father under a cloud of disapproval. Studies show that when kids are subjected to ongoing conflict, it actually affects brain structure, not just offer emotional upheaval. So, if you’re looking for ways to reduce their stress, visits with dad should be in a less stressful environment than at your home. That could start with day visits to one of their favorite places, first alone, then slowly introducing his “friend.” Overnights should not begin until the kids know her and are fully prepared. This may take some time, so dad needs to be patient and not be surprised if the process takes over a year from this point.
For you, although ex-etiquette for Parents rules No. 5 and 6, “Don’t be spiteful,” and “Don’t hold grudges,” are obvious references; it’s easy to understand why you might not be able to be civil right now. I always say, after a break-up, parents have to be the best actors in the world. That means do your best to be supportive of your children’s time with their father even though your first thought might be to keep them away. I’m sure they love their dad and they didn’t ask for any of this. Ultimately, that’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.