Question: My adult children are very upset that I have met someone so quickly after I left their mother (four months). Truth is she cheated and after five years of attempting to put it back together, I left. The kids know some things, but not everything and I’m sure if they did they would understand. Strangely enough, they were supportive when I left – but then I met someone and things changed. What is good ex-etiquette?
Answer: Ironically most think young children are the most affected by break-ups, but it is my experience that break-ups are possibly more difficult for adult children to accept. They have had far more time to be a “family.” Traditions are well established and change is not easy for them. Perhaps the most difficult – parents who wait until a child goes away to college and then decide to part ways. The child is trying to adjust to being away from home for the first time, plus Christmas break rolls around and they have to decide where to go for the first time – mom’s house or dad’s? Adjustment is VERY difficult.
It’s for this reason I’m not surprised your children are having trouble with the transition. To you it’s been years of trying to make it work and you are probably ready to move on, but to them, after years of you two staying together, since you weren’t discussing your private problems, they probably thought you worked through it and out of the blue you left. You’re happy with someone else and now mom’s all alone. You’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute, she cheated, why are you angry with me?”
Truth is, they probably aren’t angry with you, they probably hate the situation and wish it wasn’t so. Plus, with the change so recent, they will dislike anyone you get involved with because they just aren’t ready.
Good ex-etiquette is to be patient. Don’t expect them to interact with your new girlfriend at this point – introducing her too soon will actually sabotage the relationship she might build with your kids. Although it is very tempting to tell your kids how you were wronged, don’t do it. You think they’ll understand, but they probably won’t. She’s their mother and telling them the sordid details will upset them and possibly force them to choose sides. From what you have said, they already know she cheated. That’s a lot for any child to digest. Since they are adults, if they ask, tell them the truth, you couldn’t get over it and leave it at that.
Finally, don’t gloat now that you have successfully moved on. That too, will backfire. Just as it might concern you that one of your children is doing well while the other is floundering, kids don’t want to see one parent happier than the other. Under the circumstances, they need you to be the best role model you can be. That’s good parenting – and 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. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
By JANN BLACKSTONE