Ex-etiquette: Back-to-school blues

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Most of the problems with co-parenting can boil down to lack of communication. - Dreamstime/Dreamstime/TNS

Q. My ex and I do not agree on much. Our children go back and forth between our homes and will return to school next week. They will go to school Tuesday and Friday. The rest is online learning. Tuesday is my day, but Fridays alternate and he will not take any responsibility to get them to school. He said he will just drop them off and I can take care of it. I can’t understand his lackadaisical attitude. He’s never been like this. I work, too! Why does he think it’s all up to me? What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Let me explain what I think may be going on based on a few things you said in your email. First, he’s never been like this, so I would venture to think he thinks it’s all up to you because, whether spoken or unspoken, you have taken on the responsibility of school for the children. Doesn’t matter if there is a pandemic now, you’ve always done it, so he probably doesn’t understand why you seem to be bailing in a time of crisis. Therefore, he digs in his heels and you’re left confused and full of resentment — “How could he do this NOW of all times?” And, he’s probably thinking the exact same thing about you.

Most of the problems I see with co-parenting boils down to lack of communication. I know that seems to be a catch-all, but if you think about the explanation above, that’s exactly what it is. Now, how to get on the other side of it?

Call a meeting. In negotiation, coming to an agreement doesn’t necessarily mean someone wins and someone loses. Win-win means both come away with something with compromise at the root of the agreement. Good ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 10, “Look for the compromise,” is the last ex-etiquette rule for a reason. Rules 1-9 lay the ground work for good behavior, the last rule, 10, gives you a plan to go to work — “Look for the compromise.” Not, compromise! Not even “Make a compromise!” It suggests the parents look for the compromise—together. “What can we agree on, and what do we have to do to get to that agreement?”

As with any negotiation, it starts with finding a mutual interest — in your case, that mutual interest is your children. First and foremost. Remember that.

Let’s take it one step further. Again, referring to the rules of good ex-etiquette for parents, rule No. 2: “Ask for help when you need it.” This is where everyone loses it. “Ask my ex for help? It’ll will never happen.”

Things change. Just because you did something one way for years doesn’t mean something doesn’t happen to make you reassess and change direction. COVID, for example, has made everyone afraid and vulnerable. So, based on that, you look each other in the eye, express your concern for your children’s emotional welfare under these trying conditions and band together in their name. No self-interests. Child-centered interest.

State what you want: “What can we do to ensure our children get to school each day, no matter what parent they are with?” It’s not all up to you. Let Dad suggest a solution. Listen. Be respectful. Negotiate in good faith and come up with something together in the best interest of your child. It’s your job as parents and co-parents. 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


©2020 Jann Blackstone