When co-parenting seems impossible, seek help from a pro

Jann Blackstone

Q. My soon-to-be in-laws just threw a wonderful party announcing the engagement of their son and me. My entire family attended. We have not been together in more than six years.

My dad asked us all not to post pictures of him standing next to my mother because it would upset his longtime girlfriend, who was not invited and therefore not in attendance. (My parents get along.)

I think that’s ridiculous and told him so, but to confirm, what’s good ex-etiquette?

A. The answers to these types of questions seem so obvious I think there must be more to the story than I am hearing.

For example, I have no idea why your father’s girlfriend was not in attendance but that’s a red flag in itself. Obviously, something has happened that prevented an invitation.

At face value, Dad’s request certainly sounds a little silly, but not surprising.

After working with thousands — yes, thousands — of couples over the years, it is my observation that people don’t break up much differently than they did in high school. I wish they would take a more sophisticated approach, especially when there are children watching, but most don’t.

I’m imagining the pictures to which you are referring are basic family shots of the parents with the bride and bridegroom, shots of in-laws, family friends, etc. Based on that, asking you to not post pictures of your parents speaking or standing next to each other at your engagement party is right up there with “Don’t let your ex-girlfriend sign your yearbook.”

So what to do?

Good ex-etiquette rule No. 8 is: “Be honest and straightforward.” And that’s exactly what you did. I hope it was done with kindness and respect because Dad is your parent. But rather than ask you to censor your pictures because of an issue in his relationship, it’s time for him to look at the reason for his request.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like Dad has chosen someone who does not appeal to his family and is trying to ride the wave for as long as he can by juggling his family and his girlfriend.

When special occasions come up and he can’t bring her, the next best thing is to try to erase the fact he was ever there. But avoiding the issue in this manner will only work for so long. Eventually, a final decision will have to be made.

It’s obvious that the family has set boundaries in this case. Be careful those boundaries were put in place as a way to cope with the current situation and not because the adult children feel Dad’s girlfriend is standing in the way of their parents’ reconciliation. That cannot be brokered by ultimatums.

Finally, Dad can certainly handle his romantic relationship the way he wants, but he can’t expect others to make concessions for his choices. That’s good ex-etiquette.

Blackstone is founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com, and may be contacted at dr.jann@exetiquette.com.

TNS