Good co-parenting requires teamwork

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All parents, including stepparents, should coordinate efforts to raise children

Q. My husband talks too much to his ex. Every time there is the slightest issue with the kids, they are on the phone chatting it up. It drives me crazy. Exes simply shouldn’t talk this much. All my friends agree with me and say it’s unnatural. He said I should write you and tell you my concerns, so I am. You can’t possibly condone all this ex conversation. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. I can’t tell from your email if your husband really does interact too much with his ex. I can tell you, however, that good co-parenting requires a lot of interaction, and if this isn’t addressed right from the beginning‚ there can be problems.

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Let’s begin by my describing a common scenario I see every day and see if any of this rings true.

First, you did not say how long you have been married, but I can’t believe this is new behavior on your husband’s part. My experience is that often new partners (both men and women) see behavior that bothers them (and it’s not just behavior as you describe) but don’t think they have a right to say anything because they aren’t “married” or possibly living together. They don’t want to scare the other person away, so they keep quiet.

Once they do sign on the dotted line or move in, that’s when they feel they have a right to comment, and their partner sees it as coming out of left field. Confused, their partner doesn’t know how to change their behavior and things start to spiral. When someone doesn’t feel they are getting support at home, they vent to their friends, who love them and want to support them but really don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. Or, in this case, understand this particular co-parenting dynamic. And it’s not out of the ordinary for all this advice to fall back on that old school divorce philosophy of “Don’t talk to your ex.” But how can you do that when you share custody and the kids live in both your homes?

This is why it is so important to be honest right from the beginning. That way, if there are growing pains and adjustments on both your parts, you work on them before you move in together and subject the children to additional chaos. If it boils down to you not able to accept the parental interaction, you don’t go forward.

I know that sounds quite cut and dry. If you love someone, you don’t want to walk away. But if you don’t agree with their basic philosophy of life — in this case, how they co-parent their children — that’s a huge hurdle to jump.

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The reason I am taking this tact is because of something you said in your email. “Every time there is the slightest issue with the kids.” That’s the key, right there. They aren’t making coffee dates. They are talking about the kids. And, if you live there, you have a huge influence on the kids as well. You and your husband may even have children of your own eventually who will be their brothers or sisters, and it will be essential to coordinate efforts. Knowing this, don’t exclude yourself. This is a team effort.

You have taken on quite a responsibility marrying someone with children who actively co-parents. Don’t give up yet. You may have to work with a professional to help you better understand your part in all of it, but at face value, it sounds like he’s doing what’s necessary to raise children after a breakup. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website at