Q: My ex and I broke up a year ago. Our son plays football, and my new girlfriend wants to watch his games. My son asked me not to bring her because his mom told him that she can't bear to see me with another woman. He said that she gets angry and upset, and it trickles down to him and ruins his day. I am made to feel guilty when I ask for my girlfriend to understand his request. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: The primary rule: "Put the children first."
So if your son is telling you he doesn't want your girlfriend at his games, you should listen. But I wouldn't be shocked if a child stuck in the middle used his mother or father as an excuse to get his message across. For example, it's too early for your son, and he doesn't want your girlfriend around so it becomes, "I don't know, Dad. If she's around Mom gets crazy and then she takes it out on me." Who are you then angry with? Certainly not your son. It's your crazy selfish ex-wife who can't move on.
What to do? Good ex-etiquette suggests you go to the source — talk to your ex. (Good Ex-Etiquette for Parents rule No. 8: "Be honest and straightforward.") Find out if it's true, and if it is, put a plan in place to deal with it, starting with considering rule No. 7: "Use empathy when problem solving." That means put yourself in her shoes. It's only been a year. If it is truly too soon for her, be sensitive, because ultimately it's about your child and supporting him at his games. If it is difficult for her to see you with someone else, it will color your son's ability to do well. If you find she hasn't said those things, then once again it's about your child — he's lying to you for a reason. Both sides of the coin need to be explored.
Finally, the new girlfriend is making you feel guilty — really? You are a grown-up; set clear boundaries. If the guilty thing is working, then it's a tactic you will have to deal with for the rest of your relationship. Be honest and straightforward with her, as well. "My child comes first. I want you to be a part of our lives — but all in due time. If we rush this, it will work against you in his eyes. I want him to be comfortable with you and "us." Please be patient. If you can't be, then we are not suited for each other."
Clear boundaries are very clear. 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 ofbonusfamilies.com. Email her at drjannblackstonegmail.com.