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Ex-Etiquette: What’s good ex-etiquette for family celebrations?

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Question: Is it disrespectful to the new wife to invite the ex-wife and her parents to family functions? When we have family functions the kids don't get to come when it's the ex-wife's visitation time. It's not fair to the kids who don't get to see their cousins, aunts and uncles.

Answer: You won't hear us say it is disrespectful now; we celebrate all family functions together. But in the beginning things were kept quite separate and Jann would have been very put off if Sharyl was invited to family functions. It was about two or three years into the experiment that we all (Sharyl, Jann, and Jann's husband, who is Sharyl's ex-husband), made a concerted effort to co-parent the children and we began to celebrate together — at the prompting of the kids. Extended family was also invited. Those that lived nearby did attend. And, because Jann was in on the decision to celebrate in that manner, she did not see it as disrespectful.

It's not uncommon for kids to celebrate with only one parent and their extended family every other holiday once their parents split, so "it not being fair" is sort of a moot point. Divorce isn't necessarily "fair" to children, and what you describe is the fallout of divorce. If you want that to change, brainstorm with your wife and your ex on how to change it.

The Ten Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette for Parents are a great place to start. They begin with "Put the children first" and progress to checking yourself for spite, holding grudges, promoting respect of your child's other parent, and striving for compromise when problem-solving. Keeping your wife in the loop so that she can weigh in on the decision whether to celebrate together will also help guard against her seeing it as disrespectful.

You lay the groundwork to celebrate together all year round. Never attempt to celebrate with an ex on a whim or unless all parent figures are on board. It defeats the purpose if an adult role model appears openly uncomfortable or resentful in front of the kids. This includes extended family. It's just as detrimental if Grandma or Grandpa or an aunt and uncle make detrimental cracks in front of the kids as if Mom or Dad makes them.

And finally, if you do choose to celebrate together, consider meeting in a neutral place like a restaurant or park the first time or two. People's homes are considered "their territory." If you must have the get-together at a home, you may want to start off on a year that your wife and you host. Do your best to set a positive precedent — and then all work together to progress from there.

Jann Blackstone-Ford, Ph.D., and her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents," are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com). Reach them at www.bonusfamilies.com. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.