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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Relationships Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

My husband and I have been together over 3 years, with a blended family situation (married a little over 2 years) and his ex-wife, who married last year, cannot leave him alone. They share time with their 3 kids (12,11,8). We have them 3 weekends; she has them during the week and 1 weekend/mo. She literally calls my husband 3-5 times a week for any pretext ranging from finding a zipcode, to home repairs, or for matters pertaining to the children. The calls last anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour. She seems to manufacture reasons for having contact with him. It is as though they were still married to each other. My husband sees nothing wrong with it. It is driving a wedge between us.

Answer

Your situation is not unique. There are many issues to be resolved in a blended family, one of the most difficult ones is that of boundaries. As I understand your situation, your husband is being encouraged to maintain his role not only as father to his children, but as husband-at-a-distance as well. Not only is he being consulted for issues pertaining directly to the children, but also for home repairs, general information, and conversation.

Divorced parents who are co-parenting their children in a shared custody arrangement, need to establish guidelines for how they are going to co-parent. These guidelines ought to include regularly scheduled (not daily) telephone meeting for discussing observations and sharing specific information. If there are matters relating decisions to made, e.g., camp, purchasing a car, medical issues, school issues, etc., more time may be spent focussing on the specific issues. Daily contact is rarely necessary. Contact should be limited to co-parenting issues. Children are quite capable of adapting to different house rules, just as they know there are different rules for school, church, and home. Likewise, they will learn different rules apply to each parent's home. While it is important that parents have similar values, it is not necessary to identical parenting styles.

Without these guidelines children find their new circumstances confusing. In their desire (whether conscious or not) to re-unite their parents, they will find many ways to manipulate their parents to being together. By establishing clear boundaries and guidelines, the children learn what is expected of them. Children of divorced parents need to know that their parents are still looking out for their best interests, but they also need to come to terms with the fact that their parents are no longer married. They then have the opportunity to learn how to have separate relationships with their parents rather than perceiving them as a unit.

11/27/98

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