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Getting along with ex’s new in-laws

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Q. I recently attended my daughter’s Christmas ballet recital. I got there late, and the lights had already dimmed, so it was difficult to see. I did notice my ex and tried to sit nearby, even though our breakup was messy, and we are barely speaking. She has recently remarried. When the lights came up at intermission, I realized I was sitting next to my ex’s new in-laws. I’m sure they have heard all sorts of terrible stuff about me. I didn’t know what to say to them. How should I have responded? What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. First, in the future, do your best to be on time to your child’s activities. She may not be able to fully relax until you get there, and it will help her to know where you are sitting before the play begins.

Second, and this may be difficult to accept, but your ex’s in-laws are now part of your daughter’s life — and therefore yours as well. If you are looking for the correct reaction, I refer you to Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 1, “Put the children first.” That’s the only reason you are doing this, and everything you say or do reflects on your child. The more polite you act around your ex’s in-laws, the more you are setting a good example for your child and eliminating any possible gossip.

So, stay calm and simply introduce yourself. “Hello, I’m Robert Morgan, Savannah’s father.” If you want to break the ice with a little levity, try, “I’m Robert Morgan, father of the dancing fairy.” Referring to yet another rule of good ex-etiquette for parents, Rule No. 8, “Be honest and straightforward,” you may even want to acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation and thank them for supporting your daughter.

You may be wondering what you can possibly talk about until the end of the intermission. This is not the time to be self-conscious about what you think they know. Look for common ground, your mutual interest: the dancing fairy. Keep the conversation light.

Good ex-etiquette is good behavior after a breakup. Do what you can to set the stage.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. /Tribune News Service

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