Q: My ex-husband is now publicly dating the woman with whom he had an alleged affair and one of the reasons I filed for divorce. He has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and I suspect she has it as well. My teenage daughters know of her, they are not fans, but have never spoken to her. This last Christmas she gave them each Christmas cards with gift cards, signed, “Love.” Who sends gifts signed “Love” to someone they have never met? The cards make my daughters angry. Do I need to let this go or ask her not to send them? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Tons of red flags. Let’s look at the ones waving the brightest.
Pop psychology gives us all just enough information to throw around diagnoses like they’re legitimate. The new wave of ex-diagnoses is Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Everyone’s ex is a narcissist. Let me just say, these are serious diagnoses and self-diagnosis can be dangerous. To label someone with these disorders because they had an affair or you can’t get along after a breakup is doing everyone a disservice, particularly your children. If there has been a diagnosis by a professional, then follow the direction of the professional, but I caution you about making decisions based on “I suspect she has it as well.”
Concerning let it go or ask “her” not to send things … although it does seem quite insensitive, I’m sure their father knows about the presents, and I’m wondering how he weighs in on this. If they’re looking for a way to reach out to the kids, think again. Truth is, if he and she really did have an affair and the kids know about it, it’s doubtful she will be accepted and sending presents so soon after your breakup will not win her friends or sway the kids into acceptance. Let Dad handle it with her. Getting into a competition with the woman whom you believe broke up your marriage will be unproductive. I always suggest, “Grace under fire.” That said, if the cards continue, I’d consider intercepting them, give them back to Dad and tell him cards from his girlfriend to the kids are inappropriate at this time.
Finally, as hard as it will be under the circumstances, do your best not to badmouth Dad, (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 3) even if he has done what you suspect. Although you’re hurting, your primary job is to be there for the kids, and badmouthing Dad will just reinforce their hurt and insecurities. Be their rock. Your kids will figure it out. That’s good ex-etiquette.