5 Manners We Teach Kids That Work With Exes, Too

What manners do you have to repeat to your kids most often? I’m constantly reminding one of mine to chew with his mouth closed. He’s heard it so much that now I just say, “Lips!” For the sake of his future table mates, I’ll never give up on this.

We learn most manners as kids, but as we get older, the way we apply them morphs to fit different relationships. What if we applied a few of the most important manners to how we relate to our exes? Call it ex-spouse etiquette. Think you can mind these 5 manners with your ex?

1. Keep your hands clean.

It’s good manners to wash up so we don’t spread germs, but our hands aren’t the only way we spread sickness around. Sometimes, we share “germs” in the form of rumors or trash-talk about our exes. These infect the relationships in our lives with negativity.

When are you most tempted to say something unkind about your ex? If it’s when you’re with your friends, tell them conversations about her are off-limits. If it’s when you’re around your kids, find a different way to release your anger or annoyance, like journaling or a hot shower.

2. Wait your turn.

Watching my kids share one video game controller revealed how differently two people can perceive the passage of time. You know how it goes. The one waiting whines, “You’ve had the controller for like, forever!” and the other responds, “I just got it!”

It can feel like that when we have shared custody of our kids. The time we have with them is so valuable that it’s tempting to ask for an extra hour here or there or bring them back to Mom a little late. Let your ex-wife have her turn, and request that she show you the same respect when it’s your time.

3. Say excuse me.

Kids shouldn’t interrupt, but if they have to, saying “excuse me” is polite. The same goes for interactions between you and their mom. You might not use “excuse me,” but it’s good ex-spouse etiquette to acknowledge when you shake up the schedule or inconvenience the other person.

My ex-wife had a few days off of work and wanted to take our kids on vacation, but it meant missing three days of school. She didn’t text me with, “I’m pulling the kids out on these three days.” She said, “I’d like to take them skiing, but I wanted to run it by you to make sure you’re OK with them missing school.” She recognized it wasn’t an ideal scenario, but together we could make it work.

4. Knock before entering.

Teaching kids to knock is one of the first ways we teach boundaries and privacy. As you get older, boundaries aren’t quite as literal as a door, but they’re just as important, maybe more. What boundaries need to be respected between you and your ex-wife?

A few “knocks” you could agree upon: Text or call instead of just showing up. Respect each other’s requests for interactions with family members. Don’t give each other the third degree about who you’re dating. You only need to know the details that impact your children, e.g., her new boyfriend’s profession, not how much he lifts at the gym.

5. Say please and thank you.

Even though they’re simple words, I remind my kids to say please and thank you because it reinforces the message that they aren’t entitled to anything. Saying please and thank you shows respect and humility.

I don’t know many men who want to speak to their exes with respect and humility. Most don’t want to speak to their exes at all. But if you want things to become more peaceful, try this simple ex-spouse etiquette. Little things like “Thank you for taking her to the pediatrician so I didn’t have to leave work!” can go a long way to create a better dynamic between you.

Sound off: Which manners that you taught your kids also make appropriate ex-spouse etiquette?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Why do you think manners are important?”