My boyfriend and I broke up last week. My family had a small surprise party for me tonight. My daughter texted my ex (not knowing that he and I had broken up) asking him to keep me out of the house. He ignored her text and calls. If he’s mad at me, fine! But ignoring my child really has my gears grinding. Is this worth addressing? —Anonymous
That’s a tough one. He’s an ex-boyfriend, not a stepparent, and seemingly not the child’s father. There aren’t any clear rules on how an ex-boyfriend should interact with a child of his partner once the relationship is over. You marry someone and things don’t work out? You divorce the person but not the kids. You have a child with someone and you break up? Obviously you’re supposed to maintain a relationship with your child.
But with an ex who isn’t the child’s father? Many would say he handled this situation correctly. The relationship is over. He’s making a clean break and not sending mixed signals. Everything’s not OK, especially since it sounds as if the relationship ended on a sour note, given that you recognize that he’s “mad” at you. He’s not pretending that it is OK in order to keep up appearances for your child.
I know you’re angry, but take a moment and consider this scenario from his point of view. The relationship is over; it ended in anger. You haven’t spoken to each other in a week, and now he’s receiving calls and texts from your daughter asking him to help with a party. The immediate assumption is that no one told the child about the breakup, which isn’t his responsibility; it’s yours.
What was he supposed to say in response to her? “No, I won’t be there”? That leads to the child asking him for an explanation of why he can’t help with a big surprise for Mom, which any halfway decent partner would be expected to participate in. Either he explains that you two broke up—which would be inappropriate—or he says, “Talk to your mother,” and sends her back to you with a bunch of questions you’ve clearly been avoiding for the past week.
The other not far-fetched assumption he could make is that you’re playing games and having your child contact him as a ploy to get him to talk to you again. He’s not interested in getting back together, as his actions (ignoring the child and skipping the event) strongly indicate. He may have seen engaging with the child as engaging with you again, and he didn’t want any parts of that. He chose not to open Pandora’s box and say anything, which is probably the best move, considering that he’s no longer interested in being in a relationship with you.
I’d ask that instead of focusing on his lack of communication, you focus on your own. This whole scenario would have been avoided if you had been up front with your daughter about the breakup. If your child had known that your relationship was over, the child likely wouldn’t have contacted your ex, the child’s feelings wouldn’t have been hurt and the child wouldn’t have been confused by your ex not responding.
Obviously you didn’t know about the surprise party, and were clueless that your daughter would need to contact your ex. But given that this was the kind of relationship in which your ex and your child were in contact when you weren’t around, you should have said something to your child about the breakup, if for no other reason than to avoid a scenario like this.
I get the feeling that you may have avoided the conversation with your daughter because you thought you and your ex could work things out. You talk of him being mad at you, perhaps as if that were temporary and that in time he would get over his anger and come back around. You found out when he ignored your child’s messages and skipped the party that this wasn’t likely to happen. Be honest: Is that what actually has your gears grinding?
What do you hope to accomplish by calling your ex about this matter? What is the desired outcome? If he answers, you’re going to chastise him for not responding to your child, and then what? He’s expected to respond in the future? Why would the child be calling again?
The conversation you really need to have isn’t with your ex but with your daughter. It’s a difficult discussion to have, explaining that Mom and her boyfriend broke up, but it’s necessary to avoid complicated situations such as this. You need to speak to your child with haste and explain that your boyfriend is no more and that there shouldn’t be any more contact.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. She is also a blogger at SeeSomeWorld.com, where she covers pop culture and travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.