Nearly every week I am contacted by a parent complaining that their Ex is saying bad things about them to their children. From the outset, let me say very clearly THIS IS WRONG. DON’T DO IT. Now let’s talk more about that issue.
Thinking back over my family law career, common themes emerge in cases which I’ve listed below:
- Telling the children what caused the breakup, which tends to blame everything on the other person.
- Repeated negative references about the other parent such as “Your Dad didn’t pay his child support, so I can’t take you to the store,” or “Your crazy mom won’t stop texting me.”
- Speaking disrespectfully to the other parent in front of the children. So many times we hear about parents arguing at a child’s sporting event, saying things such as “when are you going to pay me back for that doctor bill” or “You call yourself a good parent? You didn’t even do their homework with them.”
- Speaking negatively about the other parent’s significant other, other children, or family members.
Some people feel the need to share with their children every gory detail of the breakup. This, in my opinion, is an attempt to control the children’s feelings so that they will favor the parent who is feeding the story. People do this because they are hurt, angry or feel alone. In some strange way, alienating the children from the other parent makes them feel as though they are “winning”. In reality. Parents that behave in this way are yanking the children’s emotional rug from underneath them. This will ultimately damage the children’s ability to trust and to love.
When parents speak negatively about or to their ex in front of their children, they are teaching their children how to feel and think about the other parent. They are also teaching their children how to behave in relationships. Children often react with rebellion, disrespect towards their parents or teachers, depression, or maybe worse. The emotional stress put upon them by their parents engaging in this behavior displays itself in many different ways. When a parent chooses to rise above this type of behavior, their children will naturally gravitate toward them because they get a calmer, stress-free environment. If you want your children to enjoy being with you, stop talking about your ex.
Finally, how many times have we seen parents complaining about the new girlfriend or boyfriend? Sometimes their badmouthing may extend to the Ex’s family who used to babysit for them. Suddenly that family member is no longer good enough to babysit when a divorce happens. You must give respect to get it. When you teach your children not to like the ex’s significant other or family members, don’t be surprised when the children feel free to share their distaste for your new significant other or your family members.
When we engage children in this emotional tug of war, we are empowering them to have an opinion about the actions of each party. Children are smart. You don’t have to tell them anything. Time will tell them everything they need to know.