Venting about Your Ex Can Damage Your Child
Venting about Your Ex
Can Damage Your Child
Telling your child awful things about your ex usually damages your child and frequently backfires.
As a family mediator, I hear one parent say horrible things about the other parent all the time. Saying these things to me in a confidential setting is fine. Saying the same things to your child or even to someone else when your child can hear usually hurts the child, even when the things you say are true.
“We got divorced because your mother had an affair.”
“I left your father because he yelled at me all the time. He’s a bully and a tyrant.”
Maybe it makes you feel better to say such things, but you are implicitly asking your child to take sides, to hate his other parent at least a little, to blame her/him for all of the problems associated with the divorce. Hating and blaming damage a person’s character, personality, and self-image. Some would say they damage one’s soul.
“Your father is crazy.” OK, if the parent is literally psychotic at times, then the child needs to know and would probably benefit from working with a therapist who can teach the child how to enjoy the good times and protect himself/herself during the parent’s bad times. If the parent is merely outrageous, your child is probably better off hearing something less pejorative from you. “Your mother loves you a lot and is a great soccer coach, but she is not always realistic about other parts of life” could actually be helpful to your child. Give attention to your tone of voice. You may sound critical, rejecting, and mean, which is not very helpful. Or you may sound like someone who wants to help a child understand the ways that people differ from each other and the strengths and skills he/she can learn from each important adult.
One time a mother called a mediator who had worked with her and her ex because the plans they had made were not working smoothly and she did not know what to do. The father had told the child that the mother had called the police on him. He equated calling a mediator with calling the police and explicitly encouraged the child to blame and hate the mother. A mediator is legally bound to keep almost all communications confidential. Police have the power to arrest a father if he has broken a law or defied a court order. That’s a pretty big difference.
For the moment, the child was very angry at the mother. She told him that the father had made a mistake or was lying; she had not called the police. At first he did not believe her. Later he may. Meanwhile, look what damage the father has already done. He has taught the child that at least one of his parents cannot be trusted. At least one of his parents lies to him. The world he lives in, the family he lives in, is not a safe place. Soon enough, the child may ask for proof. The father cannot give any, because the mother did not call the police. Now which parent will the child believe? The father has damaged the child immediately and has in the long run also damaged his own relationship with the child.
Most children love both parents. They do not want to be put in the middle of their parents’ fights. They do not even want to hear their parents fighting. They certainly do not want to be asked to choose sides.
Many parents have many good reasons for feeling very angry at an ex-partner. Talking about those feelings can help you get past them, so that they do not rule your life. Just do it when and where your kids don’t have to listen.
I want all parents — married, separated, divorced, or never-married — to love their children wisely and well. Make 2013 a happy year.
The author is a Professional Family Mediator certified by the Virginia Supreme Court. For a free, private consultation, contact Dr. Colin at mediatorQ@gmail.com or 703 864 2101.