It is SUCH an obvious thing that should not happen: ex-partners badmouthing one another to the children. That's when you really might need to step up and get relationship help to put a stop to it!
It is SO important to manage your relationship with your ex WITH YOUR EX, NOT through the kids!
But, so many divorced folks don't play fair like that. If you're reading this you probably know that scenario first hand.
So, your child or teen comes to your house and tells you what his or her other parent has said about you, and it is not only not nice, it's inaccurate, unfair and startlingly dishonest. What do you do?
If you are a perfect specimen of rationality, perspective and integrity, you smile at your child and say,
"Don't you worry, honey. It's nothing that needs concern you. If you have a question for me, I'll do my best to answer it, but really, you don't have to worry about that at all. That's big people stuff. "
You will have to decide if the questions that your child might ask are appropriate to answer. Give the child an age-appropriate answer in any case. Little children go on feelings alone and they don't need explanations of things they should not be thinking about.
That's where the real travesty of badmouthing the other parent is found: when the children feel they have to create loyalty--or simulate loyalty--to the parent to whom they are talking. They are constantly in a balancing act, trying to keep the "giants" happy. They become miserable and often anxious when put in this situation. Unfair!
Here is California, and I believe in most states, some wording such as this is written into every set of divorce orders:
"Neither parent shall make negative statements about the other parent in the presence or hearing of the children or question the children about the other parent. The parents shall communicate directly with each other in matters concerning the children and shall not use the children as messengers between them. The children shall not be exposed to court papers or disputes between the parents, and each parent shall make every possible effort to ensure that other people comply with this order." *
Could that possibly be clearer?
Yes, and yet, I've just hung up the phone with a father who wanted to know if I could help him as the children are reporting all the negative things his ex-wife and her new husband have said to them. I'm so glad he made the call, because this puts the children is such an unfair situation.
This distraught father called me because I teach a program on Co-Parenting for Divorced Parents that is recognized by the Superior Court of California. He was so relieved to know that there is very specific help available for him, for his new relationship, and for the children.
It is very difficult to swim in these shark infested waters without a lifeline of support, information, and suitable strategies and solutions.
Kids hate to hear negative comments about their parents. That's natural. They need to be thinking about playing, learning and growing in healthy ways. That's their jobs. They are not to confidantes of parents who want to vent or inveigle. They are not mini-lawyers arguing about which side should win. That's just unloving to children.
So, if your ex has been badmouthing you to your children, talk immediately to your ex. Be honest. You may not like, appreciate, trust or particularly care for or about each other, and that's fine. What is not fine is to take away your children's childhoods by making them into mini-adult confidants. Do your best to have a reasonable, adult conversation based on what is in the best interests of the children.
Yes, I know, it often happens that when one ex tries to be rational, the other sees them as something for target practice! Be a bit of a broken record:
"No matter how we feel about each other, we both love our children. Let's not put them in more difficult situations than they will meet naturally. Let's not be the cause of further difficulties for them. Let's agree not to badmouth one another."
If you were in relationship with what is termed a "high conflict personality", you may get nowhere with this. But, if there is any small germ of rationality, caring, love and ability to rise to the best interests of the children, it will all be worth it.
Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, The Relationship Help Doctor, works with individuals, couples, and families. She specializes in helping those who are or have been in relationship with "high conflict" people. If you could use her help, it's available for you either in person in her office in Escondido, CA, or through Skype video and audio. Visit www.OptimizeCenter.com to create a login and book your own appointment.
Here's her affiliate link for a great tool to help you communicate with your ex without talking! www.ForRelationshipHelp.com/familywizard