Divorces and breakups are rough on everybody, and it’s common for there to be feelings of hurt and anger left after the relationship is over. Most people have probably said something unkind about an ex-partner to someone at some point or another, whether or not it’s justified. But when your ex-partner is also your child’s other parent, it’s important to be careful about what you say and to whom.
Specifically, it’s important to avoid bad-mouthing your ex to your children. Even if you believe that you’re only speaking the truth, even if your children are also angry with your ex, even if they bring up the subject with you, it’s important to avoid speaking badly of your ex to your kids. Take a look at a couple of very important reasons why.
Negative Talk About Your Ex-Partner Will Hurt Your Custody Case
It’s important to remember that the overarching principle for a family court in cases involving children is to do what’s in the best interests of the children, not what’s in the best interests of one parent or the other. And in most cases, the courts tend to believe that what’s in the best interests of the children is maintaining a relationship with both parents. This is based on research – children do tend to have better outcomes when both parents are involved in their lives in most cases.
Even if you don’t agree that your child’s best interests are served by having continuing contact with their other parent, unless you can show the court that any contact with their other parent, even supervised contact, is going to harm your child more than it helps, chances are that a court will order some type of arrangement that allows your child’s other parent to have at least some contact with them. That’s where your statements to your children about your ex will come into play.
If you are bad-mouthing your ex to your child, you’re influencing the way your child feels about your ex. Your words can affect the kind of relationship that your ex and your child can build. Your words can damage an existing bond between your ex and your child, or prevent such a bond from occurring in the first place. And a family court judge is unlikely to be tolerant of that. A family court judge has recourse if a parent refuses to stop doing or saying things to damage the relationship between their child and their child’s other parent.
If the two of you have joint custody, the judge could change the order so that the other parent has primary custody and you have visitation. If you currently have visitation and the other parent has custody, your visitation time could be reduced. Whatever custody outcome it is you’re looking for, the chances of you getting it decrease if your ex can show that you’re deliberately sabotaging their relationship with your children.
Bad-Mouthing Your Ex-Partner Only Hurts Your Kids
Even more important than maintaining your legal position is protecting your kids. And the fact of the matter is that speaking badly of your ex in front of your kids or to your kids hurts them. Children know that they’re a product of both parents, so it’s easy for a child to conclude that if one of their parents is a bad person, then they must be bad as well. Your child internalizes what you say, and it will do more damage to them than it could ever do to your ex.
It’s also important to consider the likelihood that the research is correct – children benefit from ongoing relationships with both parents. If you say things to damage that relationship, then you’re taking those benefits away from your child. Consider that while you may be hurt and angry at the moment, and you have a right to those feelings, those feelings don’t necessarily mean that your ex is a bad parent.
It’s possible that they were a bad partner to you, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t love their children and want the best for them. Of course, there are bad parents that children do need to be protected from out there, but can you objectively say that your ex is one of them? Or are your feelings about the end of the relationship clouding your judgment? Even if your ex is legitimately a bad parent, it’s still important to watch your words when you speak about them to your child.
Children generally love their parents no matter what. Even a child who’s been abused by one parent will often have fond feelings for them. In those cases, while you can speak honestly with your child about the things their other parent did that were wrong, you should still be judicious with how you speak about your ex to your child – not because you must be kind to your ex, but because you don’t want to invalidate your child’s feelings.
How to Let Go of Anger and Resentment Toward Your Ex-Partner
If you’re feeling angry with your ex, you should not have to just bottle those feelings up and ignore them entirely. Working through your own feelings is an important part of self-care after a divorce. You just need to find a way to do it without projecting those feelings onto your children. Seeing a therapist is an excellent idea. If counseling is available and accessible to you, consider taking advantage of it. This will give you a safe space to express your anger.
If therapy isn’t an option for you, then lean on your support network. Go out with your best friend and vent your feelings over drinks or dinner. Call your mother while the kids are at school and pour your heart out. You should absolutely be talking about your feelings for your ex, preferably to people who can give you support and validate your feelings. But your children are not those people. Do your best to leave them out of it.