You and your ex have broken up and decided to live independently of one another. There’s just one hitch: You share a child and you will need to learn how to co-parent in order to raise that child into a healthy adult. You might be struggling with feelings of betrayal, anger, disappointment, sadness, and a wide range of other emotions. There might have been abuse, infidelity, and other major issues at play that caused the divorce or breakup, and it can be tempting to bring up these issues to your child or to otherwise speak poorly of your ex. It is very important that you don’t do that, however. Read on to find out why you should avoid bad mouthing your child’s other parent and how you can have your needs met without burdening your child.
Bad mouthing your child’s other parent is wrong, and not in only an ethical sense. It’s actually illegal and it is termed, “parental alienation.” What this means is that if you tell your child that his or her other parent is a bad mom or dad, that they don’t love your child, that they were mean to you, and so on, you are, in essence, poisoning your child’s mind against his or her other parent. This can be a reason for a judge to grant custody to that other parent. Parental alienation is unfair to the child, unfair to the other parent, and not looked kindly upon by family court judges.
In addition, it will cause self-esteem issues in your child. It might be true that his or her other parent did bad things, but that does not mean that your child is bad. Since your son or daughter knows that you and your ex each make up half of him or her, it is reasonable for a child to conclude that if one parent is irredeemably bad, the child might be, too. Refrain from saying anything negative about your ex, even if your ex has disappointed your child. Let him or her come to their own conclusions.
The Importance of Good Relationships
In most cases, it is important and beneficial for a child to have a close bond with both parents. When there is abuse or a substance addiction at play, this might not be the case, but even in these situations, judges often try to encourage the offending parent to make lifestyle changes that could allow a relationship to bloom safely and with the best interest of the child in mind.
In most divorces and breakups, however, child abuse and substance addiction are not issues. In these cases, it is almost always better for a child to be able to spend time with and receive love from both parents. Speaking poorly of your ex can make your child feel guilty for wanting to spend time with his or her other parent. In addition, it can strain their relationship. Don’t do this to your child; encourage them to enjoy spending time with their mother or father and do what you can to allow visitation and shared custody to proceed as ordered.
Children Learn How to Act From You
Your duties as a parent include things like providing food and shelter, taking your child to school, and teaching him or her what is needed to become an adult. You are setting an example for your child on how to treat people, including people with whom they don’t get along. Something your child should not be learning from you is that bad mouthing others is okay. Your child likely knows that you do not get along well with your ex; set a good example by speaking only truthfully and kindly about them.
Further, your child does not need to know about the dirty details of your breakup. If your spouse had an affair, this is not something that a young child should be aware of. Even a teenager, who is likely to pick up on what happened, does not want or need the details of what transpired. Remember that your child is also learning how to behave from your ex, so do not encourage future poor behavior by pointing out bad things that their parent has done. If they figure it out later, that’s fine, but childhood is not the time for them to learn about affairs and other adult issues.
Finding a Sounding Board
Sometimes it is easy to get into the habit of sharing your thoughts with a child; this is especially true when a child is a pre-teen or older and when the parent doesn’t have their own support circle. A child, even a teenager or a young adult, is not the person to give you support during or after your divorce, however. They have to deal with their own trauma and feelings; they can’t be expected to also manage and help you with yours.
Seek out support in the form of friends, extended family, and maybe a support group. A therapist can also help you make sense of your feelings surrounding the breakup and the enormous task ahead of co-parenting with your ex. A financial advisor can help you navigate the ups and down of managing your money without a partner. You can ask your parents, your pastor, or other adults in your life to give you assistance where you need it. You might join a group of people who are also going through a divorce. As long as you are not depending on your child to meet your emotional need for support, feel free to allow others to help you with your strong feelings.
At National Family Solutions, we can help you get the support you need. We can also help you if your ex is bad mouthing you and trying to alienate you from your children. We take parental rights seriously, and you have the right to form and maintain a strong bond with your child without his or her other parent interfering. Contact us to find out if we can help you with your case.