In the wake of a divorce, both parents going through it experience hurt feelings and a good deal of pain. These feelings sometimes lead one or both individuals to badmouth and criticize their ex. While anger and frustration are understandable and emotions need to be let out, this becomes a problem when it hurts someone else’s feelings and creates more problems.
When your co-parent is continually criticizing your actions and making inappropriate comments about you to your kids, the kids experience a great deal of emotional distress. Whether or not they believe what they were told, simply hearing it involves them in the tension between their parents. This is something that they are likely trying very hard to avoid or never expected to be part of in the first place. Children should have the opportunity to build a healthy relationship with both of their parents that is built partially on trust, and listening to all of this criticism about one or both of their parents hurts the chances of this happening. How is a child supposed to trust that their parent won’t start directing the criticizing to them later on?
Besides just the parents, it is also possible that other members of the family could be saying negative things about either of the parents. Even though it’s not one of the parents saying these things, having it come from another trusted family member can still confuse and distress them. This criticism can put a barrier in the relationship between co-parents or between a parent and other members of the family.
When you are experiencing this in your family, you are likely wondering how best to handle it. The first step is to talk to your children about what has been said. Let them know what isn’t true, and if parts of it are, use your best judgment to explain why it was said to your kids, always keeping your answers appropriate enough for your kids to understand depending on their ages. Use this to teach your kids a lesson in being mean and overly critical of others, not as an opportunity to get back at the person who was criticizing you. If you respond to this situation by saying critical or mean things about the other parent, this only further involves the kids in a struggle that they should be kept far away from. As you hear what your kids have to say, don’t get angry at them for bringing up the subject. Instead, allow them to tell you what they heard and ask questions so that you can clarify and ease their concerns.
After you have talked to your kids, you should begin thinking of ways to prevent yourself from having this conversation a second time. Don’t use your kids as a messenger in this situation; instead, confront this person yourself. Talk to the person who is saying the negative things about you, and request that they stop immediately. If you don’t think that you can stay calm in person or over the phone with this person, try sending your request by email. If the person doesn’t respond well, seek guidance from a professional such as a counselor or therapist, and talk to them about ways to proceed in this. If the person who was saying negative things about you is your co-parent, you should consider talking to your attorney about it no matter what. Your attorney can assist you in answering your questions and help you take legal action if it comes to it.
Criticizing and saying negative things about other people can create a great deal of hurt to the person on the end of those comments. In a co-parenting situation, the hurt can quickly spread to the kids. You can help to reduce the damage and speed up the healing by dealing with the situation quickly and calmly. Again, if you’re unsure how to best handle this situation with your family, talk to a family law or mental health professional as soon as possible. They can help you find ways to deal with this situation in an appropriate way.