One piece of standard, basic parenting-after-divorce advice is not to bad-mouth your ex in front of your children. When the advice is ignored, children can feel caught in the middle and guilty for enjoying time and love with the bad-mouthed parent. Sometimes the bad-mouthing is directed broader than just the ex and applied to a whole gender. That’s what happened with Ashley’s mother. Here’s how it made Ashley feel:
Another thing that I remember from high school, which was after they got divorced, was that my mother would bad mouth men. Not only my father, but especially my father. She would bad mouth men and I think that was a truly horrible thing to do in front of me cause I was just starting to understand boys and trying to connect with boys and stuff. And it definitely affected me.
The comments were both what she said to me directly and what I overheard and I see that all the time. I remember thinking, “Why are you so negative towards men? Why are you saying these things in front of me? Don’t you realize that it’s inappropriate to be doing?”
Adults say things in front of the kids and don’t really take into consideration how it’s really affecting the kids. There is a great thing in a movie called “Away We Go” that talks about this. The mother is talking about the kids saying, “Oh, they don’t hear, they don’t pay attention… you can say their names…” and she starts saying their names. “George, George, George.” I don’t remember what the kid’s name was, I’m just using George. The kid doesn’t hear any of it. But later, they’re in a restaurant and the kids are sitting at an adjoining table. So, there’s a space between them. The parents are talking to another couple and the mother says, “Oh, yeah it was really hard for us for a while. We really thought we were going to get divorced.” All of a sudden the camera shoots over to the kids, and the kids have a look on their faces like, “What, we didn’t know that!”
It just really hit home because that was the type of thing that was always happening. My mother would be saying something in front of me that I didn’t necessarily feel was appropriate for her to be saying in front of me. It was affecting me in one way or another and she had no real concept of how it was affecting me.
It wasn’t just that I didn’t think I could talk to her about boys, it was deeper than that because I didn’t, I couldn’t trust them. I assumed that they weren’t going to be trustworthy. I assumed that they were going to abandon me which was also to do with my father never having accepted me.
I was surprised when I found out that boys liked to read books! I assumed that they were just not curious. I know it sounds stupid but I remember an experience where I was with a group of friends and this one guy was talking about this book and how it affected him. And it wasn’t just about reading but it was about emotion. I couldn’t tell you what book it was but I remember feeling really shocked that a guy would be interested in reading books but also that he would be willing to open up and talk about the emotional effect it had on him.
That totally surprised me. Meanwhile my brothers, especially my older brother, who is a writer and an actor, he was definitely an emotional person but, he was my brother. I assumed that’s what brothers were like. Both my brothers were extremely caring for me because my father was distant although I didn’t know at that point that they were trying to overcompensate for my father. I didn’t expect other boys to be that way.
I would encourage any woman or man that if they are having problems, with the opposite sex, to really consider how much the kids are hearing because, it can definitely affect their perception of the opposite sex.
The Divorce Coach Says
A friend of mine, who is happily married told me recently that she reads my blog because often times the guidance applies just as much to a marriage as to life after divorce and I think this is one of those situations. You don’t have to be divorced to bad-mouth the other parent …
So what does ‘bad-mouthing” mean? To me, it doesn’t mean that you have to pretend you’re not upset by something your ex has done. For example, when your ex is late to pick up the children, it’s fine to say, “I’m upset that your father is late to pick you up because I have plans,” but it’s not OK to say, “Arrgh – he does this every time. The only time he’s ever on time anywhere is when I was there to remind him. If he cared about you, he’d be here on time.”
Let’s say he’s supposed to attend a school concert in which your child is performing and he doesn’t show. Your gut reaction might be:
“Well, that’s just typical of your dad. He’s so thoughtless, he’s useless at remembering your concerts. You’d think he could manage to get this right.”
Instead you could try asking your child how he feels and then empathizing …
“I’m sorry your dad missed your concert. I know you were looking forward to him seeing you. I wonder why he’s not here? Are you OK?”
Your child will come to his own understanding of realities without your editorializing. If you need to vent about your ex, vent to your friends when your kids can’t hear you.
Have you been tempted to bad-mouth your ex but though better of it?
Photo credit: emanuela franchini