Bashing Your Ex is Bad News for Your Children
By Rosalind Sedacca, CCT
We all do it from time to time. Make a sarcastic comment
about our ex, criticize something they did or didn’t do, gesture or grimace
our faces when referring to our former spouse. When we do it in front of, near
or within hearing distance of our children, we set ourselves up for a hornet’s
nest of problems.
We have all heard this, but it’s easy to forget or
let slide. It hurts our children when they hear one of their parents put down
the other. This is so even if your child does not say anything about it. With
rare exceptions, children innately feel they are part of both parents. They
love them both even when that love isn’t returned to them in the same
When you put down their other parent your children are likely
to interpret it as a put-down of part of them. When both parents are guilty
of this behavior, it can create a sense of unworthiness and low self-esteem.
“Something’s wrong with me” becomes the child’s unconscious
I know it’s challenging some times not to criticize
your ex, especially when you feel totally justified in doing so. Find a friend
or therapist to vent to. Don’t do it around your children. And, whenever
possible, find some good things to say about their other parent – or hold
The lesson here is simple. Destructive comments about your
ex can impact your children in many negative ways. It creates anxiety and insecurity.
It raises their level of fear. It makes them question how much they can trust
you and your opinions – or trust themselves. And it adds a level of unhappiness
into their lives that they do not need … or deserve!
When you have a problem with your ex, take it directly to
them – and not to or through the children. Don’t exploit a difficult
relationship, or difference of opinion with your ex, by editorializing about
him or her to the kids. It’s easy to slip – especially when your
frustration level is mounting.
Listen to and monitor your comments to the children about
their other parent.
• Are you hearing yourself say: “Sounds like
you picked that up from your Dad/Mom.”
• Do you make a negative retort about their behavior and end it with “just
like your father/mother.”
• Do you frequently compare your ex with other divorced parents you know
making sure the kids get the negative judgment?
• Do you counter every positive comment your child makes about your ex
with, “Yeah, but …” and finish it with a downer?
• Do you make your children feel guilty for having had fun visiting the
other parent or liking something in their home?
• Do you throw around biting statements like “If Mom/Dad really
loved you …”
• Do you try to frighten or intimidate your kids during a disagreement
by saying “If you don’t like it here, then go live with your Mom/Dad?
It’s easy to fall into these behavior patterns –
and they can effectively manipulate your children’s behavior – for
the short-term. But in the long run you will be slowly eroding your personal
relationship with the children you love and alienating their affection. This
will bite you back in the years to come, especially as your children move into
and through their teens.
As a parent you want to raise children with a healthy sense
of self-worth. You want children who are trusting and trust-worthy ,,, who are
open to creating loving relationships in their lives. It’s not divorce
per se that emotionally scars children. It’s how you, as a parent, model
your behavior before, during and after your divorce. If you model maturity,
dignity and integrity whenever challenges occur, that’s what your children
will see and the path they will take in their own relationships. You can’t
make life choices for them, but you sure can influence their choices and perceptions
about the world when they are young and vulnerable!
Minding your tongue around your children can be one of the
most difficult behaviors to master after a divorce. It is also one of the behaviors
that will reap the greatest rewards in the well-being of your family. Don’t
let anger, bitterness and indiscriminate remarks affect and harm your children.
Keep a “conscious” diligence on your commentary and your ex is more
likely to follow suit, as well. If he or she doesn’t, your kids will naturally
pick up on the different energy and gravitate toward the parent taking the high
road. Ultimately that parent will win their respect and admiration. Shouldn’t
that be you?
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