Co-parenting mistakes to avoid: Badmouthing your ex to the kids

In our post earlier this week, we discussed the common co-parenting mistake of asking your kids to keep secrets from their other parent. While many divorced parents do this, it is a mistake because it can put your children in an awkward and even emotionally traumatizing position. Choosing sides isn’t something kids should have to do.

In today’s post, we’ll discuss a similar co-parenting problem that can be even more damaging to children: badmouthing their other parent. Although you probably have some legitimate grievances with your ex-spouse, your children do not need to (and should not) hear the insulting and frustrated comments you may be tempted to make.

In a recent column in Psychology Today, the author discussed why neither parent should disparage the other in front of the kids. He advised readers to “think before you speak harshly about your ex, especially if you have kids, because there are no secrets in families and they will hear and feel it all.”

As the author points out, there is a very real risk that the things you say will be repeated to your co-parent. Even if that doesn’t necessarily bother you, it would almost certainly bother you to hear your children repeat insults that your ex-spouse said about you.

More importantly, however, is the idea that your disparaging comments can have a profound negative impact on your kids. Because the divorce was not their fault (and they should be reminded that it wasn’t), they should not feel uncomfortable about wanting to maintain a good relationship with both parents.

As a final note, remember that if your ex-spouse is badmouthing you to your children, you do not need to respond in kind. In fact, you can turn it into a teachable moment. You can say something as simple as: “I’m sorry your (father/mother) said those things, and I’m sorry that you had to hear them. It must have been difficult for you.”

Co-parenting is not easy, and anyone doing it with even moderate success should congratulate themselves. When things get heated between you and your co-parent, just remember that your children are listening and hoping that you’ll know how to handle the situation peacefully.

Source: Psychology Today, “When Your Ex Bags On You,” Barton Goldsmith, March 10, 2015

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