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Don’t Practice Poison Parenting

Breaking up is hard to do and it may be especially hard on the kids if they feel torn between warring parents. While I like to put the focus on what “to do” rather than what “not to do,” there are some poison practices worth avoiding.

Regardless of your situation with your Ex, keep you kids out of it. Period. It’s unfair and causes undue emotional stress to use your kids to deliver messages or information to your Ex. Even the most seemingly benign logistics such as pick-up times or lunch money can be charged with emotional fallout.

Avoid oversharing with your kids and using them as your confidants. Their own anxiety and concern for you may come across as them being supportive of you and what you’re going through. However, breaking these boundaries does real damage to your kids’ peace of mind. They can’t handle your adult issues and emotions.

Don’t grill your children for details when they come back from being with your Ex. This puts them in the middle, an uncomfortable emotional position. Stick to light, general questions such as “Did you have fun?” and then let it go.

As tempting as it is, DO NOT trash talk your Ex to your kids or within their earshot. Bad-mouthing can include name-calling, telling the “truth” as you perceive it, blaming and criticizing. Your Ex could be the biggest jerk west of the Rockies, but when you say negative things about their other parent you’re putting your kids in an emotionally impossible situation. The unintended consequences include creating long-term psychological scars for your kids and damaging your relationship with them. In fact, it’s likely to make them more sympathetic to your Ex. Adult children of divorce report the devastating impact this nasty, trash-talking habit had on them. It poisons parent-child relationships and it’s not worth it.

If you suspect or know, that your Ex is “throwing you under the bus” when it comes to your kids, take the high road. If they bring it up to you, listen and reassure them. You can say something like, “Your mom/dad is really angry right now and it sounds like she’s/he’s having a hard time getting over it. I trust that she/he will get past it. The most important thing for you to know is that I love you and that she/he loves you—no matter what.” If you’re concerned that it’s causing them stress, give them access to a therapist so they can share feelings in a neutral space.

What if you’ve already made one or more of these mistakes?

Use it as an opportunity to teach your kids how to apologize and make amends. In other words, own up to it with them. Tell them you’re sorry about what you said, or have been saying to them, about their other parent. Tell them it’s not okay and that you made a mistake. Tell them you were angry but now you know there are better, more constructive ways to deal with your anger. This teaches them what it looks like to gracefully take responsibility for your mistakes and to apologize. Then, do better. Show them you are reliable and are putting them first.

In case you missed them, here are links to the first two parts of this series on helping your kids to thrive after your divorce:

Part 1: Give Your Kids Some Power

Part 2: Give Your Kids an Outlet for Their Feelings

Deb Purdy, is a transformation coach, speaker, workshop leader and author of
Something Gained: 7 Shifts to Be Stronger, Smarter and Happier After Divorce.

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