If you have had a high conflict divorce and there are children involved, you probably have heard your ex complain about you through your children. If your gut reaction is to get defensive, you are letting your ex have power over you. From the children’s point of view, what worries them are why their parents are divorced (did they cause it?) and what makes couples stay together (security).
Are your kids saying….
“Mom said that you always go out with your friends and leaving her home to take care of us”
“Dad says that you have no money because you don’t know how to manage your finances and that’s why he has to buy me my phone”
“Mom said that you are selfish and never helped with housework”
“Dad says that you’re jealous and controlling and that’s why you guys have to get a divorce”
“Mom said that you’re narcissistic”
“Dad said that you’re emotional and illogical”
“Mom says that you can’t find a job because you have an anger problem and can’t get along with people”
“Dad said you guys got a divorce because you cheated on him”
What happens to you when you hear your child say that? Do you feel like you are under attack? Do you feel ashamed? Do you feel controlled? Do you feel like your ex is making you look bad? Do you feel like your ex is trying to alienate you from your child?
What’s your instinctive reactions? Do you stone-wall? Do you counter attack by pointing out how your ex does the same thing? Blaming, denying, making excuses?
And what’s the usual results of that? Sometime you have a counter argument that shuts the kids down but it doesn’t alleviate their anxiety around what the other parent had said and keeps you mad. They might end up choosing sides, build unhealthy beliefs about relationship, or feel unloved which is detrimental to any child’s self-esteem. You are left feeling pissed off, powerless, worried and disconnected to your children.
To stop letting your ex influence your relationship with your children, you need to stop getting defensive and strengthen your own connections with your children.
So, here are some tips:
- It’s NOT about you. It’s about your child.
You might instantly want to react to a judgements by getting upset, counter blame, or go into denial when you hear you child pass on some criticism from your ex. However, try not to get defensive; instead, find out what is motivating her to express it to you. By caring more about what your child feel than defending your own hurt, you are building a stronger relationship with your child and removing your ex’s attempt to sabotage your character or your relationship with your child.
- Be CURIOUS about what is the “moral of the story” that your child is learning.
Now you’re putting yourself outside of your ex’s defaming you, you can address your child’s feeling about the said statement. Ask your child what it symbolize to her to have that thought? What is she learning about the world by having that kind of idea.
- Recapping and Validate
Recapping: This one is simple, after the child has stated her opinion about the said statement, you simply reflect what she said. i.e. “so I hear you said because your mom said xyz about me, you think that ….”.
Validate: after recapping, build some self-esteem with your child – say “I can see how you might interpret it that way”
- Reframe the issue
Think about your value and what kind of value you want in your kids. Describe possible other reasonable views on the situation in way that align with your parenting philosophy.
Let say that other parent claims that the reason you’re a bad person is because you are a lazy slob. That you never help out with house work and you’re always watching sports.
“Mom says that you can’t keep a relationship because you’re lazy and always watching TV and don’t do house work”
1. It’s NOT about you:
Take a deep breath, don’t go counter blaming your ex for other things that she is lesser than or denying that’s not true. Noticed that your body is tightening up. That’s your body preparing for a fight. Breathe and relax. Remind yourself that what’s important here is your child’s emotional well-being and growth.
2. Be Curious:
- “yeah? do you think it’s true?”
- Child: “well, your house is definitely more dirty than mom’s and you do like to watch sports”
- Dad: “and… what does that mean to you that my house is dirtier and I watch sports?”
- Child: “well, nothing really, at least not to me. But probably that’s why you and mom got divorced”.
3. Recap and Validate:
- Dad: “so you think that people can’t stay married if they don’t have the same cleanliness standard or watch the same amount of TV?”
- Child: “well… maybe….actually it sounds pretty dumb”
- Dad: “you’re trying to figure out why people get a long and why people get divorced ?”
- Child: “I just want to know why mom and you got divorced?”
- Dad: “yeah, I can see why you might be curious about that” “Would it help you to understand why people get married and divorced?”
Remember, you are providing socio-emotional education for your child. It is not about you. It’s about your child’s trying to figure out what relationship is all about and many other things that they’re trying to figure out in the world.
Lastly, your relationship with your child is way more important than what your ex said and hopefully, by the time you’re divorced, your feelings, whether negative or positive about your ex isn’t driving your behavior anymore. So, find out what your child brought up is impacting him. How would you help him understand complex human interactions and hold it in a way that’s flexible and resourceful?
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