We’ve all heard again and again warnings for parents to not badmouth their former spouse to the children following the divorce. Clearly, while it’s tempting to put Mom or Dad down for the way they’ve hurt you in the marriage, venting to the kids puts them in a very uncomfortable position. They love both of their parents and don’t want to hear about the ways your ex misbehaved or initiated your divorce.
But there’s another factor that doesn’t get as much attention worth bringing up in this same conversation. And that’s forbidding or discouraging your children from expressing love or talking about their other parent around you. Kids naturally want to talk about their lives including things they might have done with their other parent, especially the fun times. If they’re made to feel guilty when bringing up the subject of an adventure with Dad, a shopping spree with Mom, new place they visited or a fun movie they’ve watched together with their other parent, they feel repressed. Consequently, they stop sharing, don’t open up about their feelings as readily, and close up around you. That’s not the path to healthy parent-child communication. Once that door is closed, it can take years of therapy to pry it open again, if ever.
All parents need to be aware that when a child expresses love, admiration or respect for their other parent, it doesn’t diminish their love for you. Competition for affection between parents, divorced or otherwise, is a no-win road to alienating your children. Parents who are supportive of their children’s relationship with their other parent, even when that parent forms a new romantic relationship with another partner, encourage their children to express themselves freely. When children don’t have to guard themselves from “saying the wrong thing” in front of Mom or Dad their relationship with you is more flowing, natural and trusting. And they’ll come to respect and acknowledge you more for your maturity as they themselves age.
Equally important — when your children do express disapproval of their other parent, don’t chime in with your own negative agenda. They may want to vent, but they’re not looking to handle your emotional baggage. Nor do they want to join you for a bad Mom or Dad bashing session. Judgments creating guilt, shame or blame can backfire on you and close the door to trusting communication.
Be a caring listener, supportive in helping them find solutions for their challenges. Divorced or not, that’s what parents are for.
Rosalind Sedacca is a Divorce & Parenting Coach, Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children – with Love! To learn more about the ebook, visit http://www.howdoitellthekids.com. For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, free ezine, coaching services and other valuable resources on divorce and parenting issues, visit: www.childcentereddivorce.com.