By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
We all know that one of the biggest divorced parent “don’ts” is putting down or disrespecting your children’s other parent to them. Clearly, while it’s tempting to badmouth your co-parcoment 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 from you about the ways your ex misbehaved or initiated your divorce.
There’s another element in this conversation that doesn’t get as much attention – but certainly needs to be addressed. And that’s the “guilt factor.” It’s based on your forbidding or discouraging your children from expressing love or talking about their other parent around you. Kids naturally want to talk about their lives. They like to share things they might have done with their other parent, especially the fun times.
Very often our expressions, tone of voice, comments or lack of response makes our children feel guilty. This is especially so when bringing up 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. Your child may feel repressed, shamed, confused or uncomfortable in some way they may not be able to explain.
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.
Here’s the key point: as a parent you need to understand that when a child expresses love, admiration or respect for their other parent, it doesn’t diminish their love for you.
Healthy Parenting is not a Competition
Competition for affection between parents — divorced or otherwise — is a no-win road to alienating your children. Co-parents who are supportive of their children’s relationship with their other parent encourage their children to express themselves freely. Even when that parent forms a new romantic relationship with another partner.
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.
Avoid parent bashing sessions with your child
This is also important for you to keep in mind. Should your children 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.
Remember, you’re a role model for your children. So be a caring listener, supportive in helping them find solutions for their challenges. Listen without adding to the drama about their other parent. Listen too, with happiness and support regarding that parent’s positive interaction with them. Share their good moments without jealousy. Be happy for their happiness.
Divorced or not, isn’t that what parents are for?
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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 Rosalnd’s free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, coaching services and other valuable resources on divorce and co=parenting issues, visit: www.childcentereddivorce.com.