Many of us in high-conflict parenting relationships find ourselves the butt of jokes, the victim of malicious half-true and down-right untrue gossip spread by our Ex or their partner, and being the topic of “heart-to-heart” conversations with your ex and your children filled with carefully crafted stories intended to alienate your children from you.
Sometimes it works. Sometimes your kids come home and say things like, “Mom, is it true that when you were in your 20s you smoked pot? Dad said you did and he said his current wife never did that?” or they say, “Hey Mom, Dad says you lie in court. Dad says you lie to the police. Dad said you lie to his friends.”
The hard thing is not reacting. You want to knock some sense into the thick-skulled Ex for not understanding his or her need to punish, retaliate, control or whatever to you just hurts and confuses your kids. If you let it bother you and spiral out of control, you are just drawn back into the abusive cycle with a different set of tools. So what do you do?
I found it can be handled with a simple, “I’m sorry you had to hear that about Mommy, it’s not true. I bet you felt pretty sad or uncomfortable when they were saying bad things about Mommy. That’s why in our house we don’t say bad things about people and we don’t talk about people when they are not here. Next time, just let the bad words about me or anyone fly away; they are just words. They are just what one person thinks and we can’t control what other people think. When people at school or at other places talk badly about other people you just have to ignore it and if it’s about me you don’t have to defend me or stand up for me. Mommy can stand up for herself. You can just be the kid.”
I don’t defend myself. I don’t make this about me, my feelings, or about my Ex – which is what they want. Your Ex wants the drama – wants the fight. I shut down these conversations in my household after acknowledging how my kids feel and what my rules are so they know. If you get involved in the conversation to defend yourself, you start drawing the kids in further. You put them in a position of reporting and defending when they should be doing homework, playing a game, watching TV or just hanging out.
And going to your Ex to ask him to stop is just like throwing gasoline on the fire, I have discovered Once they know they can get to you with this technique, they will use it to drive you nuts or draw you in. They will keep running their mouth as long as they think it’s working. Don’t give them reason to think this stupid, childish, selfish behavior gets results.
One of the things about co-parenting in high conflict and the problems your EX has with his or her desire to control and manipulate and alienate, is it spills over to your household carried home by your kids like a cold. I don’t want the time I spend with my kids to be all about my Ex, his wife, and his or her hi-jinks. Their day in the sun is over and that ended with the divorce. You cannot let your Ex infect your household with their issues.
I address the badmouthing issue. I give my kids tools and instructions and a limit. Once the conversation is handled, we go have fun. I don’t bring it up. If they do, I address it, drop it and move on to fun. Otherwise, your life can be taken over by the issues from the other parent.
Your job is to make your household a safe, fun, nurturing and loving place to grow. Stop the badmouthing hi-jinks before they have a chance to infect your home; your kids will love you for it. They will love your home because they are not put in the middle there. If you want to “win” or “make them like you more” just do the right thing for your kids – it works every time.
Most of us in high-conflict parenting situations don’t have to bad-mouth, manipulate, control or alienate because our EX is so busy doing that you just sit back and watch them go up in flames. The simple act of picking up your kids feelings, loving them and not getting involved makes you the winner every single time — even if it feels like it’s not.
Your kids know who is the jerk– trust me. Don’t get drawn in to being a jerk, also.
And finally, trust that your children love you. Trust that they will see the truth. As they get older, and I have experienced this, they see right through your Ex and his partners in crime. My sons have told me, “All Dad and his wife do is talk about you.” I laugh and say, “That’s because Mommy is famous!” and I laugh.
They look at me to see my reaction. If the damaging conversations don’t bother you, and you don’t believe them or defend them or get drawn into the drama and you slough it off like it’s nothing – your kids will learn how to do that from you. They won’t learn to react to every little thing someone says about them. They won’t learn that talking about people badly is something they should do.
They will learn exactly what they need to learn about bad-mouthing – it makes the speaker the problem, not the person they are talking about. And they won’t learn to get good results from bad behavior.
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Sandra Beck (www.sandrabeck.com) is an author, internet brand strategist, radio host and mother of two living in Los Angeles. Her work appears in MyBestParentingAdvice.com and InspireMeToday.com. You can listen to her 300+ shows on Motherhood Talk Radio, Military Mom Talk Radio and Poweredup Talk Radio at Itunes searching Sandra Beck.
Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is recognizied as The Voice of Child-Centered Divorce. She is a Divorce & Parenting Coach, author and founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network for parents. Access her free reources at www.childcentereddivorce.com.