What to Do When Your Ex Makes the Kids Think You're the 'Bad Guy'

The other day I was driving my two daughters home from school, and the kindergartener asked me with all serious when we were going to move back to Daddy’s house and be a family again.

The fifth of never. Ok, I kept that answer to myself and gently explained to her (again) that Mommy and Daddy aren’t getting back together, that we love her and her sister very much, but that we made each other too crazy to live together.

Then came her very small voice, “But Mommy … Daddy says it’s your fault.”


“Daddy says what’s my fault?” I asked carefully, apprehensive of the answer I knew was coming, but wanting to get it all out in the open.

“The divorce. Daddy says it’s your decision, and he just wants us to move home.” My sweet five-year-old’s face twisted like she was worried that she had just spilled the beans on something she was supposed to keep a lid on.

It’s OK, kiddo. That flash of anger you just sensed radiating from your mama has nothing to do with you.

More from The Stir: 3 Things to Tell Your Kids When You're Getting Divorced

When your co-parent blames you for whatever ails them, it’s really easy to see how some parents fall into the trap of badmouthing their ex to their children. Because in that moment, I really wanted to tell my daughter that her father … well, I really wanted to say some not-nice things.

Instead, I went through my mental checklist of what to say to my kids when they bring up things their dad has said about me, or just have questions in general about the divorce.

Remain Calm: Just take a deep breath. Count to 10. Rub your temples. Whatever it is, don’t let the first thing in your brain pop out of your mouth. Take a moment to think about how you want to handle the situation.

Be Honest: Acknowledge their reality. Sweeping their concerns under the rug isn’t going to make them go away, and they have right to some answers. No, they don’t need to know the nitty-gritty, but deserve to know that what happened was between Mommy and Daddy, and that neither one of us is going to abandon them.

Don’t Blame Shift: Of course I think my marriage going down in flames is his fault. He thinks it’s my fault. It’s just human nature. But in reality, it’s both our faults. In the end, neither one of us was willing to give into the other’s idea of what marriage should be. “Daddy and I just couldn’t work it out. Together. Both of us. Neither of us. It takes two people to make a marriage work, and two people to make it not work. The end.”

Separate the Love: Married love is different from parental love, and nothing is going to sever the bonds each of us has with our kids. We abandoned the marriage, not them.

Teach Them About Boundaries: I tell my daughters that it’s ok to ask Daddy not to talk about me. I also tell them it’s ok to talk to him about anything. But if they’re feeling uncomfortable about something, it’s ok to say, “I don’t want to talk about this.”

Navigating the co-parenting situation can be tough when your ex doesn’t want to be on the same page as you, but if you stay level-headed, shower your kids with love, and firmly remind them that the divorce is between mom and dad, and has nothing to do with them, you’ll be ok.

Have you ever had to deal with a challanging co-parenting situation?


Image via David Erickson/Flickr

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