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

child custody, exes

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nonmember avatar Sally

While I generally disagree with a lot of your articles I want to commend you on what a wonderful job you seem to be doing as a mother navigating divorce. It takes real strength of character to handle a difficult ex without hurting your kids in the process. Stay strong, because in the end your children will come out the other side as a great people due to the example you are setting.

Rhond... RhondaVeggie

I would love to hear your husband's side of the story.

nonmember avatar Anonymous

Um, it was entirely your decision and you WERE going to serve Leif by surprise... your daughter has it right and is asking an honest question. (Of course, you reacted like she asked what "S&M" means and, of course, emotionally it's all Leif's fault for not arousing you in a certain way like he once did anyhow.)

nonmember avatar Jesse

I don't need to hear your ex's side of the story.

I second everything Sally said. I'm sorry this is so hard, but you'll be glad you got out sooner than later.

nonmember avatar Jessica

"It takes two people to make a marriage not work"



How does that even make any sense?

nonmember avatar NLOL

Anyone who has been following your little melodrama over the past few months knows, that you are full of it. You ended your marriage and now, you do not have the courage to tell your child that you ended the marriage.

Telling your child that you ended the marriage is different than saying its your or his fault. By telling your kids, and by extension the readers of this blog, that the divorce the fault of both parents, you get to manipulate everyone (the kids, the ex, and readers)and set yourself up as victim when/as it suits you.

You can smash this lie as flat as a pancake but this lie, like a pancake, has two sides (yours and his). Too bad we'll ever get to see/hear just one side.

Reh2002 Reh2002

I 2nd Sally's comment.  "It takes real strength of character to handle a difficult ex without hurting your kids in the process. Stay strong, because in the end your children will come out the other side as a great people due to the example you are setting." Also, time redeems. As your children mature, they will discover admiration and respect for your maturity. It is not a fruitless labor. However, sometimes it is ok to stick up for yourself! It can be done without badmouthing, especially if the kids are older.

Reh2002 Reh2002

I 2nd Sally's comment.  "It takes real strength of character to handle a difficult ex without hurting your kids in the process. Stay strong, because in the end your children will come out the other side as a great people due to the example you are setting." Also, time redeems. As your children mature, they will discover admiration and respect for your maturity. It is not a fruitless labor. However, sometimes it is ok to stick up for yourself! It can be done without badmouthing, especially if the kids are older.

Todd Vrancic

And she was supposed to stay in a relationship that developed into a toxic one?  How would that have been healthy for the children?  However, she needs to let her ex know, through attorneys if necessary, that it is NOT okay for him to discuss the relationship between the adults with a kindergartener.  When kids ask why Mommy and Daddy aren't living together anymore, the appropriate answer is that, though they tried, they could not live together any further, but Mommy and Daddy still love the child.

ahem-... ahem-excuseme

Way to "courageously" comment, anonymous. Coward.

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