“Your dad is a good person, but we aren’t good together.”
This is the greatest level of detail my children received from me regarding their dad, our problems, and the resulting divorce. There was more to the ongoing discussion about our change in family structure, but that was the standard line given to answer the ‘why’ question. My ex and I had our battles in the early attempts to mediate and through the negotiations using a lawyer, but we ultimately arrived in court with a signed agreement, amicable relationship, and two children unscathed from the process.
I always give my ex equal credit. I could not have taken a positive, principled approach alone and garnered the same results. Had I experienced a hate-filled, selfish, child-like ex, it would have been impossible to accomplish what I have for the children.
While I try hard not to judge others, it’s challenging when I see the games being played by ex-spouses using children as pawns, manipulating the kids to turn against a parent, and speaking ill of their former spouses in front of the children. It’s bad enough when it happens during the divorce process, but even more so when it continues years after the finality of the divorce process.
I have seen this type of toxic behavior from battling spouses over the years, but recently I have experienced it close up with someone I care about. The anger I feel is on a different level as a result. I am tired watching it with people I love, and my disgust over the offending behavior continues to grow.
When a parent takes a slash-and-burn approach to poisoning their own children against the other parent, choosing to impede a good relationship, and play other destructive games, they are not only hurting their children and ex, but they are also setting themselves up for relationship problems with those kids as they mature. Telling an innocent, wide-eyed, three-year-old terrible stories about a parent is taken as truth. But as the child matures, positive experiences with the “evil” parent continue to add up, and the child learns more about life, the bad-mouthing parent will find strained relations with the older, wiser child.
Communication cannot be undone, and the words and actions taken against an ex have a lifelong affect. I can speak with authority, not just because I am witnessing it firsthand through a few people I care about, but because I too was in a similar situation growing up. And while the damage already done can’t be reversed, the parent can own up to the wrongs, ask the children and ex for forgiveness, and move forward as a better human being and parent.
Having children who lose respect for the ill-speaking, manipulative parent is of no concern for me; the adults who choose to do this are making their bed for later in life. What concerns me most is the negative impact it has on children involved as well as the hurt the innocent parent feels as a result. I wish I could shake people doing this until they internalized these thoughts:
- Take a unified approach to parenting.
- Be kind, honest, and respectful.
- Move on, live your life, and do what’s best for your children.
And, if the fear of the longterm impact to their own relationship will have on their maturing children isn’t enough, I am confident there’s a special seat in Hell reserved for them as well.