In a divorce situation emotions usually run high. It is a time of upheaval as the two adults involved adjust to the idea of not being together and cope with the circumstances which led to the breakup. Unfortunately, sometimes the children get caught in the crossfire and are exposed to hurtful words they'd be better off not hearing.
Adults have a hard enough time handling the spiteful words that are often flung around carelessly during divorce, but imagine the difficulty the children have when they hear one or both parents bad-mouth the other parent? When a child is constantly exposed to a parent putting the other down and speaking in a negative way, this puts the child in a confusing and, sometimes, vicious situation.
Children are born with innocence and naturally trust the adults who care for them. When one parent puts the other down in front of the children, it places them in a position where they may feel as if they have to choose. Another common consequence is it puts a wedge in the parental/child relationship because those damaging words may chip away at trust. As a result, the child may begin to question loyalty or his/her relationship with the parent being "trashed." Even if this doesn't occur, when children are exposed to this kind of negativity, it does remove some of that innocence. Even if the allegations are true, there are just some things kids should not be exposed to hearing.
Most parents have the best intentions of keeping their children out of the crossfire, but unfortunately as emotions run amok with anger, frustration or just hurt, sometimes what is best for the children is inadvertently dismissed in favor of venting out those emotions. Then there are other times a parent has a direct motive of intentionally turning children against the other parent by using his or her kids as pawns.
If you learn your ex has been whittling away at your relationship with your kids, this has to stop. Your children are undoubtedly already feeling confused, angry and hurt. It is unfair to them if they are being used in this fashion. Whether he or she is intentionally turning your kids against you or not, what do you do if your name is the nucleus of those harmful words your kids are hearing?
The most proactive way to try to put an end to the bitter or vindictive words is to talk to your ex about what is going on by approaching him or her to openly communicate. It could very well be your ex isn't thinking clearly and doesn't realize the repercussions of his or her actions.
First, try calmly discussing this with your ex and there is a good chance your ex will step back and realize what he or she has done is wrong. Often people get so wrapped up in their own situations and feelings they fail to consider consequences of their actions.
Consider a scenario where your children have asked your ex why he/she doesn't live at home anymore. Your ex replies "Mom (or Dad) doesn't want me to live there". This could be said not with the intention of being vindictive, but rather as a means of self-preservation because the other parent does not want to be the proverbial bad guy (abandoning the kids), and/or saying these types of things may relinquish feelings of guilt. The problem may simply be a case of he or she not even realizing the damage a singular sentence can do and, if this is the case, it can usually be easily resolved by a simple conversation.
If you bring the topic up with your ex, calmly explain how his or her words are harming your children. Most good parents will quickly see the error of their ways and put an end to this kind of behavior. Unfortunately, there are some parents who will continue to use their children as pawns in the battle against the other parent; if this occurs, more serious intervention may be needed.
One of the primary reasons people separate is due to communication issues so it is possible you and your ex cannot effectively communicate about this issue. If this is the case, it may be worthwhile to enlist the help of an outside and objective person to help resolve the problem so the two of you can learn to communicate in a non-combative fashion.
Family counseling is an option if your ex is willing to take part so you can both learn how to deal with the muddled feelings of a divorce situation. Although if he or she is so bitter, the idea may be refused because there is likely to be a lack of cooperation or willingness to attend sessions and you'll have to try another route.
If your ex refuses to cooperate and continues the put downs and negative behavior in front of your children, this could impact their psyche and embed a lot of resentment, anger and confusion. Even if your ex won't participate in counseling, it may be helpful to attend sessions with your children to help them work through these feelings.
When your ex won't consider working with you to find an amicable solution, mediation may be a possibility. The two of you can sit down with an impartial party who can help you work through the problem and settle the conflict without legal intervention. The mediator doesn't necessarily find solutions, but rather helps provide the tools you need in order to learn how to do this yourselves. This avenue isn't successful for everyone, but it is a good course of action to try before moving to more severe measures. In mediation sessions you and your ex can effectively learn how to work through dissenting viewpoints, stop having arguments and learn how to work together as parents.
If your children are severely caught in the crossfire and this is negatively affecting their lives, you may have to ask for supervised visitation or pursue other legal intervention to help resolve the problem. This solution is more drastic, but if the situation has gotten out of control where your ex is using your children as a weapon against you and your children are under duress or turmoil due to this hurtful behavior it cannot continue. In light of the situation, it is perhaps a better idea to obtain protective measures so your kids aren't hurt anymore. In this case, it is probably best to seek legal counsel.
Some ex-spouses set themselves on a mission to craftily convince the children the other parent is a bad or uncaring parent. If this is the case, it has to stop. It is unfair to the children to expose them to extreme vindictiveness.
Wounds run deep with divorce situations and sometimes situations get out of control, but the more amicable you and your ex can be to one another, the better it is for your children (and for the two of you as well). While you and your ex may have a difficult time getting along and might find it hard to bite your tongue at times, keep in mind the one thing you both do have in common is that you both love your children and want to protect them.
By putting children in the midst of battle parents do children a huge disservice and the sooner your ex realizes this is occurring, the quicker the situation can be remedied. Ultimately, not trashing one another in general is better for the children.
[Related reading: What Kids Need to Know About Divorce ]