Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: What to Do When the Other Parent Speaks Negatively About You to Your Child
One of the most destructive things you can do to your own relationship with your child is to speak negatively about the other parent in front of your child. Assuming for the moment that you have a very good reason to dislike the co-parent, you nevertheless should have a selfish interest in not bad-mouthing the other parent in front of your child.
Why Bad-Mouthing Is Never a Good Idea
Speaking negatively about the other parent demonstrates hatred, and children learn what their parents demonstrate. Expressing your anger toward your co-parent in front of your child is likely to destroy positive perceptions your child has about the co-parent.
However, it rarely stops there. When your child gets angry with you for something, she will manage her anger the way you've shown her anger should be managed—and treat you accordingly.
What to Do When Your Co-Parent Bad-Mouths You
When the other parent is the one bad-mouthing you, resist fighting fire with fire. If you believe that modeling anger and hatred is damaging to your child, it stands to reason that you would not want the child to be exposed to double the amount of anger and hatred.
The rest of the advice on this topic is simple. If your child reports to you that the other parent has said something nasty about you, simply reply that you do not know why they would say that.
Here are some examples:
Child: Mommy says that you love your new baby more than you love me.
Dad: I don't know why Mom would say that. I love you more than anything else in the whole world, and I always will.
Child: Daddy says that your boyfriend is a liar and a criminal.
Mom: I don't know why Daddy would say that. Maybe he was a little grumpy that day.
Your manner of reacting to what your child says will be just as important as the words you speak in response. If you speak the words with a purple face and clenched teeth, you will not be communicating the nonchalance that is important to reduce whatever concern the criticism has raised in your child.
Parents bad-mouth the other parent to the child to create doubt and insecurity in the child's mind. This is why it is such an unhealthy and damaging behavior. Your task in dealing with a bad-mouthing parent is to restore that security, not to prove your case to your child or get even with the other parent.
Resist the temptation to provide long-winded explanations to the child to disprove what the other parent has said. This draws the child right into the middle of your conflict with the co-parent, especially with children who feel the need to report your retort back to the co-parent.
As with many options for reducing co-parenting conflicts, taking the high road is a win-win situation. Save yourself the effort of generating detailed explanations about why the other parent was wrong and counterpoints of equally damaging information, and spend that energy showing your child your love. Even when children are swayed by a badmouthing co-parent, showing prudence in how you respond is always best. It is never wise to fight fire with fire.