Most of us have known of a parent who, after having separated from their spouse, spoke ill of them to their child. Maybe a single parent who bad-mouthed the other raised you, or maybe you know the temptation to vent your frustrations about your ex to your child.
Children most often love both parents, or should be encouraged to, but hearing negativity about one from the other places them in a bind. A child wants the love and acceptance of both parents. When one parent bad-mouths the other, the child can feel as though their love for the other parent should be compromised, minimized or left unspoken. Venting frustrations about your former spouse can be very confusing and hurtful to a child.
Try not to project your conflict with a former spouse onto your child
The child loves their other parent, even if you no longer do, and the more you speak poorly of them, the more distressed the child may become. Studies have shown that children can think that if they love the other parent and, due to mom or dad's comments, that the other parent is a bad person, then they must be bad for loving them. We owe it to our children not to impose these kinds of psychological burdens on them.
Another factor that is easy to forget is discouraging children from expressing affection for the other parent or encouraging them when they say something bad. It is only natural for children to want to talk about their lives and the people in their lives. If they feel that they must self-censor, they may become guilty about enjoying the time they spend with the other parent. This repressive feeling can quickly pervade a young person's experience and transform an otherwise happy childhood into a sour one.
The danger of repressing your child's feelings
Once a child submits to this kind of repression, they are in danger of shutting down completely, refusing to share their feelings, and in time, losing touch with their interior life entirely. This is a circumstance that leads many young people to psychological distress, and may never be fully healed. While it might not be a "life or death" situation, it can affect their future relationships.
That is why it is so important that you allow your children to express their feelings for their other parent, knowing that it does not mean they love you less. Do not set up a competition between yourself and your ex for the love of your child. No one can win such a contest, and you could only end up alienating your child.
- Remember, your argument with your ex is between you and them
- Be supportive of your child's love for your ex
- Let them express their feelings freely
- Keep in mind that by censoring their love, you could be harming your child
- Do not make them feel as if they must walk on eggshells with you
- Keep your conflict with your ex outside of your child's experience
In time, your child will develop the maturity to understand the whole truth, and they might respect you more for your wisdom and caring if you have the courage not to censor their love for the other parent.