As a divorce coach, product of divorce , two-time divorce survivor… and living in a very blended family, I’m very familiar with the effect “mud-slinging” of the ex has on children.
I’d like to start out by saying that children of divorce, have it much harder than the adults involved. They are children. They have yet learned the practical tools and life skills necessary to move effortlessly thru diversity. As their frontal lobes have not yet matured, which dictate logic and reasoning skills (which generally occurs by age 26), the only real reference guide available, are the parents. Watching, molding and modeling their behavior.
So when it comes to divorce, let me first say that your children are not doomed to share your destiny and divorce themselves, fail at life, turn into drug addicts, drop out of school, knock up their HS girlfriend. Not simply by association to divorce anyway.
But the war between ex-spouses that often ensues, could just lead to all that…and more!
As a kid I did the “parent shuffle” between households every other weekend. I would go to my dad’s. On my return home I may have well been in jail, under a bright LED light, at a cold stainless-steel table with cement walls to contain me- as a detective pounded his palms onto the table demanding answers to: “How does your Dad look”. Has “Joy” (stepmother) put on any weight”, “did they fight at all” and the petty questions would continue redundantly, over and over each weekend I returned. And always with my response of “no”. “yes”. “no”. Met with complete disappointment as I did not elaborate. And then I would dread the next visit.
To this day as a woman in her 40’s, I still here how evil my stepmother was, how she screwed my mother in court with child support, how my dad drank too much, traveled to much, was home to little…35+ years of this. For the record, I have little contact with my Dad. Much of it, not all, has to do with the position I was put in by my own mother. She painted a picture that caused me to resent him. My loyalty was always to my mother for many reasons; out of guilt, because she was the one truly there for me, the “unfairness” of their divorce, that my dad moved on so quickly afterwards. They did not work well together in terms of aligning as a common front and co-parenting myself nor my older brother. I regret the loss of growing up without an involved father. It was not a choice I was able to make. It was made for me by actions, words and anger.
It is not Divorce that “ruins” your kids, it is your behavior and that of your ex’s that can screw them up.
Making a kid choose “sides” is not only selfish, it is irresponsible and the implications to them, devastating. Kids do not need to know all the “scandalous” and “un-scrupulous” details of your divorce. An affair, although you might be steaming, is not something children need to hear about.
Kid’s need both of their parents. Bottom line. The exception of course would be if there was any type of abuse going on at the other household in which case you should seek professional advice immediately. This is proper advocating for your children.
Kids particularly, are easily affected by what they hear their parents, or other family members for that matter, badmouth a parent. They do not know how to handle the emotional distress it creates, and they don’t want to be involved in any of the negativity between the parents they love.
So, what can you do when you get wind of badmouthing from your former spouse? As frustrating and maddening as it can be, it must be handled appropriately. If one of your kids repeats something negative said by the other team, you must resist the temptation to retaliate. You must remain calm for your kids and model appropriate behavior. You can explain that what they heard or what they said, is not true, if it indeed is not. You do not need to prove anything to them as the truth should be enough. Answer any questions they may have as honestly as you can and show compassion that they were put in the middle. Taking this time to share and have a conversation with your kids will help them to better recognize truth versus fiction in the future. Take the high road. They will respect you for it later.
After you have spoken to your kids, talk to the party doing the badmouthing. Try and have a calm, rational conversation while asking them to please refrain from any negative, ill spirited talk in front of the kids. If a phone call is too difficult, send the request in writing and save it as well as any response for documentation. If your efforts to stop this fall on deaf ears, it may be time to speak with an attorney or other family law professional that can help guide you towards taking any appropriate action towards further issues.
It is our job to parent, and part of the burden in being a proper parent is holding on too many emotions, thoughts, opinions and well, mouth-vomit. We are the “bigger” people. The very people that brought the children into this world. It’s our job to try not to muddy life up even more for them. They will have plenty of challenges they themselves will face as they live their own journey.
What they need, is proper, healthy co-parenting. They need to hear and feel you respect their other parent. You are setting an example. Leave blame off the table. Drop any guilt trip placed on the child.
Remember, each time you cast blame out loud towards your ex, or his/her new partner in the presence of your child, you cause harm. It breaches their trust, their self-awareness in their own feelings of the other parent become cloudy, there sense of self grows insecure and they will grow to resent you for it. Even if their dad is a jackass or their mom, a raving lunatic. It did not stop you from marrying that person, it should not stop your child from the right and free will to love that person.
And if you are blessed enough, that your ex has found someone else that treats your kids well and shows genuine care and concern, consider yourself and your kids, very lucky. If you are feeling threatened by this, my guess is you are questioning your own parenting and bond with your children. Work on that rather than bash the other significant other. It takes a village to raise kids and the more love they have around them, the healthier and happier they will be. They know who their mother and father are. Be the one they need!
If you need to vent, call a friend, a counselor or a divorce and relationship coach to unload on. These high intensity feelings should be addressed by someone able and trained to help you through them and arrive at a healthier place. And that’s exactly where your kids need you!

Author's Bio: 

Dominique is a Divorce Coach trained through CDC (Certified Divorce Coach), a Board Certified Holistic Health Coach, HHC, through The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, IIN, a Life Coach and a Breakthrough Parenting© Instructor, CBPI.

She coaches clients nationally through the emotional process of divorce preparing them for the legal aspect savings them thousands of dollars in legal fees.