You’ve read enough books and articles about co-parenting after separation and divorce to know that you’re not supposed to speak negatively about your ex in front of or to your children. You’re learning that this is a lot easier said than done.
Sometimes you get so frustrated or angry with your co-parent that you can’t help but say something to them or whoever is around – even if it’s your child. You figure that your child loves both of you, so it won’t affect their feelings toward their other parent.
Besides, you may figure they already know that their other parent is irresponsible, unreliable or selfish and they love them anyway. So what harm can it do to vent a little bit now rather than wait and tell your best friend, sibling or therapist like you know you should?
Why kids internalize the negativity
However, saying negative things to or about their other parent can affect more than how they feel about that parent – and you. It can affect how they feel about themselves. Kids typically love both parents, and most understand that they are part of both of them. So when they hear one parent belittle the other, they may wonder if that parent feels the same way about them.
And what does it say about their own judgment if they love this person who apparently has all these serious flaws? They could develop self-esteem issues that last well into adulthood.
What if your co-parent is the one who’s always criticizing you in front of your child? It’s harmful no matter who does it. It may be worthwhile to consider adding a “non-disparagement” provision to your parenting plan. While these aren’t typically easy to enforce and they aren’t guaranteed to stop the problem, they can make both parents more aware of the effect of their words on their children.