5 Actions to Take if Your Ex is Badmouthing You to the Kids
Is your ex is badmouthing you to the kids during or after divorce? Here are 4 ways badmouthing can affect your children and 5 action steps to take right now.
Is your divorced ex talking crap about you? Is your child repeating the hurtful things your ex says? What should you when your child says, “Dad says it’s your fault he can’t take us out to do anything fun because he is giving you all his money!”?
Badmouthing can occur during divorce when emotions run high. Sometimes, parents say things out of frustration, or when they don’t think the children are listening. Badmouthing can also happen after the divorce, intentionally or unintentionally. Regardless of when it happens, badmouthing can damage a parent’s relationship with the children. So – how should you respond to your child when you find out your ex is badmouthing you to the kids?
What is Badmouthing?
Badmouthing is criticizing or disparaging someone or something. It can take many different forms, such as:
- Name Calling: This could be verbal, with your co-parent calling you bad names or referring to you as a bad name in front of the children. It can also occur when your ex has you saved as a phone contact under an insulting nickname (e.g., “Nasty Witch” or “Lazy Pig”). Your kids may see the phone contact and notice the bad name. Whether they hear it come out of your ex’s mouth or read it in the phone contacts, it’s still badmouthing.
- Lies, Half-Truths, and Distortions: It’s been said that there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth. It’s very possible that one parent sees the situation differently than the other. But when one parent is making up lies or only paying attention to the facts that support their own position, it can cause lots of pain to the child hearing the false statements about their other parent.
- Blaming: This is done when one person wants to paint themselves as the victim and the other person as the perpetrator or bad guy. A common form of blaming is when one parent says they can’t afford something because the other parent is taking all their money – or because the other parent isn’t paying enough money to support them.
- Criticizing: When one parent points out faults or mistakes their co-parent has made to the child, or clearly disapproves of their co-parent, it damages the child’s relationship with the other parent. While constructive criticism can be helpful – in the workplace, for example – it is difficult for children, especially younger children, to hear someone pointing out their parents’ faults.
4 Ways Badmouthing Affects Your Children
Children naturally love their parents, so when children hear something negative about their parents, it hurts them. When your ex is badmouthing you to the kids, they may experience the following:
- Ruined Relationships: Badmouthing a parent can damage or ruin the child’s relationship with the parent being disparaged. The child may start to believe the negative talk about the maligned parent and start blaming or being angry with that parent. It can also damage the relationship between the child and the parent who is doing the badmouthing. The child might feel defensive or get angry at the parent talking negatively about their other parent, which can lead to fights, arguments, and can eventually ruin the relationship.
- Poor Self-Image: Children may see themselves as half of one parent and half of the other. When one parent is being put down, they may think that they are being put down, too. Children can internalize the insults, leading them to have poor self-esteem or self-hatred. This can lead to many other issues, including drug abuse, eating disorders, delinquency, and promiscuity.
- Loyalty Conflicts: Your children may feel caught in the middle and think that they have to choose between their parents. They may feel like they aren’t supposed to like one parent when they are with the other, or that they have to defend the other parent when badmouthing occurs.
- Increased Anxiety and Stress: Listening to one parent talking badly about the other causes anxiety and adds to the child’s stress.
How to Respond When You Find Out Your Ex is Badmouthing You to the Kids
- Stay Calm: This may be hard. Your natural instinct is to defend yourself, but getting angry or lashing out in front of your child will do more harm than good. Take a breath and stay calm when addressing the statements.
- Validate Their Feelings: Validate your child’s feelings about having heard the negative statements, but don’t validate your co-parent’s lies. Let your child know you are sorry they had to hear it. Open the lines of communication and ask how it made them feel.
- Confront the Statement/Correct the Information: Don’t allow the lie or disparaging statement to stand. Correct the information without blaming the other parent or calling the other parent a liar. Focus on the statement, not who said it.
- Reaffirm Your Love, Respect, and Commitment to Keeping Your Child Out of the Middle: Let your children know you love and respect them, and that you appreciate them feeling comfortable enough to share the badmouthing with you. Make a commitment to your kids that you’ll keep them out of the middle. Your children don’t want to take sides and it’s unfair to them to make them choose between parents.
- Talk or Write to Your Ex About Badmouthing You to the Kids: Wait until you have cooled off, then bring up the badmouthing to your ex in a non-accusing way. Keep your communications business-like and focused on your child. Express how hurtful it is for your child to hear the negative statements and ask your ex not to say such damaging things about you in front of your child.
What if Your Ex Won’t Stop Badmouthing You to the Kids?
If the badmouthing doesn’t stop, talk to a family law attorney. It’s damaging to the children, which means you may need to modify your Parenting Plan in a way that protects your children. Keep in mind that badmouthing may lead to parental alienation, which is a form of child abuse. If addressing the badmouthing with your ex doesn’t stop it, give us a call to talk to an attorney about ways to change your orders to protect your child.