Can We Just Not? Belittling Your Child’s Other Parent

We have all done it before. Talking about someone behind their back. It helps us to justify our own vindictive feelings when someone has hurt us. After we go through a divorce or custody battle or BOTH, we tend to have quite a bit of resentment built up. It certainly doesn’t help that friends and family ask questions about it when they come around. In those moments, it is so easy to let negativity slip through our lips, unbeknownst to the little ears that may be listening in.

Some, okay, a lot of the people in my life- family and friends- have harder feelings towards my ex than I do. I only really quite semi-understand why. I know the gist of it is because of the way our relationship ended, the way they feel he had manipulated me during our custody battle, some of the things he has said about me or my son around family/friends since. Whatever the reason, at the end of the day, I am the one who has had to go through all of these things first hand, and I have already forgiven him.

Sometimes, I regret not just keeping my big fat mouth shut sooner. In the messy aftermath of our break up, I went to all of my family and friends who would lend me their ear, and I told them every mean and dark injustice I had suffered by his hand. It felt good to have others agree with my opinion. But he stepped up into the role of a good father; he showed up for his visitation, and he paid his child support. Even though he wasn’t a good partner to me, he was still capable of being a good father. My own feelings and the feelings of those around me did not change these facts. Was he always perfect? No, definitely not, but the bigger, more mature me realizes that I have been far from perfect myself.

There are still times when my ex gets brought up around people that I love, and their pain for me causes them to bring shame to his name, for my sake. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the negativity that is brought up, but I don’t necessarily disagree. One thing I do know, is that there are sometimes two little pairs of listening ears present during these conversations. These listening ears go to mommy’s house and to daddy’s house, and the last thing I would want is for our son to feel like he is torn between choosing between mommy or daddy based on what a loved one, myself or my ex said around those little ears, especially as he gets older.

Luckily, when this happens myself, or someone else in the conversation is able to divert it away from negativity about my ex. I won’t lie. There have been situations, conversations, and scenarios that have made me pretty angry towards my ex over the course of the last four years. The last year or so, I have gotten progressively better at keeping my mouth shut, especially when I am around my son.

The truth of the matter is that our past relationship does not matter anymore; it happened how it happened, it is in the past and neither of us can change a single thing. The annoying inconveniences and tit for tat things that make me angry every so often, are honestly not worth holding over any one’s head. (I like to ask myself when I experience an inconvenience of any kind- “will this matter in the next 5 years?” if the answer is no, I try to process quickly and let it go). The past and minor anger certainly aren’t worth smack talking my ex in front of my son to defile my son’s image of his father. Holding a grudge that turns into a burden for our son is not going to do anything but transfer the pain to the next generation.

As my son gets older, I want him to feel comfortable inviting both of his parents and our significant others to events without fear that a fight will break out. I want to have a tranquil dynamic to our relationship, not for my ex’s sake, not (entirely) for my sake, but for the sake of my son. It is so easy for adults to feel like it is mom versus dad (or dad vs. dad/mom vs. mom) when in all reality, custody proceedings are about what is best for the children. It isn’t what is fair for mom or unfair for dad. It is what is fair for the child. Talking bad about your ex in front of your child will do absolutely nothing but cause even more pain; you may inflict a small amount of pain on your ex, but the person you will be hurting the most in the long run is your child.

I’m far from perfect. There are still times when I personally will go and vent to my amazing significant other or my girlfriends. The difference now is that I am aware when my child is present. When he is around, if any negative talk of his father comes up, I quickly change the subject. There is no subject concerning his father that is so important that it can’t wait until my son is not within ear shot. I also have learned not to dwell on the little things; if something upsets me that badly that I need to vent. I vent and get it out, then I let it go; it does me no good to hold on to anything longer than my peace deserves.

The results of this, and keeping our communication professional-without any personal baggage or fights- is that now my ex and I can have a conversation with our son’s amazing step-parents about discipline, events, changes in schedule, vacations, and everything that goes on in our son’s life. We can not only be in the same room as one another, but we can also spend time together without things getting awkward.

My son’s step-mom, brother, myself, Louis, his father and my amazing boyfriend on my son’s first day of school 2018.

Separation Anxiety From Your Child: How to Cope and How Not to Cope

One of the most real, and for myself personally, emotionally draining part of co-parenting is the separation anxiety that you experience when your child is away at their other parent’s house.

I would be sitting at home watching my show, out of the house with my girl friend’s getting dinner, or even out on a date with my significant other, and all of the sudden, out of nowhere, I would get a terrifying thought, “What if they got in a fatal car accident, and the last time I got to say goodbye was when I dropped him off at day care in a huge rush.” An absolutely sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach would slowly crawl and engulf the rest of my body. Sometimes, the thoughts wouldn’t even have to be that dark.

Just watching my son scream and cry as his dad walked him out of my house into his car during pick ups would cause me to burst into tears the moment that I shut the door. I would guilt myself immediately afterward. These times were especially emotionally draining when my son was going through his extreme mom attachment ages (between 18 months to 2.5 years were brutal).

Or fears of my son getting very sick and just wanting his mommy to snuggle him, but having to settle for dad/step mom because he won’t be seeing mommy for a few more days.

Fears that he would have to be rushed to the hospital and I wouldn’t wake up to my phone ringing off of the hook in the middle of the night, telling me to get the hospital immediately.

If I am being completely honest, I have definitely not handled this well over the years. I have, on more than one occasion, turned to substances to “numb” the emotional pain that I experienced while my son is with his father. Alcohol, though, only makes the depression the next day worse with the addition of physical pain from the hangover; it is only a temporary sedative. Unfortunately, I was at an age (early twenties) and surrounded myself with people who were also using alcohol (and other substances) as a self prescribed emotional sedative. I followed suit very easily and played the victim to my situation.

Side note: there is nothing wrong with having a few drinks with friends or family with or without your child present, as long as you are being responsible and not drinking with the intention to numb emotional pain. The last thing that I want to do is make any parent feel additionally guilty, because I think we get that from everyone else in our lives. I just speak from experience when I say that drinking away any emotional pain is not going to work in the long run.

One of the most critical part of my separation anxiety was my thoughts as soon as my son was off with his father. I would think to myself, “Maybe, if I would have tried to work our relationship out with my ex harder before we broke up, my son wouldn’t have to go back and forth”, or “If his father wasn’t in his life (or didn’t have as much custody), neither my son or I would have to experience being separated from each other so often, and I wouldn’t feel like this all the time.”

I would justify these thoughts by degrading my ex and myself. I would convince myself that I was a terrible mother, and I would compare myself to my married friends who had their children full time. I would tell myself I was less of a mother because I had the opportunity to enjoy my life unlike other parents I knew (this is an awful mind trap, don’t go there). I would scrutinize my ex for even the smallest, most pathetic aspects of his parenting, to make myself feel like I was the better parent and deserved more custody.

After a vicious cycle of years of thinking and feeling this way, I eventually decided that enough was enough. I was tired of feeling sad and depressed about things that were quite honestly out of my control. I was tired of using alcohol to numb my pain and just feeling worse. I cut out relationships with toxic people; people who were victimizing themselves to their lives and fed into my victimization (this included a two and a half year romantic relationship, and multiple friends I had had for many, many years).

I decided to embrace my reality. If thoughts about me being a terrible mother popped into my head (which were based entirely on the amount of time that I was spending with my child compared to others), I would remind myself of all the ways that I was an amazing mother, and how much my son adored me. I could not go back in time and change anything; not the way that my son’s father and I split, not raising my son in a broken home, not the amount of custody I had given his father, all of those things had happened and were happening. I could only change the way that I thought and felt in this very moment.

I would tell myself, “This is my life. Either I am going to enjoy it, or spend the rest of my life beating myself up about things that I cannot control and continuing to be miserable”. There is something incredibly freeing about letting go of a nasty pattern of victimizing yourself. (I even feel more free now, just by writing on a public forum about it.) You allow yourself to enjoy your life again, and that is exactly what I did.

I invested in healthier friendships and relationships. I spent time doing things that I really enjoy doing, but aren’t necessarily the easiest to do when I have my son with me. I went to concerts, I went out to eat, I went for a hike or a long walk, I went to the gym, I played with my dogs without interruption, I worked on crafts I had wanted to for ages. I allowed myself to be happy without my son being there. For the first time, I enjoyed the days and evenings that he was with his father. I was doing some of the same things that I had been before, but I wasn’t doing them to distract myself anymore. I was doing them because I enjoyed doing them. I have become extremely productive while he is away with his father. I feed parts of my life that give me joy, instead of rob joy.

Fearful thoughts that terrorize me during my periods of separation anxiety will still hit me like a rock in the stomach, but I reassure myself rather than guilt trip myself. I don’t burden myself further with thoughts that I am a terrible mother, or resent myself for agreeing to give my son’s father so much parenting time. I don’t drink to numb the pain of all of these emotions; if I drink, I drink to celebrate life. I feel the thoughts and use positive responses, rather than negative, to combat them. The base of these thoughts being “why are you worried about something you cannot control?” If I get worried I will ask myself, “Is this useful? Is this going to help me solve any problems?”

The change has been incredible for me, and I know it can be for anyone else struggling with separation anxiety from their children and thoughts of guilt about not being as good as other parents who have their children full time. It has taken me a long time to retrain my brain to enjoy my periods of time without him. I still miss him terribly, but instead of beating myself up about it, I will spend time planning a fun activity for us to enjoy together.

How to Handle Your Ex Dating

My co-parenting journey started four years ago, when my son was 8 months old (I can’t believe it has been that long), and it has been a rough and tumultuous road to say the least. Especially when it comes to dating, for both myself and my ex!

Seeing your ex date as a co-parent is difficult for many reasons. It’s difficult to see your child growing accustomed to a new parent figure in their life. It’s difficult to trust that someone who hurt you is going to be able to keep a steady relationship. It’s difficult because you fear that your child will grow too attached to too many people or the wrong kind of people. These are all valid fears and difficulties, but it is important for your relationship with your child’s other parent that you don’t let these fears fester into anger, hatred, resentment, jealousy, or anxiety. Honestly, these fears will strengthen and change as your ex gets re-married if you stay focused on the negativity. The chance of your ex staying single forever is slim to none, so dating and eventually a new marriage are just all a part of the pie- try to embrace this reality instead of letting negativity fester.


Coming from an attitude of appreciation for this new person in your child’s life is very important- they did not have to date or marry someone with a child they chose to, and most adults understand what that entails. (If they aren’t the type of person who can handle children, they will show themselves out sooner rather than later, but that is not for you to judge.) It does not matter how small of a role that your ex plays in your child’s life, they are still your child’s other parent. Their partner is agreeing to come along side them and help them parent; creating more stress in their relationship through conflict is going to accomplish nothing but inducing more tension between all parties.


Try to keep conflict to a minimum, and if not for your own peace of mind, for your child’s. The last thing that your children need is to hear their parents talking behind one another’s backs about their other parent or their new partner, making your children feel isolated and like they have to choose sides. As long as there is no foul play happening, i.e. actual illegal neglect, conflict is best kept to a minimum.

Three Easy Steps to Keep Conflict to a Minimum:

  1. Only communicate (text or email) about pick up/drop off, school, and after school activities. (This means no personal attacks, no rude comments about ex/partner. If they send texts like this to you, as difficult as it may be, do not respond)
  2. Stay off of social media about your co-parenting relationship- if it is bothering you that badly, go to a trusted friend and vent, just remove the toxic thoughts before communicating with your ex again. (Things posted on social media can be used against you in court. )
  3. Be the bigger person- I literally cannot emphasize how many times I have bitten my tongue, I have chosen to move forward, and I have ended negative conversations right when they started. They won’t get you anywhere, and what goes around comes back around.

We live in a society that teaches us to constantly think about ourselves- our lives, our children, our happiness, our feelings, the list is endless. It is so very easy to get caught up in ourselves and our emotions, without using much empathy- mentally putting ourselves into someone else’s shoes. The importance of taking a moment to feel an emotion or think a negative thought, then let it pass without letting it fester or turning it into a huge melodrama is so important, especially for us co-parents (I’ll touch more on this later). Try to understand and empathize your ex’s needs to feel supported and loved by someone else- they are only human- instead of getting upset or jealous that they are dating someone new. As a co-parent, having a partner that you enjoy spending time with when your children are away at your exes is so important for your mental and emotional health. (As I mentioned before, if this person doesn’t like children, they will show themselves out sooner rather than later.)


Side Note:

If your ex has a problem with introducing multiple people too seriously (i.e. moving in after 3 weeks) too quickly, look into having a clause adopted into your parenting agreement. My ex and I have one that requires we have been dating our significant other for 6 months before introducing them to our child on a consistent basis. This clause is just a good faith clause, which means there is no real way for a family court to reinforce it, but just having it in writing with both of your signatures is important. Ask your lawyer or mediator if this is a possibility for your parenting plan.


Summary

  1. Do not let your fears or negative thoughts fester or they will continue to grow. New relationships are almost inevitable.
  2. Appreciate your ex’s new partner; they are choosing to come along side and help parent.
  3. Keep conflict to a minimum by limiting communication, keeping your problems off of social media, and being the bigger person.
  4. Use empathy- understand that your ex is a human who has the need to be loved- just like you.