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.

Communicating With Your Ex

When we are going through a nasty divorce or child custody case, it is so easy to harbor feelings of resentment and anger. A lot of times, we already still have these feelings lingering from the break up. So when we go sit down in mediation or in court, all of those feelings come creeping back on us, and we may say things about our ex, their parenting, or make nasty accusations just to make ourselves feel better. All of the pain that person caused us in the past combined with the difficulty of our surroundings and situations can cause us to lash out in illogical ways.

The additional emotional damage that is done during these periods of time can be extremely difficult to process, and can further strain an already strained relationship, depending on the results, especially if they aren’t in our favor. I have found that so many people will text/call/email/direct message horrible, criticizing, and, honestly, inappropriate comments towards their ex in an ineffective, unhealthy attempt to relieve the emotional dam that has been built up during the difficult process we endure.

Being on the receiving end of a text message of this nature immediately sparks the anger right back up, and it is so easy to lash back. (This is really true for angry endings to any type of relationship- friend, family, etc.-as well). It takes serious mental self control to not type back a response angrily or to yell at them over the phone. In any instance, I would recommend ignoring the message (or deleting, so it can never be read again- or brought up in a nasty court battle) or hanging up the phone, if they have called you. Doing so creates a line you are not willing to cross with them. They may continue this habit, but they will eventually stop when they realize they aren’t going to get a reaction out of you.

The same can be true for inappropriate messages lamenting about the break up, and their personal emotional struggles. I have friends whose partner will continue to text and call them crying or in an emotional state just wanting to talk it through. Divorce or breakups and custody “battles” are difficult for all parties involved, and your ex needs to find someone appropriate to confide in; you are no longer that person. It pulls on too many heart strings and brings too many questions (“Is this the right thing?”, “Do they regret their part in this?”, etc.) into our thoughts when an ex calls or texts us in an emotional state. We have to be stern in these situations as well that these kinds of communication are inappropriate.

We have to draw a line in the sand with our ex about what kind of communication is appropriate and what is not. By reciprocating inappropriate texts and calls, we are telling them that we are okay with that form of communication continuing.

When we respond to negativity with negativity, it opens the doors for a continuous stream of toxic sludge into our lives, minds and hearts. Having these kinds of conversations with an ex will drain us further, which is often the last thing that anyone going through co-parenting, especially the initial stages, needs. If we are to truly heal, we have to let go of everything that happened in the past. We have to do something so difficult, and that is, to forgive someone who may not be sorry, or who may not see why they are in the wrong. (If we are honest with ourselves, we are not always in the right anyways.) Going through this healing and forgiving process is so important for our emotional well being, and the emotional well being of our children. It won’t make everything perfect in the future, but it helps us to set up a pattern of forgiveness, rather than resentment.

Forgiveness also makes communication much easier. When it comes to communicating, it’s best to always keep it professional. Limit discussions to things pertaining to school, after school activities, day care, pick up/drop off, and very minimal issues with custody that have already been established in your parenting plan (i.e. vacations, holidays). Discussions about personal things should be kept to a minimum, especially over text message, and they should never involve emotions whether that be anger, sadness, resentment etc.

Thanks for reading! I know this can be a really difficult subject, so I thought I would touch on some of the things that I have practiced myself!

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.