With any luck, you have an open line of communication with your children and they will tell you the good, the bad and the ugly that comes home from your Ex. This is because your relationship with them is built on trust and in order for that trust to continue, your kids need to know it’s safe to talk about anything under the sun with you, even if they are telling you things you don’t want to hear.
Our jobs as the “neutral” parent is to support our kids to work through their feelings, and when confronted with negative speak about you, to help them make their own decisions about it, and empower our children understand that their feelings can be different than the ex’s.
Here are some steps that I’ve learned to combat negative speak from the Ex:
1. Accept that you cannot change your ex. Even if what he may be saying (or doing) is not right, nothing you say will actually make that person change. Once you have that down, the knee-jerk reaction of the “unfairness” of it all will ease and help you cope with the matter at hand.
2. Validate your child’s experience, but do not validate the negative words. This is a fine balance and it took me a while to figure it out (and I’m still challenged by it). When dad says, “Mommy is rich and daddy is poor, because I give all my money to mommy” or whatever it is that he’s saying, do not respond with “that’s not true!” or “he’s wrong!” All that does is confuse the kids—i.e. well, dad said this, and mom said that. How do I tell the difference?
Validate by responding: “Gosh, I’m sorry your dad said that to you. Or, “how did it make you feel when he said that?” This communicates that you are listening, that you believe your child heard what dad said, and you are respecting the space that they are trusting you with their worry or concern about it.
Next, tackle the subject. Instead of saying, “how dare dad say I’m rich, I can barely pay the rent/mortgage, and he doesn’t even pay full child support!” You could say, “gosh, what does poor mean?”or “what does rich mean?” and start a meaningful conversation that is not focused on mom or dad.
In my case, I circle back to the subject asking my daughter, “gee, does daddy live in a nice house?”
Her answer, “Yes.”
“Does daddy have a truck to drive?”
Her answer: “Yes.”
“Does daddy have a cell phone?”
Her answer: “Yes.”
My follow-up, well, “it sounds like daddy has a lot of things that a lot of people don’t have in this world. Just like we’re lucky that we have nice things, too” (this normalizes the subject–bringing both dad and mom into the conversation.)
I do my best not to ‘preach,’ but to base my conversations on tangible experiences that the children have—and then, give them room to connect the dots.
3. Stay neutral when your children tell you crazy things the Ex says. This is a weird and almost counter-intuitive. Of course you want to react. Of course you want to correct. But because of #1 and #2, staying neutral creates a safe space for your children to tell you the craziness in the first place.
I honestly believe my children tell me the weird stuff dad says because I respond in a non-judgmental way. I don’t validate his negativity, but I “normalize” the context for which they tell me. Once, my daughter told me, “daddy fights with grandma and won’t let us talk to Uncle.” I responded, “you know, I’m really sorry to hear that, but I’m glad you can share that with me. Grandma and Uncle love you very much. And by the way, you can tell me anything that happens—at school, at church, at dad’s house, at brownies”…
This way, they feel safe telling you things, no matter where it comes from, and that your ex’s house is not singled out.
4. When you can, sprinkle in your own positive messaging. When not confronted with nasty remarks, but just going about your business, sometimes you can say, “you know, it’s mommy’s job to take care of you, honey. It’s not your job to take care of mommy or daddy.”
Another positive messaging go to I often use is: “it’s okay to have your feelings, and they don’t have to be the same as mommy’s or daddy’s.”
Saying these things and doing them is a challenge and it comes with practice. Sometimes I really lose it (on the inside) when I hear the nasty digs about me or my new husband, but I’ve learned to cope by adhering to these principles. By holding onto as much patience as I can (sometimes barely hanging on with my fingernails!), being supportive of their experiences, and calmly talking about the negativity in a neutral way, I’ve seen them grow into their own, empowered to make their own decisions and to differentiate their feelings from dad’s.
P.S.. While we live in a nice town home and have food in the fridge, for which I am grateful, I’m far from the 1%! I do, however, “feel” rich because I love my girls and my hubby so much. And I’ve sprinkled that into the conversation, too.
FAQs about your Ex Who Bad-Mouths You:
How do I know if my ex bad-mouths me to my kids?
You would know your husband bad-mouths you if you listen to your children patiently and respect their opinion. Your children would feel at ease in telling you how your ex talks about you if they have trust that you would not react in an inappropriate manner. A relationship based on mutual trust and respect would oly cement communication between you and your children.
What do I tell my kids if my ex bad-mouths me to them?
Tell your children that you feel sorry that your ex said all these bad things to them. However, do not validate the negative words he says to the children. If your ex told your children that he is broke because he gave all the money to mommy, don’t say that’s not ture or he’s wrong. Instead sympathize with them for having to hear these words or ask them how they felt when they heard it.
What do I do when my ex bad-mouths me to my kids?
The first thing to do when your ex bad-mouths you to your children is to control your immediate reaction. You will only be able to control it once you accept the fact that nothing you say or do will ever change your ex. Not only would you be able to control your emotions, but give an appropriate response to whatever your ex is trying to achieve by manipulating the children.
photo credit: theloushe via photopin cc
Lisa Thomson says
Fabulous advice, Jane! Sounds like you’re doing really great in responding to the negative speak. This will help so many people struggling with co-parenting and the negativity that comes with the territory.
Jane Thrive says
Thank you so much Lisa! <3
Toni D'Andrea says
Wow. Thanks for this. My kids were just saying how rich but poor dad was because he had x amount of dollars in his bank but was too poor because he couldnt afford presents. I just said that sometimes money sits in the bank because the bill bank has to come along and take their money for electricity. And for telephones and rent etc. But dad tells them i am rich. And i am on a part disability etc. But thanks it is frustrating but i hope i can bite my tongue over it. Lol
Jane Thrive says
Thanks so much for reading, Toni! I definitely know what it’s like to bite my tongue about things, it’s so hard!!! Hang in there!!
thanks so much for your advice. Its a big eye opener for me. I had my first huge fight with my 15 yr old son tonight. Found Dad decided to tell him a bunch of negative things about me in regards to finances. So my son is angry at me for multiple things. I just lost my mind! I wished I read this before. Needless to say our nice evening as a family turned into a sad hectic end.There were alot of tears from him alone in his room while I whined and cried to my bestfriend. At the end I apologized to him for losing my cool and asked him to come to me directly and ask if certain things are true or not. Thank you again.
Jane Thrive says
Hugs!! It’s really great that you could come together again at the end of the evening. At the end of the day, your son trusts you, which is huge. Sure he may be angry, because he didn’t know, but now you can show him the truth. Actions speak much louder than words. I know it’s hard to hold onto in the middle of a ‘situation’–in fact, i’m still struggling with this *[email protected]–it seems like there is always something. Hang in there!! You are not alone!
i have a 6 year old son who dad constantly puts me down and I feel twists his mind against me. He tells my 6 year old I’m a liar and bad, tells him not to listen to mummy only daddy and my little boy is the master in my house. He tells him things like mummy has sex with all the boys and is probing my little one for information on me. This in turn causes my little boy to be hostile towards me when he gets mad he calls me a liar and hates me and that daddy tells the truth. I know he don’t understand what he is saying. I’m having trouble at the moment with him as he will not sleep and tells me he is the master of the house as daddy told him and he will only listen to daddy. This is not the Half of it but not sure how to deal with this. It upsets me to think his dad would do this to him and cause my little boy to be in trouble for speaking to me in this way. What gets me is he does nothing for my little boy apart from see him twice a month and has the cheek to tell my son I stop him as he would like to see him more.
Get your son into therapy NOW. It’s that simple. It isn’t about what is said about you, it’s about the damage your ex is doing to your son. And, talk to your lawyer and find out what can be done legally to put a stop to him continuing to abuse your son.
Jane Thrive says
I am so sorry you are going through this!! I agree with Amanda, get your son in therapy STAT. A play therapist who has experience with divorced families, and one parent talking negatively about another. If you can, please also consult your attorney not this–negative speak like this would be grounds to go back and adjust visitation in my state. Get help for you, too, if you can–you are the one sane parent in this equation. I’m so sorry you’re going through this, hang in there! You are not alone. <3
Jane Thrive says
I’m sorry I didn’t respond to this comment earlier, I truly hope you got your son to a play therapist? Or talked with your attorney further about this matter? Your ex is truly hurting your son with this kind of parenting. 🙁 I’m so so so sorry you were going through this and am praying that you’re in a better place now. <3
If you’ve been bashing your partner for everything, there’s a strong chance that your kids will blame themselves for the trouble. Children are emotionally sensitive and feel that their parents are fighting because of them. The worst setback for kids is when they have to choose sides and bear negative consequences. If you want your kids to grow up healthy, don’t talk down to your partner or speak negatively about them.
Jane Thrive says
Yep, when there is high conflict and dealing with an abusive spouse, it’s a tricky balance. Kids need support to work out their complicated feelings. Trash-talking does not help in one bit. Thanks for stopping by!
Stephane Poncelet says
Thank you for this. As a divorced, actually divorcing dad, the emotions are high and I’m on the receiving end of the bad mouthing. Not only directly to my girls but also in their presence where they see/hear it all.