For many of us, this is a very real situation we have to deal with. Our kids come home telling us that Mom or Dad said something about them. Personally, my daughter’s stepmom has badmouthed me for years now - since she’s been involved in their lives. It’s pretty constant for them and they come home to tell me.
When you first hear the bad-mouthing, you’re filled with equal parts frustration/anger at the person doing the talking and sadness for your kids that they had to hear it. The question that remains is “What do I do about it?”
The steps I’ve found to be the most useful are these:
Focus on the kids instead of your co-parent. Phrases like: ‘I’m sorry you had to hear that.’ ‘Is that what you believe?’ ‘Do you want to talk about it?’ Can all help keep communication open without putting your kids in the middle.
Decide if it’s better to bring it up with your co-parent or not. You know your co-parent better than anyone. Will it make it worse on the kids if you bring it up or will it help open their eyes to what the kids are dealing with?
Empower your children. Make sure your children feel comfortable telling either parent when they hear something they don’t want to. That includes bad-mouthing. My kids have worked on phrases like, “that sounds like something you should ask Mom about” or “I don’t need to hear that” when they feel uncomfortable.
Remember the bad-mouthing has more to do with them than with you or your kids. This is a great lesson for your kids, too. There will always (always) be people in their lives that badmouth them, especially if things are going well for them. The way you handle this is how they’ll learn to handle it, too. The things that are said have less to do with you and more to do with insecurities your co-parent feels.
Don’t take it personally. When what you hear is taken personally, it’s harder to let other things go. You cannot control what’s said, but you can control your reaction to it. Think about where it’s coming from and go back to #4. This has more to do with them than with you.
Actions speak louder than words. Regardless of what’s being said, your children are watching you and your co-parent live. If your kids hear that you never take care of them, but they watch you make dinners, help with homework, and chauffeur them from activity to activity - they SEE the truth. Time will tell what’s true and what’s not. Keep living your life as you are, knowing you show your children the best you can as often as possible.
Has this ever happened to you? How have you handled it when your kids have mentioned that your co-parent speaks negatively about you? We’re all in this together, know that you’re not alone in it.
If you're trying to avoid talking negatively about your co-parent after they've refused to compromise with you for the sake of your kids, this video and worksheet gives you the exact tools to help you talk to your kids about it.