My friend, who’s separated recently, heard from her son, mid-20s, that his father told him that his mother had an affair, was going to run off with the guy, and that’s why his father left her.
I know that the father lied.
I’ve been close to my friend for the past eight years. She loves her son and his younger sister, and would never just suddenly leave for another man. She’d know that would destroy their trust in her, hurt them deeply, risk their not speaking to her and relating only to their father.
Fortunately, my friend’s too smart and committed to her children for that. She told her son, “Not only is it not true, but ask yourself this: Why would your father say this to you and put this image in your head?”
She then answered for him: “He’s hurting, as we all are, because the break-up of our marriage is hard on us all. But we’re both still staying close to you and your sister.”
I admire my friend’s response. But too often I hear similarly stupid things separated/divorced men and women tell their children about their other parent.
Even if parents are upset, aren’t they causing their own kids more problems with the negative stories and images they pass along?
You’re right on. It’s bad enough that some children grow up amid parents’ bickering and fights within their hearing and also in front of them.
But it’s the purposeful statements used to discredit their ex-spouse, which are unfair and harmful to a child’s well-being.
Over the years, I’ve heard many of them, some being typical examples of “parental alienation,” which I wrote about August 13, when one parent attempts to turn a child against the other, and a child rejects a parent on that basis.
But other nasty statements and exaggerated stories are simply tossed out in anger, without realizing the harm they do to their children’s emotional well-being.
Just one example with which I’m familiar:
A woman told her children that she married their father for a rich, comfortable life for them all, but he was hiding his money in private accounts and they’d never inherit from him. (Not true, I learned. She just wanted them to find out where he’d stashed the money).
With all the professional psychotherapists, and experts’ books on best approaches to help children through family upheavals, it’s astonishing when parents don’t recognize how wrong it is to poison children’s opinions of their other parent... and how doing so can actually get the opposite result of anger at the tale-bearer.
What benefit is there for the children or the bad-mouthing parent... even if any of it were true?
With divorce considered a reasonable, workable choice for unhappy couples, these scenarios are unfortunately less surprising. Sadly however, they can pave the way for further years-long alienations, if handled badly, that can affect children into their adulthood, and their sibling relationships.
In extreme cases, the levels of discord can end up causing the end of once happy family gatherings due to fiery arguments that lead to years of silence.
What a shame.
My advice to anyone dealing with these issues is this: Stay firmly resolved not to cause distance between your ex and your children (except when there’s evidence of parental abuse).
Protect those children with your love and understanding, and show them your refusal to badmouth their other parent, their parents (the grandparents) or siblings.
My widowed mother became friends with a younger woman at work. They shared fundamental religious beliefs and remained friends until my mother died several years ago.
This friend was helpful/supportive of me during that difficult time. I appreciate how much my mother meant to her. She’s since been seeking closer ties.
I prefer to end the relationship. I don't share her religious beliefs. She talks about alternative medications all disproven by science. She keeps me on the phone for lengthy conversations.
I don't know how to end this. Do I ignore her calls or tell her how I feel? I know she’ll be offended.
Honour your mother’s memory and be gentle about withdrawing from phone contact over several weeks. Only answer the phone every few times. Say how busy you are. Thank her for her initial support but explain that you two have very different interests which you don’t want to disrespect.
Wish her well.
Tip of the day:
Separated/divorced parents owe children their right to a continued secure relationship with their other parent, if at all possible.