Divorced Parents: Are You Guilting Your Kids for Loving Their Other Parent?
We all know that one of the biggest divorced parent “don’ts” is putting down or disrespecting your children’s other parent to them. Clearly, while it’s tempting to badmouth Mom or Dad for the way they’ve hurt you in the marriage, venting to the kids puts them in a very uncomfortable position. They love both of their parents and don’t want to hear from you about the ways your ex-husband/wife had misbehaved or initiated your divorce.
There’s another element in this conversation that doesn’t get as much attention but certainly needs to be addressed, and that’s the “guilt factor.” It’s based on your forbidding or discouraging your children from expressing love or talking about their other parent around you. Kids naturally want to talk about their lives. They like to share things they might have done with their other parent, especially the fun times.
If your expressions, tone of voice, comments or lack of response makes your children feel guilty when bringing up the subject of an adventure with Dad, a shopping spree with Mom, a new place they visited or a fun movie they’ve watched together with their other parent, they feel repressed. Or shamed, confused or uncomfortable in some way they may not be able to explain.
Consequently, they stop sharing, don’t open up about their feelings as readily, and close up around you. That’s not the path to healthy parent-child communication. Once that door is closed, it can take years of therapy to pry it open again, if ever.
Here’s the key point: as a parent, you need to understand that when a child expresses love, admiration or respect for their other parent, it doesn’t diminish their love for you.
Competition for affection between parents, divorced or otherwise, is a no-win road to alienating your children. Parents who are supportive of their children’s relationship with their other parent, even when that parent forms a new romantic relationship with another partner, encourage their children to express themselves freely. When children don’t have to guard themselves against “saying the wrong thing” in front of Mom or Dad, their relationship with you is more flowing, natural, and trusting. And they’ll come to respect and acknowledge you more for your maturity as they themselves age.
Equally important for you to keep in mind: should your children express disapproval of their other parent, don’t chime in with your own negative agenda.
They may want to vent, but they’re not looking to handle your emotional baggage. Nor do they want to join you for a bad Mom or Dad bashing session. Judgments creating guilt, shame or blame can backfire on you and close the door to trusting communication.
Remember, you’re a role model for your children. So be a caring listener, supportive in helping them find solutions for their challenges. Listen without adding to the drama about their Mom or Dad. Listen too, with happiness and support regarding their other parent’s positive interaction with them. Share their good moments without jealousy. Be happy for their happiness.
Divorced or not, isn’t that what parents are for?