Q. I had an affair, and my ex and I broke up. He tells our son every chance he gets what a terrible person I am. My son is too young to understand and now refuses to see his dad. My ex is convinced I’m the one putting our son up to it. I don’t know how to get through to his father that the badmouthing is what’s behind the refusing to see him? How do I get his dad to stop? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. When I have confronted parents about badmouthing, I’ve been told everything from “It’s no big deal, it won’t stick with them” to justifications for their behavior because they think their children should understand what a terrible person their father or mother really is.
Rarely does the badmouthing parent realize what they are doing to their children.
Children don’t disregard what their parents say when they badmouth each other. And thinking their parent is a terrible person rarely contributes to a child’s peace and security. Some children feel they have to shield the victim of the bad-mouthing and stop wanting to interact with the parent who bad-mouths.
Others become alienated, just as the bad-mouthing parent wanted.
Either way, it’s very difficult to overcome the damage
This is when I hear, “Well, do you want me to lie to my child?”
No. But, you certainly don’t have to volunteer all the graphic details. Nor do you have to refer to your ex in a derogatory manner.
In terms of stopping the badmouthing, you can rarely “get” anyone to do anything, but I’ve found education helps. Many don’t realize the effect of what they are doing and when educated, they stop.
You could initiate counseling for your son, and the counselor could integrate dad into your son’s therapy. Dad will then hear firsthand what his badmouthing is doing — from the therapist and from your son while in session.
The primary objective is to love your child more than you hate the ex. If you can’t do that, it’s not in the child’s best interest to visit until you can. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com./Tribune News Service