You’ve committed to never saying anything negative about your co-parent to or in front of your children. You expect them to do the same.
Then you hear from your kids that their mom or dad criticized or belittled you. You let it go. Maybe they were having a bad day. Perhaps the criticism was warranted, even if it wasn’t appropriate in front of your children. Maybe your kids misunderstood or exaggerated.
However, it’s happened multiple times now, and you’ve come to realize that your ex is constantly badmouthing you to your children. Maybe they’re still harboring feelings of anger or resentment over the divorce, the settlement or the custody arrangement. Whatever the reason, you’re concerned — and rightfully so.
When one parent (or a family member of that parent) disparages the other in front of the kids, it can leave them feeling confused, angry and sad. It can hurt their relationship with the parent who’s being badmouthed. However, it can also hurt their relationship with the critical parent (or other relative). It can make them feel like they need to defend their other parent.
So how do you respond if this is an ongoing issue?
First, it’s important not to react angrily or defensively. Don’t criticize your co-parent. If they said something false, make sure your kids know the truth. However, don’t disparage your co-parent to them.
Talk to your co-parent. Let them know the things they’re saying are hurting the kids. Ask them to be more careful (or to talk to the family member who’s causing the problem). Maybe they don’t realize they’re doing it. Even if they do, retaliating with your own negativity will only make them feel more justified in disparaging you.
If the badmouthing continues, you may need to get someone else involved. If your kids are seeing a therapist, let them know what’s happening so they can help your children deal with it. Perhaps there are some serious unresolved issues that family or couples therapy can resolve. Parents often see a therapist together after they’ve split up for help with co-parenting.
You may also want to consider adding a provision in your parenting plan that states that neither parent nor their relatives can speak negatively about the other in their children’s presence. You can stipulate consequences if that provision is violated. Your family law attorney can provide guidance on how to handle this.