Soccer practice and games for my kids have become a bit interrupted now. There’s one parent on the team that always speaks badly of her son’s father. I remember the first indoor game where I heard it. For those of you out there that participate in the weekend dance of your children’s sports games, you likely know the near random dice roll that comes with which color of jersey to bring. The coaches send out the text that will say whether to wear red or white for this upcoming game. But that often changes, either because someone from the other team is in the wrong color, the whole team is wrong, or the coach may have been wrong. The why doesn’t matter, you just learn quickly to bring both colors. This mom was complaining very loudly, in front of her kid and the other team members, about how he only had white because he was with his father this weekend. She told the dad to bring both, but of course he forgot, and on and on. After that each practice and game included some quip about the dad. As a result, I make sure to sit away from her so my inside voice doesn’t win over and come out.
The scenario above may involve a mom, but it could also be a dad. I’ve heard the complaining about the ex from all sides. We all complain. The line has to be drawn when kids are around. Any parent that thinks your kids aren’t listening to your words, especially if they are about the other parent, is very out of touch with the awareness kids possess. Every parent out there involved in trying to raise our kids in divorced homes experiences frustration with their ex. Some never get past it. The challenge we all face is keeping this frustration out of sight from our children. They are trying to love and be raised by both parents. Each little dig to them puts them in a position where they feel they have to agree or disagree, choose a side, and maybe even try to fix the problem. Every one of those alternatives they face is wrong.
The gut check starts with understanding your true intentions. I speak often about honest self-assessments, and here’s another example. Think of the last time you made a dig about your ex either to your children or in front of your children. What was your honest goal? The choices are:
– Honest venting
– Seeking affirmation of your problem
– Looking for alignment
Any of these are fine with friends, although monitor how often you vent with your friends as eventually everyone gets tired of hearing complaining. If you made a complaint to your kids, then you were seeking something above. If venting was your goal, your children are not the right source. You certainly start crossing a line when you seek their affirmation of your issue and you are starting to dabble in creating alienation behavior when you are seeking their agreement and alignment with you. If you are trying to win your kids to your side, are you aware that means they need to break their relationship with the other parent? If so, please research parental alienation syndrome and seek help. Your behavior is without question damaging to your children. We don’t have to like our ex, but we have to understand the basic need our children have to receive loving parental support from each parent, unadulterated by each parent.
I am not perfect. Just last week I was driving with my oldest child and caught myself speaking about how the other parent was being a pain about an after school activity. As the words were coming out, I knew I was in the wrong. What was my goal? Full of shame I admit it was to gain affirmation and probably to get them, just for that moment, on my side. I don’t need my children to take my side to build my relationship with them. I changed the subject and moved on to enjoying the time with my kid. Rarely do you get one-on-one time with more than one anyway, especially with custody schedules. I like to keep a friend of mine in my head as an example. His ex is an alcoholic. They had shared custody, but when he found out she was drunk when she drove his kids on a vacation last summer, he drew the line. He called her on it and took full custody of the kids until she got her act together. Her alcoholism had been building and she had driven a large wedge in her own relationship with her kids. As she was recovering, he kept taking the kids to visit with their mom. He recognized their need to keep a relationship with their mom. Today she is recovering. She sees the kids more and more, and has overnights with them. He’s not under a court order to do so, but instead is monitoring her behavior while trying to keep the roles of both parents healthy as their kids grow.
You can be on the receiving end of this treatment or the giving end. As a dad, what can you do to help minimize and ultimately eliminate this behavior for the well-being of your kids? It starts by setting the example. None of us are perfect and everyone will slip up. By being aware, though, you can catch yourself and end the discussion before it drags on. When you hear from your kids about the behavior from your ex, call her on it. You can neutralize the discussion with your kids and shift on to more enjoyable topics. Then later, when they are at school or just not around either parent, call her and bring it up. Understand that she will slip up to, but you have to bring it up. You also need to document the behavior. If your ex continues to pick at you in front of the kids, despite your efforts to curb this behavior, you need some professional advice. Experts today recognize how damaging that behavior is for your kids. While you may be able to deal with it, they are the ones actually suffering.
The soccer games are nicer now that I sit at the other end of the stands. I have to hope the complaints from her side of the stands are just part of the normal transition from separating to divorce. We all need an ear for venting every now and then. Keep reminding yourself, though, to keep venting with your buds or family, and not your kids. It has been decades since my parents divorced, yet still to this day I remember clearly which parent kept their problems with the other away from me, and which didn’t. Your kids will remember as well, and your efforts will be worth it when you are the one on the right side of their memory.