Bad-mouthing your ex in front of your children – death by a thousand cuts

Divorce and custody litigation can bring out the worst in many people. Emotions run high. Some people cannot resist the temptation to say something nasty or inappropriate to their kids about the other parent. Some parents even try to poison their children against the other parent. When a parent acts in a vindictive manner towards the other parent, this wreaks havoc with the child.

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.Some parents make the same mistakes over and over, by continually bad-mouthing their former spouse. This can negatively impact your children as they grow up into young adulthood and beyond. Whenever a child hears one parent bash the other parent, the child can suffer. Continual bad-mouthing by either parent can slowly damage a child’s sense of self-esteem. Some people call continual bad-mouthing in the presence of a child “death by a thousand cuts”.

I have seen custody cases where one spouse simply cannot control their own contemptuous, bad-mouthing-of-the-ex-spouse. Remarkably, for some reason, after sharing a life with the targeted spouse and having children with the targeted spouse, the bad-mouthing spouse cannot stop speaking in derogatory terms about the other spouse in the presence of the children. In one recent case, not even a court order could subdue ongoing ad hominem attacks by a mother about her ex, in front of her young children.

Why am I writing about this issue?

First, under the Pennsylvania Child Custody Statute, bad-mouthing your ex could be considered an attempt to turn a child against the other parent. This must be taken into consideration when a court is being asked to modify custody of a minor child. Bad-mouthing conduct may be difficult to prove in court, but it is not impossible to prove. Talk to a family law attorney with experience in this area. For some reason, some parents just cannot seem to stop themselves from bad-mouthing their ex, even though they know bad-mouthing their ex is hurting their children. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is true.

Second, a few years ago I read Divorce Poison – How to Protect Your Family from Bad-Mouthing and Brainwashing by Dr. Richard A. Warshak. I consider it a must-read for any parent involved in a high-conflict divorce. It is available on Amazon for about $10.00. Read the reviews on Amazon. (You will thank me later).

If you, or someone you know, feel you can’t control the temptation of bad-mouthing your ex in front of your children, I urge you to read the book and seek professional help, before you hurt your children. If you are the targeted parent, the book is full of useful suggestions to protect yourself and your relationship with your children.  You will be doing your children a great service by understanding how much it hurts a child when they hear a parent speak negatively about the other parent.

If you are the targeted parent, I also recommend you refuse to “fight fire with fire”. Always take the high road, despite the path your ex may choose. Do the next “right” thing. Your kids will be grateful.

Kids are defenseless against the ill-advised actions of a bad-mouthing or brainwashing parent. Think twice before saying anything that could be perceived by a child as being negative or bad-mouthing. Kids are smarter than some adults realize. The negative things you say in front of your children today, may come back to hurt you as they grow up. Think about it.

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