The residual negative feelings that many spouses carry after an unhappy marriage and subsequent divorce can take some time to dissipate. However, if you’re co-parenting a child, it’s crucial that neither parent lets those feelings be communicated to or in front of them.
You may know that and bite your tongue regularly when it comes to things your co-parent is doing. But what if they’re not reciprocating? What if you’re hearing from your child that your ex – or maybe someone on their side of the family or social circle – has criticized you personally or your parenting choices?
Deal with your child’s feelings first
Find out how your child feels about what they heard. Kids often feel personally wounded when someone says something bad about a parent. They may see it as an attack on them. That’s especially true if they’re compared to their co-parent (as in “You’re as selfish as your mother” or “You’re as irresponsible as your father”).
If your child tells you they’ve heard or been told something negative – or maybe seen a social media post by your ex – it’s important not to react in kind. In other words, when they go low, you need to stay high.
Don’t get defensive either. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set the record straight if what your child heard wasn’t true. This is a good time to have a conversation about not saying things we don’t know to be true – and not saying mean things in general.
Setting the record straight – and dealing with the problem
The next step is to talk with your co-parent. Remind them that the two of you have committed to not badmouthing one another in front of your child. If they have a problem with a parenting decision or something else that affects them or your child, they need to take it up with you. If the person doing the badmouthing is your ex’s parent, sibling, significant other or best friend, the ball is still in their court. They should be the one to address the problem from their family members or social circle.
If the situation doesn’t improve or worsens, it may be necessary to add a non-disparagement clause to your parenting plan. These aren’t always enforceable in court, but just developing one and codifying it can help you and your co-parent commit to watching how you talk about one another.