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The Number 1 Rule of Co-Parenting

shocked babyWe’re back, and we’re ready to get right into the number one rule of co-parenting after divorce or during the divorce process. Like we said in the last blog, this rule seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many times this rule is broken. Here it is: Never ever speak ill of the other spouse in front of the children.

Think of the Children

You may be thinking to yourself “Really? That’s the big rule?” But before you brush us off, hear us out. Bad-mouthing your ex in front of your children greatly harms them, and the effects can last a lifetime. You see, your child gets half of their genes, features, and mannerisms from your ex. So when you verbally mutilate your ex, in your child’s eyes, you’re mutilating them as well.

Not only can this create resentment (directed at you, no less) within your child, this creates anxiety and fear within your child as well. In a Huffington Post article, a researching author shared the fruits of her research about the effects of divorce on children. One of her subjects, “Mike,” is a 43 year-old, well put together man who has lived in fear of his mother viewing him as a “loser,” like his dad.

Another subject brings up a separate issue: the damage the resentment you hold has on you. “Heidi” is a 38 year-old stylist who dreads bringing people to her mother’s house because her mother can’t resist the temptation to tell visitors about her greedy ex-husband. Heidi’s parent’s divorced 30 years ago, and the only growth in her mother’s life is her healthy 30 year-old resentment.

But here’s the real kicker, bad-mouthing is not just a horrible habit, it’s a component of parental alienation, which is being recognized more and more.

Extra-Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a term for the subconscious (or conscious) practice of undermining the relationship between the child and the other parent. Parental alienation can take place due to bad-mouthing the other parent in front of the child, which changes the child’s perception of the other parent; by asking your child to spy on the other parent; by disrupting the other parent’s visitation; making your child feel guilty for spending time with the other parent, and so much more.

You may be doing these things without meaning to, so be careful to stay unbiased with your child when it comes to your ex. Without intending to, you may be causing harm to your child; for example, if you let the child choose between spending time with one or the other parent, this could translate to the child as a loyalty test. So how do you navigate co-parenting after divorce, without meandering into the dark side?

Stopping the He Said, She Said

Here are a few ways to put your foot down on parental alienation, without putting your foot in your mouth:

- Don’t fight fire with fire. If it turns out your ex is bad-mouthing you, resist the urge to address this with your child. In trying to set the record straight, you may end up caught in the bad-mouthing cycle yourself.

- ¬†Take the high road. If your child comes to you with disturbing slander your ex dished out, don’t be too reactive. Just say something like you don’t know why they would say that, and they probably didn’t mean it. If the cause of the divorce comes up, just leave it at you two divorced because you couldn’t get along, and that has nothing to do with the child.

- Find a vent. Divorce creates emotionally draining and straining situations, just recognize and accept this. To prevent the urge to bad-mouth and vent your divorce frustrations with your child, find a friend, relative, professional, or group to do this with instead. For your sanity and your child’s, find another venting source.

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