Vanessa Marcil had some harsh words recently for actor and former partner Brian Austin Green over his parenting of their son, 20-year-old Kassius Marcil-Green.
On her Instagram story last week, the “Las Vegas” star claimed that she and Green “didn’t and don’t co-parent.”
“I raised my son alone,” said the 54-year-old.
Green, 49, wasted no time coming to his own defense — and throwing some shade at Marcil in the process.
“I can’t tell you all how frustrating it is to read continued lies from a 50+ year old woman on social media like she is still in high school,” Green wrote on his Instagram story, before going on to reference actor and ex-wife Megan Fox.
“Megan and I bust our assess to give Kass a well rounded childhood since his mom was rarely there. I’m assuming that’s why she posts so much of him now. When will she just GO AWAY.”
The rancor between Green and Marcil has been present for most of their son’s life, starting with a custody battle when he was a baby. In 2018, Marcil spoke publicly for the first time about their legal feud, saying she spent years fighting for custody of her son and that Green and Fox tried to sue her for child support.
While Marcil-Green has the misfortune of seeing his parents’ acrimony covered in the pages of gossip magazines, theirs is hardly the only contentious split in which each party accuses the other of poor parenting.
Experts are in clear agreement, though, that this kind of talk is never good for children. If you have criticism of your co-parent, about child-rearing or otherwise, you probably shouldn’t voice this negativity in front of your kids — even when it’s true.
Bad-mouthing the other parent puts pressure on kids to choose sides.
Accusations between parents can put children in an impossible situation. “If [kids] believe one, then they need to turn against the other,” said psychologist Ann Buscho, the author of “The Parent’s Guide to Birdnesting.”
“Kids don’t yet have the capacity to view multiple perspectives,” Buscho told HuffPost. They may eventually come to see the nuance and complexity of their parents’ situation, but it’s unfair to expect them to do so when they’re young or the pain from the split is still fresh.
Because kids identify with both of their parents, they may also “feel personally wounded by the criticism,” Buscho said. This can happen even in intact relationships.
“If you’re critical of your spouse, you’re actually being critical of the part of your child that wants to be like your spouse. Your child’s self-esteem will suffer,” Kate Scharff, a therapist and divorce coach in Maryland, told HuffPost.
It can do serious damage to a co-parenting partnership.
“A healthy co-parenting relationship is important to raise stable, resilient and secure kids,” said Buscho.
When one parent is bad-mouthing the other, it can kill trust and the shared commitment to act in the best interests of the children.
Parents who have just separated may feel raw and have a hard time with self-regulation. When speaking to children, it’s all too easy to let slip angry comments about former partners.
Edward Kruk, a professor at the University of British Columbia and the president of the International Council on Shared Parenting, provided HuffPost with examples of such remarks from his course “Co-Parenting After Separation.” These include: “He doesn’t have to make sure you get your homework done. He doesn’t have to do your laundry”; “He buys you junk and things you don’t need”; and “She is too busy with her new boyfriend to make sure that you are eating right.”
A healthy co-parenting relationship can help minimize kids’ trauma during a separation. It is critical to center the children’s needs and set aside marital conflicts to act cooperatively as co-parents.
“The general consensus today is that two key factors — the nature of post-divorce relationships between parents and the nature of post-divorce relationships between each parent and child — play a major role in determining the consequences of divorce for children,” Kruk says in the course.
It can impact your kids’ relationships with both parents...
A split puts children’s relationships with their parents into a state of flux.
“The dynamics of the post-divorce parent-child relationship (for both parents) are going to be very different from those prior to the divorce,” says Kruk.
Bad-mouthing could lead kids to reject the parent being criticized and to refuse to spend time with them. Or kids might feel protective of the parent who is being disparaged and reject the criticizer.
“Kids usually try to figure out who is the victim and whom to blame, and then align with one parent, often the one they depend on most for care or the one who seems most needy,” said Buscho.
“If you send your children the message that you want them to feel a particular way (e.g., angry at their other parent), you may force them to hide their true feelings,” said Scharff.
She noted that most parents will slip at some point and seek emotional support from their children.
“Over-confiding in the older ones, encouraging the little ones to sleep in your bed, calling/texting too often when they’re at their other parent’s home, clinging a little too long when they leave for the weekend — we’ve all done it,” said Scharff.
Parents will also, inevitably, let out an unkind remark about an ex.
“I don’t know one divorced parent who hasn’t broken the golden rule of divorce: Thou shalt not disparage thy ex in the presence of thy child,” she added. “It’s OK. We learn to apologize (or at least resolve to do better) and move on.”
Remember that the stakes are high. Consistently speaking ill of your co-parent threatens your children’s sense of wholeness.
“Attempting to pull your child into an alliance with you and against their other parent is soul-rending. It creates a fault line that runs down the center of their being,” said Scharff.
... As well as their relationships with siblings.
“Normally, siblings are a great support system for each other during a divorce,” said Buscho.
“But when parents are in conflict, siblings can align with different parents, and then they become part of their parents’ conflict,” she continued.
Grandparents and other relatives can be pulled into taking sides, causing further damage to kids’ support systems at a time when they need them most.
If your ex says something ugly about you, respond protectively.
When one parent hears that the other has said something critical of them, they tend to react in one of two ways, according to Scharff.
First, the parent may respond weakly, trying to minimize the significance of what was said. Scharff said people who are conflict-averse tend to lean this way.
Second, the parent may respond by retaliating, speaking poorly about the other one. Hot-tempered parents, or those actively hurting, may react this way.
What you want to reach for is a reply that is protective — of your children, not yourself. Scharff described this as “a calm, empathic response that addresses misinformation without resorting to mudslinging.”
She gave the example of how you could reply to a comment like: “Mom says you don’t love us anymore. That’s why you left.”
A weak response might be: “That’s silly. Of course I love you.”
A retaliatory response is: “Your mother is losing it. Too bad she has to drag you down with her!”
A protective response is: “That must’ve been upsetting to hear. I don’t know why Mom said that. She and I see things differently. But I absolutely love you, and though I’m not with your mom anymore, I’ll always be here for you.”
Parents should find safe places to share their emotions.
If you’re at the stage of divorce or separation, your feelings about your co-parent are likely not all positive. You both may have said and done things that caused the other person a lot of pain. While it’s important that you not share negative thoughts with your kids — or anyone within their earshot — that doesn’t mean you have to sit alone with your feelings.
Maybe you have trusted friends or family members you can confide in, although you should be mindful of making them feel like they, too, have to take sides.
If you go to a therapist, you don’t have to worry about split allegiances or betrayals of confidence.
“Therapists can help parents understand their emotions and how to cope with their feelings,” said Buscho.
If you’re all alone at the moment and ready to explode, Buscho said some people may want to vent by journaling or doing intense exercise.
“I know some parents who went out to their car, rolled up the windows, and just screamed and cried alone to release some of that emotion,” she said.
Ground rules and boundaries can protect children and parents alike.
If emotions are running high, Buscho suggested limiting “face-to-face transfers” where parents see each other while either dropping off or picking up children.
Instead, “one parent drops the children at school or day care, and the other picks them up,” she said.
Parents still need to communicate regularly with each other about their children, however, which they can do via phone, text message or an app like OurFamilyWizard.
Buscho also recommended that parents agree to avoid talking about serious issues around their children and to find a parenting coach or mediator to help manage disagreements before they rise to the level of conflict.
Parents should agree to keep anything about their separation or divorce off of social media, including anything about the children.
According to Kruk, it’s important never to ask children to relay messages from one parent to the other, such as “tell your mother ... [that] I am going to have you with me for Thanksgiving this year” or “ask ... [your] father why he doesn’t drop you off on time.” These messages can be loaded and, again, they put children in the bind of picking a side.
Likewise, quizzing kids about the other parent — for example, asking what Dad’s new girlfriend is like — also puts kids in an uncomfortable position.
“Responsible parents acknowledge that their former spouse is a vital part of the
child’s healthy development,” says Kruk. This includes the child having a loving relationship with both people raising them. Parents can best protect the emotional well-being of their children by supporting the development of this relationship.
But even if your ex starts slinging mud, you don’t have to join in. You can remain supportive of your kids and their relationship with both you and their other parent.
“The good news is that having even one parent who provides a safe and supportive emotional environment ― one in which they’re never forced to choose sides or used as weapons of psychological warfare ― can make all the difference for your kids,” said Scharff.