Talking negatively about your ex has lasting effects on your children. How do I know? I have been collecting stories from children and adult children of divorce for three years now. I am writing a book to end bitter divorce battles. My hope is if I show the lasting damage from a child's perspective, it might somehow sink in and stop the nasty behavior. This isn't psycho babble: here are four real life stories.
Mike, a 43-year-old man, still remembers his mother referring to his father as a loser after the divorce. Mike still can't shake the word "loser" from his head. Anytime he hears someone called a loser, he cringes. It has taken him to years to view his dad differently than the story told to him by his mother.
To date, Mike finds himself constantly trying to achieve so that his mother won't think he's a loser. I bet she never expected that by calling her ex-husband a loser, it would have such a lasting impact on her son.
Jack, a 13-year-old freshman in high school, lives out his parent's divorce far too often. His biggest pet peeve? He isn't allowed to take anything from his father's house over to his mother's house -- like his basketball shorts. Jack assures his father that his mother will not be wearing the basketball shorts, just him. His father doesn't care. His father, who is quite wealthy by the way, would not give Jack $20 to take to school for an event that was actually on the day his mother had him. "She has to pay for it!" insisted Jack's father. Even at 13, Jack has had enough of this pettiness from his father. He dreads going to see his father because it's always a battle about something related to his time with his mother.
I bet Jack's father doesn't even realize he is missing out on quality time with his son. Instead, he is too busy keeping score and trying to control what goes on with his ex wife.
Heidi, a 38-year-old stylist, still listens to her mother complain about her father. Her parents divorced 30 years ago. Her mother clearly hasn't gotten over it. Heidi gets embarrassed every time she has friends over at her mom's house. The first thing out of her mother's mouth is, "Do you notice this small apartment I live in? It's because Heidi's dad didn't give me any money when we divorced." It doesn't matter that Heidi's mother has had a great job over the past 30 years yet refuses to change her living circumstances. Heidi actually thinks that her mother is addicted to playing the victim card.
What Heidi's mother doesn't realize is that she has missed out on 30 years of her life. Instead, she is bitterly stuck in the '70's.
Kate no longer talks to the father that bad-mouthed her mother. Her parents divorced when she was nine and Kate remembers nothing but her father's name-calling and fighting for years on end. When her father had custody of her, all he would do was talk about what a horrible woman her mother was. "Your mother is a cheater. She broke up this family," he would say. "All she wants to do is take my money." "She's crazy." Any time Kate would try to defend her mother, her father would yell to her, "you don't know anything!" In reality, Kate knew quite a bit. Kate was aware that her mother cheated on her father. Her mother sat down with her and apologized for doing so. She apologized to Kate for breaking up the family. She was always kind to Kate's father and never uttered a bad word about him. As she got older, Kate understood that her father was hurt, but she couldn't understand why he wouldn't let it go. Her father was always angry. This made Kate dread being with her father. After years of going through the motions, Kate decided she didn't want to spend time with her father. She told him she was tired of hearing about how awful her mother was. Do you know what Kate's father said to her? "You are just like your mother -- Crazy." At 17, that wasn't what Kate needed or wanted to hear.
Kate is now 23 years old and hasn't spoken to her father in six years. Do you think this is how Kate's father imagined his relationship with his daughter would turn out?
The point of outlining all these scenarios is to illustrate that things don't have to end up nasty.
It takes a real grown-up adult to realize that you can't be bitter about the past. It takes a mature adult to see the bigger picture. It takes loving your children more than you hate your ex to stop the nastiness. I urge you to look at the bigger picture. You are not harming your ex. You are harming your children.