I did not marry a saint, nor did he. But regardless of his character, he still held the honor of being my children's dad. That's all the reason I needed to keep from speaking ill of him in front of my kiddos. But in case you need a few more reasons, I'll gladly supply them.
- A child's identity is tied to his parents. Children know they inherit more than height and eye color from their parents. Therefore, when you bad-mouth their dad, you bad-mouth them as well. They may wonder if they have the same bad trait you just said your ex does. Children, no matter how young or old, do not need this self-doubt, especially coming from a loving parent.
- It reflects poorly on you more than it does the person you're speaking badly about. This is true even when you're not dealing with kids and exes.
- It will come back to bite you. Never fails, one of the kids will slip and tell the other parent what you said. Do you really need more stress in your relationship with your ex?
- You'll set a bad example for your kids. Speaking unkindly of anyone is a bad example. Doing it about someone they love is downright cruel. Bite your tongue until it bleeds if you have to.
- It puts your child in an awkward position. No child should be put in a position where they have to defend their parent. It's unfair and improper. Don’t put your child in the middle of a disagreement between you and your ex.
So what do you do when your ex is a person of terrible character with serious bad habits and issues? (These suggestions do not apply if your ex is abusive to you or your children.)
- Discuss a negative aspect of your ex only if your child brings it up. Say things like, yes, your dad smokes and that's a really bad habit. He made a bad choice when he was younger and I know he wishes he had made a different one. But that doesn't mean he's a bad person. He just made a bad choice, like we all do sometimes.
- Pray with your children for their other parent. Remind them that God loves him/her, even when they make poor choices.
- Teach your children to respect their parent. It's a biblical principle that we honor our parents (Exodus 20:12; Matthew 19:19). Respecting someone is not the same thing as condoning bad behavior. It means you honor their position as a parent, just like you want others to respect you as your child’s parent. You can teach your children to be kind, respectful, helpful, and so on, in regard to their other parent, even if they don't deserve such treatment. They're still the parent God gave them and He instructs your child to honor them.
- Protect and support your child. If your ex is unkind (not abusive) to your child, speak up on his behalf. Let your ex know how it made your child feel. Try not to project your feelings into the conversation. This conversation is about defending your child, not your feelings or your style of parenting. Support your child by letting him know he can talk to you about his other parent without fear of judgment or a verbal attack on your ex. Let him know you understand and will always try to help him have a good relationship with his other parent.
- Above all, pass your faith on to your child. It will be a strong foundation for this, and all, his relationships. Love your child through the difficult times and pray for them and their relationship with your ex.
As your children grow up, they'll respect you for not giving in to the temptation to speak ill of their parent. Your ex's true character will become evident to your child in time without your negative input.
How have you handled a less than perfect ex? How have your children coped? Any tips you can give for keeping your lips zipped when you want to bad-mouth your kids' other parent?