Relationships Quick Answers
My children’s other parent is lying about me to our children and is behaving inappropriately in front of the children with his new girlfriend, which makes them uncomfortable. What can I do to help them?
One of the most important things to remember is that you cannot control your former spouse’s behaviors. However, there are several things you can do:
- Focus on doing the best you can as a parent, rather than focusing on your former spouse’s parenting. Being a caring and involved parent who continues to provide both love and limits for your children is very important in helping them adjust to divorce.
- Encourage your children to express their feelings. Be ready to listen to them when they want to talk. If your children can let their other parent know how they feel about a situation (e.g. if seeing their parent kiss a new significant other bothers them), that will probably be more effective than you trying to tell the other parent how to act.
- Try to discuss the situation with your children’s other parent. Think about what you will say ahead of time. Bring up the subject in a calm, non-threatening manner. Use “I-statements” to express your feelings instead of blaming the other person. For example, “When _____________ happens, I feel ____________, because ______________.” Then, ask the other person for the behavior change you want.
- Avoid putting your children in the middle of disagreements that you have with your former spouse. This includes avoiding using the children to relay messages to the other parent. This also includes not asking children for information about the other parent’s personal life, or threatening to not let the children see the other parent.
- Continue to support your children’s relationship with their other parent. This is important, even if you don’t approve of some behaviors (unless the children are in danger of being harmed). Try to avoid saying negative things about your ex-spouse to the children. This can be very difficult to do. In the long run, it benefits children to have ongoing, supportive relationships with both parents. Saying negative things about the other parent often backfires and results in children idealizing and defending that parent. Children will figure out from their own experience what each parent is “really” like.
- Find a supportive adult (not your children) to talk about your own feelings about the situation. A counselor, friend, or relative is a good choice. In Missouri, a counselor in your area can be located through the American Counseling Association of Missouri website: http://www.counselingmissouri.org/, or you can search for a counselor in any state using the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy website: http://www.aamft.org/.
For more information, see:
Making Divorce Easier on Your Child: 50 Effective
Ways to Help Children Adjust, by Nicholas Long and
Rex Foreland, Contemporary Books.
Mom’s House, Dad’s House: Making Two Homes for Your Child, by Isolina Ricci, Fireside Books.
Kim Leon, Ph.D., Former Assistant Professor and State Specialist, Human Development & Family Studies, Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri Extension
Alison Levitch, Human Development & Family Studies Graduate Student, Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri Extension
Last update: Tuesday, August 26, 2008