I grew up with a friend, Lindsey, whose parents had a messy divorce. I never once heard her mom say anything kind about her father, and when we were at Lindsey’s dad’s, he used many colorful words to describe her mom. What I learned at a young age is that when a kid’s father is bad-mouthing her mother or when a mother is bad-mouthing a father, there’s a lot of hurt being thrown around and the kid is stuck in the middle.
If you’re in a situation like this—your ex-husband or someone in his family is talking to your children about you in a negative way—it’s hard to handle it with grace, but it can be done. In fact, it has to be done for the sake of your children. If you want something better for your kids, try these 3 steps next time their father is bad-mouthing you.
1. Resist the urge to fire back.
Hearing your kids say their dad called you a bad word or a liar can make rage swell up within even the most peaceful person. You want to say, “Well he’s a jerk” or, “He says I’m a liar? Listen to what he did!” But that option creates more discord within your children. Now, not only has their father badmouthed their mother, but mom is piling on. You’re firing back but the bullet has to pass through your kids in order to get to your ex.
Another option is to ignore it. I know it’s hard. We think that if we don’t vehemently defend ourselves, then our kids might think there is truth to what their father has said. If someone is saying negative things about you, prove with your consistent character what is actually the truth.
If someone is saying negative things about you, prove with your consistent character what is actually the truth.
2. Make it a teaching moment.
When a father is badmouthing a mother, she doesn’t have to sit in silence. Make it a teaching moment. If your children are old enough, tell them what their dad said isn’t true and that sometimes when people are in this type of situation, they feel the need to say things to make themselves feel better.
Relate it to friendships and why people gossip or say hurtful things and challenge them to consider this next time they are tempted to use words as weapons. You can even admit that you’ve thought or said mean things about their father and that it was wrong. Even though your kids are stuck in the middle of a difficult relationship, they can learn valuable lessons about honesty, managing emotions, and handling conflict.
3. Go directly to the source.
It’s easy to forget about the human on the other side of the fractured relationship. I know the times my ex-husband and I have met face-to-face or spoken on the phone about a disagreement, we’ve always extended more mercy than we would have had we just texted or not spoken at all.
Still, you might need a mediator for this step. Plan out your words in advance and state the facts. If you think he will be defensive, first pledge that you are not and will not badmouth him or his family—and stay good to that promise for the sake of your children. If it’s one of his family members who is doing the badmouthing, go to him first to address it. In a perfect world, one conversation will make it all better, but we know that’s not often the way things go. But if you go in with a humble spirit and a mutual love for your children, I think you’ll end up taking a step in the right direction.
Have you had to deal with a bad-mouthing ex-husband or ex-in-laws? What helped the situation?