Take the kids to a great family counselor with experience in dealing with kids of divorce. This problem is common and you are too close to the situation to handle it correctly. Kids generally need a compassionate counselor with whom they can "vent" about BOTH parents during and after the divorce.
Here are some personal accounts from users:
It may be in your best interest to intervene and talk to the children, telling them your side. I took the so-called higher moral ground and wouldn't talk about certain things their father had been talking to them about and it backfired. When things went to court, the kids had only heard their father's side and not mine, so they only knew what he had told them. When they talked to the parenting coordinator, they told her what their father wanted them to tell her, as they only knew that side. Now, I explain clearly my side. I try to be extremely careful to explain there are two sides and that what I am telling them is my side. I also try to be as honest, without exaggeration, as possible, but I will never allow my ex husband's voice to be the only one the children hear, because that is often not in the best interest of anyone.
Another personal account:
I can imagine that this is one of the most frustrating and infuriating situations one can encounter. My sister-in-law had the same problem. She opted to take the higher moral ground, so to speak. She talked with the kids and explained to them as best they were able to understand that Daddy was very upset right now, and says things he doesn't mean, just like they say and do things they don't mean when they are angry and hurt. Her ex is still a jerk, but her kids love and respect her more for not putting down their dad.
Another personal account:
My ex-husband does this very same thing! I grew up with a mother who put my dad down constantly and guess what? Today I am closer to my dad than my mom! Whatever you do, DON'T say anything negative about your ex in front of the children. They will love and respect you more for the rest of their lives if you simply tell them that dad is saying those things because he is hurt and he is angry, but IT ISN'T THEIR FAULT - really reiterate that! And keep the communication lines open with the kids - tell them that they can talk to you about anything and that you will not betray their confidence. If those communication lines are open you will be able to nip you ex's little comments in the bud! If you believe in God, pray for your ex-husband and have your children pray with you for him - that is the absolute best way to bond closer with your children and fill them with trust and security. Don't make a big deal out of it or it will get worse, and don't 'defend' yourself or say anything bad about your ex.
Ask them how they feel when their friends do that to other friends.Then ask them if they believe what their friends that do that tell them. Remind them that people who are angry, jealous, or insecure sometimes say things that are not nice. This is a good time to remind them it is always better to trust what you see from knowing a person , than to believe what you hear.
Hopefully you have taught them how to respond........"I am sorry you feel that way, but I do not like it when you say bad things about people I know/love when they are not around."
Present answers that are general, not directed at your ex. Deal with your children and ex separately. Do not react to the ex by calling to discuss it ...this is just an immature attempt to start a fight by ex. No response = no battle. Attempts at alienating a spouse are generally not successful. In the long term, the child loses respect for the parent.
It's never too late. My best friend just got out of this same situation. Her ex was doing what is called "Parental Alienation Syndrome". It sounds like a psycho-babble term I know, but it really does happen and it's a lot more menacing and harmful than they make it sound. It's also usually something the custodial parent does, it rarely ever gets placed on the visitation parent and it's tough as nails to prove. It's usually born of abuse, but not the kind that's obvious and out in the open.
Parental Alienation Syndrome works in 2 ways:
One is fear/abuse based. The child(ren) identify with the abusive parent to prevent facing the impending abuse for not "agreeing" with the abusive parent. If this goes on long enough the children will begin to replace their own thoughts with those of the abusive parent, even to the point of creating false memories and false events that were placed there by the offending parent. Then the hatred for the victim parent becomes so intense that the children actually believe they are doing the right thing by hating them.
The second is far more insidious, this one is SO simple it will make a victim parent want to tear their own hair out! It's as simple as this:
The child understands clearly: "I know how to love the offending parent just hate the other parent."
The idea that the victim parent will love them unconditionally is not as easy. What makes it worse is that simple situations become arsonals for the offender. As an example: The child complains on a visitation weekend that they have to do chores. The offensive parent will tell the child that they should never have to do any chores, that the victim parent is abusing them, and the list goes on.
I would look up Parental Alienation Syndrome to see if it fits, and print up the things you find to help your friend out
I'm a fathers rights advocate since 1989.
I'm normally advising fathers about this, so if I miss any of the 'shes', I apologize. Write him a letter stating that this type of behavior is unacceptable and is an attempt to alienate the children, with the possibility of them developing Parental Alienation Syndrome. This can be grounds for modifying the current custody arrangement. This is not in the best interest of the children and could be considered psychological abuse.
Make three copies. I would suggest adding to these the following documents.
A BILL OF RIGHTS FOR CHILDREN OF DIVORCE
50 PHRASES TO ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD
A CHILD'S TEN COMMANDMENTS TO PARENTS
(see link below for copies)
Send the primary signed letter Registered Mail and a copy with Delivery Confirmation (75¢ plus regular postage). If he rejects the one, he will still receive the other. You can get confirmation of the delivery through the USPS web site.
If he rejects the Registered Mail Letter, attach it to one of the copies. If he accepts, attach the Delivery Confirmation card you will receive in the mail. Whichever you end up with, take it to the County Courthouse. Have the Clerk of Court certify it and place in the divorce case file. In this manner, should this become an issue for the court, the judge will see this in the case file while preparing to hear the case. The fourth one is to keep in your own files.
If he persists in the behavior, repeat this process two more times, then file a motion with the court restraining her from further attempting to alienate the children. If he still persists, you file a Contempt of Court Motion. Email through the group owner address at Dads House and I will send the documents to you.
I know from experience that feeling and I found out that they now consider that a form of child abuse. either parent CANNOT TALK BAD ABOUT THE OTHER PARENT TO THE CHILDREN OR CHILD. Check your local laws and see what actions can be taken.
Simply let the child know the truth, with proof.
I also very much believe that you shouldn't disparage the other parent, and that you should love your children more than you hate your ex. However, don't go too far with that. Here's what happened in my case: My father was horrible. Not in an "abusive" way, but in a "negligent/abandoning/never even put me ON his priority list" kind of way. I would sit with my suitcase on the front porch on a Friday and he just wouldn't bother to show. My mom was determined to never say anything bad about him... to let me find out for myself. Here's how that can go wrong. In her zest to not disparage him, my feelings were never validated. I thought he was bad, but since my mom didn't "agree," I grew up not only not trusting my own judgment, I also allowed people to treat me like a doormat. I couldn't very well be taught to stick up for myself, have boundaries, etc., if I didn't even have clear understanding that I HAD been treated badly. My resulting over-compliant nature made me the perfect target for a child-molesting future step-father...
Moral of the story: YOU don't have to bring things up, but if your CHILD does--sweeping it under the rug of "protecting them" might leave them vulnerable to thinking, "If nothing is wrong with (insert name here), then something must be wrong with me. Maybe I am not worthy of better."
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