After a divorce or custody agreement is final, negative emotions can long out-live the final court hearing. Non-disparagement clauses are a common tool used by Family Law practitioners and courts intended to prohibit this parental behavior, but in reality, such clauses are difficult to police or enforce. They are, however, a worthy reminder of what we already know: talking about someone’s momma or daddy hurts, especially when the talking is done by the child’s most loved and trusted person, his or her momma or daddy.
The two biggest reasons parents disparage each other is catharsis or revenge.
Catharsis is the process of relieving yourself of strong, typically negative, emotions. Being creatures deeply affected by our emotions, it can be cathartic to talk about how we feel about an ex, his or her behavior, or your frustrations with his or her parenting decisions. If such statements are made to friends, family, or therapists, they can be harmless or even helpful to the healing process. However, when you make disparaging statements or off-hand remarks in front of, or worse, directly to your child, YOU hurt that child.
According to Dr. Edward Kruk Ph.D, “Children need both parents, as they see themselves as made up of half their mother and half their father. Any disparagement of one or the other parent is thus an attack against the child’s very essence, his [or her] sense of self-worth, and dishonors the child."
"The problem with revenge is that it never evens the score. It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalator of pain. Both are stuck on the escalator as long as parity is demanded, and the escalator never stops." – Lewis B. Smedes
When one parent believes they are being verbally attacked, especially in front of their child, that parent feels the need to return fire. That is natural, but not helpful. If one parent is hurting the child by disparaging the other parent, returning the disparagement in kind will simply double the child’s pain.
Here are some tips that may help when disparagement is suspected:
1) If your child reports disparagement to you, just listen. Don’t react.
2) Be calm. If you can’t be calm, walk away till you can be calm.
3) Be supportive of the child’s concerns, but be quietly skeptical of the information. Kids hear and process things very differently than adults. What your child is saying may be unintentionally inaccurate, exaggerated, or out of context. What your teenage child is saying may be intentionally inaccurate, exaggerated, or out of context in an attempt to grasp some control over their world; even though it might not be in their best interest.
4) If you believe the other parent might be disparaging you, consider contacting your co-parent and ask them in a non-confrontational and calm manner if they made the alleged statements. If they did, ask them to please stop doing it too or in front of the children. DEMANDING they stop will almost certainly be ineffective.
5) If you can’t convince your co-parent to stop, talk to your child about how THEY feel about the comments. Do not advise them to confront your co-parent. Do not share your feelings about what was said; it’s not about you, it’s about your child. If appropriate, ask the child if they have any questions about what your co-parent said about you. Do not ask the child questions that force the child to pick sides like: Do you believe what your dad/mom said?
6) If the disparagement is consistent, harmful, or has an affect on your child that is manifesting in negative behavior by the child, you may want to seek legal advice for you and therapeutic treatment for the child.
If you need a Downriver Attorney, contact the Downriver Law Center at 734-796-2727.