Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week… What do you when you’re trying to co-parent peacefully and set a good example for your kids, but your family won’t stop talking sh*t on your ex in front of them? Have your own questions? Email email@example.com
Dear Scary Mommy,
My ex-husband and I have two kids, 8 and 13, and we’ve been officially divorced for a little over a year. The divorce happened for a variety of reasons: infidelity on his part, way too much emotional and household labor on my part, and enough was enough. Regardless of what happened between us, I’m determined to co-parent as peacefully and functionally as possible, and I try my damndest to never speak negatively about my kids’ father in front of them. My own parents are divorced and I know how painful it is to hear that stuff — it still bothers me almost two decades later. Unfortunately, my mother and brother won’t receive the memo about that. When we’re together, they make lots of passive-aggressive comments about how lazy my ex is, how I’m still making up where he lacks, etc. Most recently, my 8-year-old daughter heard my stepdad say he wanted to “choke the life out of ___” in reference to my ex, for breaking up our family. While I suppose on some level I appreciate the intent behind the shit-talking (they’re hurt for me, of course, but they all loved him too and his betrayal hurt them), I can’t have my kids hear this stuff. If and when they find out/want to know all of the details someday, maybe we can have that talk. But that’s for me, my ex, and our kids — how do I politely tell my family to zip it? Regardless of my anger and hurt, I don’t want my kids to see their dad painted in that light.
Divorce is traumatizing for children, period. Your family shouldn’t be adding to it. It’s so hard to navigate life after divorce for all involved, and I feel for you and your children and everyone else who is struggling to adapt to life after the divorce and how to process all the hurt.
The fact that you’re not the one doing the badmouthing, and you realize how detrimental it is to your kids — well, it sounds like you’re a really good mom. And you should know that. I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through and I hope you’re taking care of yourself and doing things that bring you joy.
But your family really can’t talk shit on the father of your children in front of them, especially if they have a loving relationship with their dad and miss him in their home. Kids love their parents, no matter who did what. If your family is casting your ex in a bad light in front of your children, it might make them question their feelings about their dad or make them feel like they have to choose between you. When they hear bad things about their dad, they’re also hearing that there’s a part of them and their identity that’s bad. Your kids are also old enough to understand passive-aggressive comments, and you don’t want them to internalize that. Your family needs to let them love their parents and figure out how they feel about everything on their own without any outside influence.
You need to talk to your family — away from the kids — and tell them what’s up. If you can hold your head high and get past the sins of your ex for your children’s sake, so can they. If you’re hanging out with your mom one-on-one and you feel like venting to her or asking her advice, and the kids are nowhere around, then sure — she can respond however she sees fit. Your stepdad needs to stifle all threats of physical harm toward the father of your children, period, and if he can’t do that then he can’t see his grandchildren. That goes for everyone who can’t keep a lid on the trash talk around two sets of little ears who love their parents no matter what.
Divorce is so, so hard. Counseling can help you, your children, and even your extended family if they’re open to it. You’re doing a great job. Your kids are lucky to have you for a mother. And your ex should thank his lucky stars to have you for a co-parent, too, tbh. Keep me posted.
Have your own questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org