A friend of mine made an interesting remark a few days ago. Being divorced and having co-parented with not just one, but two ex-partners, she said the key piece for her was to never-ever, under any circumstances, speak negatively about the other parent to the children. Now, we have all heard this before and might think that is a nice ideal. However, we assume that if we cannot keep our perspective of the other parent to ourselves it is not a big deal either. Is that really true?
My friend’s reasoning for why this was the key piece of healthy co-parenting to her should convince anybody. A child usually feels they are “half their parent”. We are taught to believe that we have inherited some characteristics and character traits from one parent, some from the other. Very often we are told things like “You have your father’s smile” or “You have your mother’s sensitivity”. Very often we even hear “You are so much like your father/mother”.
When you really watch a child closely as somebody is speaking in a dismissive or derogative manner about one of his/her parents, you can feel sadness and shame or even anger. If we believe we are half of each parent and are being told that the other parent is bad in some way, is not enough, is too this or too that, we learn to also feel that we are not enough. We believe we must also be flawed.
Not speaking in a derogative manner about the other parent is therefore not about the ex-partner at all, not about who has hurt whom, but solely a gift I can give my child to feel good about her- or himself.
With that knowing in mind, can we even perhaps take it a step further and speak in an affirmative and positive fashion about the other parent? No matter what we think about him or her, can we focus on their good side and point those strengths and admirable personality traits out to the children? Surely there is something we can say about the person we used to love and live with which will teach our child that they are amazing.
So next time you are about to say with rolled eyes and an exasperated sigh, “You are just like your mother/father” bite your tongue and think of something good to say about the other parent and ultimately about your own child.