(real names have been omitted or changed)
"Mommy, this is the song Daddy listens to all the time in his car…. " A small voice called out from the backseat of the SUV. "Gone" by country singer Montgomery Gentry crooned on the radio. Sunlight peeked through the open sunroof overhead and the mild fall day that brought a nice warmth, a light breeze, rolled plaid shirt sleeves, skinny jeans and boots made me relish this time of year… when temps were perfect for walks in search of the perfect yellow leaf, timers dinged that apple crisp was baked to golden perfection and front porches were adorned with pumpkins and Indian corn. I heard plainly what my child told me but merely responded with a neutral "Mmmmhmm, oh, that's nice…" as I maneuvered the traffic, filing away that bit of information and promptly changing the subject because I didn't want to feed into a conversation that would ultimately lead to their daddy painting himself as a wounded animal in the aftermath of divorce.
The Art Of Subject Changing…
With divorce we become masterfully skilled at being subject changers. At being distractors. It may not come naturally but with kids it seems to be a skill that is much needed to acquire, to divert our children's attention away from the negative, away from the self-proclaimed victimization of one of the parents… because at the end of the day the true victims in divorce are the children as they are dependent upon their parents keeping their you-know-what-together… because when both adults are doing what they are supposed to do… like being faithful, honest, loving and selfless… putting the marriage first... then the marriage won't fail and consequently, their children's world as they knew it won't fail also.
What No One Tells You About Divorce…
What people don't usually tell us about divorce is that just because the divorce is final doesn't mean your ex has decided to roll over and play dead or just be good. If you've been married to someone who has been manipulative, dishonest, who has been a cheater, who is cunning and narcissistic… possibly even a sociopath… you know the crazy train you've been tossed on isn't about to pull into the station anytime soon so you can get off… they have hijacked you for the long haul and unless you know Jason Statham personally to transport you off there are limited ways to deal. The train is going to continue at a zillion miles per hour and you have one mission… to try to handle this ride that is now your so-called life to the best of your ability. It will be trying, yes… no doubt and there will be zingers thrown your way, in the form of your children saying "Daddy/Mommy said such and such"… but with practice, with focus and your eye on living a life of calm in the midst of the storm around you…. peace can be yours.
Divorce: 6 Things A Parent Should Never Say To Their Child(ren) Regarding The Other Parent:
1. "I wanted our family to work... I really did but it's your Mom/Dad that didn't. She/He is who filed you know..."
This is so not okay. Can we say grandstander? This is playing the martyr, the one with the violin, perched on a soapbox, a one man or one woman performance of nausea intended to paint themselves as unblemished when maybe reality is that the other spouse filed because they had good reason to... maybe they were sick and tired of being cheated on, lied to, treated as inferior or some other myriad of justifiable reasons to say "enough." It's maybe time to accept that fact of life and realize that instead of crying "woe is me" the best thing to do is either speak positively of the other parent or at minimum remain neutral so as not to bring anymore negativity to an already not so great situation.
2. "I miss Mommy/Daddy..."
Let's please not go there. Ever. It places the child in a very uncomfortable situation. One, they feel they have to play the role of nurturer toward their parent... that's actually the adult's job toward the child as a parent. Secondly, the child feels as though they are being asked (even if not outright to) to relay this pertinent piece of information to the other parent… which they will because in their child-sized rose colored glasses (and watching the Parent Trap too many times) imaginary world it might, just might mean you will both get back together and that gets their hopes up for no good reason... they are the child.... not the messenger. Third, the child listens to the one parent crying "I miss mommy/daddy" and in turn thinks to themselves… "This is crazy… if you miss them SO much and loved them SO much then why did you do what you did? Why did you cheat? Why did you divorce? Why did you cause so much grief?" This creates confusion for a child. If the parent truly misses their ex-spouse then they should not be going to their child(ren) about it but instead contacting a therapist who is skilled in helping with their feelings.
3. "I don't have any money… Mommy has all my money."
Once again, playing the victim and drawing the children into your budget, finances and adult world. This is not a mature reaction to an innocent child's question on the toy aisle at Target asking "Can you please buy me that Barbie dream house?" It's not the chid's responsibility to be drawn into money talk, child support etc. The purpose of the child support paid from one spouse to another is to provide money for what the child needs in regards to everyday living. Children don't need to hear anything financially related that could cause them upset or a feeling of being unsettled. As adults even if we are struggling it's up to us to provide a secure environment for our kids so they don't take on our adults worries and burdens. A parent might merely say "Oh, that Barbie dream house looks like fun! Not today… maybe that is something to ask for on your birthday or to write Santa Claus for" ...and leave it at that.
4. "Mommy doesn't want to see you."
It was scheduled in the court papers to exchange the children on this upcoming Friday. Instead, your ex-spouse out of "the goodness of his heart" suggests to you that you take the children early, let's say on Tuesday…. because in reality he has to travel for business, his babysitter has quit or maybe Las Vegas is calling. The truth is… you would love to have them early in a heartbeat… yet since it was dictated in the papers that you weren't getting them till Friday your work week is now filled to the brim… and you know it will be like pulling nails to rearrange everything to take them a few days early. So you tell your ex that you think it's best you both just stick to the court papers. Guess what? Now you are the bad guy… you get deemed by him as "not wanting your children" …. another manipulative ploy by him to be the shining parent. What's worse is he tells the children this. This is manipulation, hurtful, not true and is unacceptable. Twisting reality to suit a parent's personal agenda is not okay. It's best if a parent doesn't relay to the children that the schedule may change until it's a done deal. And even then in life things come up and we all need to be understanding… the best explanation to your child is: "Something came up. No biggie… you will see her in a few days."
5. "My girlfriend is hotter than Mommy."
Okay. Let's just keep this simple… children don't need to hear a comparison of hotness, of boob size, waist dimensions, of sex appeal, of lust, gloss and flesh. They are not their father's comrades at the local bar, not his buddies in the locker room and not his best friend whom he shares his every thought to over lunch. They are children… which means they don't need to hear about their father's sick comparisons of physical attributes they deem better over another. In cases like these it's best for a parent to keep their mouth quiet and let's be real here… if and when this bit of comparison gets back to his ex-spouse it will likely send her into an enjoyable laugh at his expense and her drink to spew out her nose at the pathetic attempts to make her jealous… because a man who goes there just ends up making himself look as a silly as a high school boy.
6. "I don't care what Mommy/Daddy tells you to do."
Telling your child(ren) this only leads to a co-parenting relationship that is not unified but instead actually adversarial. If one parent tells the children or intimates to them that they don't have to listen to the other parent, that he/she doesn't know what they are doing, doesn't know what they are talking about or his/her rules at his/her house are stupid… that parent is belittling the other parent's authority, discipline, rules and weakening their power over the children. They are painting them as inept in the children's eyes, hence giving the children voice to derail any instruction by the one parent. Ultimately, this manipulation done by one parent leads to the children seeing the other parent as "the bad guy" and the child begins slowly voicing opposition of going to spend time at that parent's home. This is subtle brainwashing and alienation that eventually grows into a whole new monster of gigantic proportions. This requires immediate family therapy in a group setting to clear the air and get down to the business of setting the children straight on the fact BOTH parents are indeed important in the children's lives and one parent is NOT going to overshadow the other to create purposeful unnecessary chaos that leads to a damaged relationship between one parent and their child(ren).
When we choose our words carefully, when we look past ourselves, our own egos however wounded and realize that our children's healthy emotional well being should trump any and all manipulation, self-victimization, snide remarks, etc voiced to our children about our ex-spouse we will be doing our job as a parent. We must set aside any unresolved feelings we hold toward our ex for the sake of our children and live our lives with maturity, grace and create the best possible environment for our kids so that they live under the direction, protection, united wings of BOTH parents even though they are residing in two homes. That is a successful co-parenting relationship and one that only includes love.
Jennifer Gafford is a writer, speaker and divorce coach who helps guide parents through the pain of trying to co-parent with their narcissistic ex, and shares tips for custody and healing. She began her website gracepowerstrength in 2012 and over time her blog and audience grew to over a million views. Jennifer was married for twelve years, has two children and is very well versed in the facts regarding narcissistic abuse and the challenges involved in healing. Today, she shares daily posts and stories on Instagram for thousands of followers regarding npd abuse and believes everyone deserves a life of peace, love and freedom.