Children are designed to love both of their parents, and they absolutely hate hearing their parents badmouth each other. Ex-trashing is so frequent in divorce that warnings prohibiting it are written into many standard custody orders.
Despite knowing they should not degrade the other parent in front of the children, many persist, with children in their midst. Let’s take a deeper look into why ex-bashing hurts kids and why it is imperative to stop it.
Divorce and custody litigation can bring out the worst in all of us. It is often said that in family court, judges see “good people at their worst.” Emotions run high, and some people cannot fight off the temptation to say something nasty or inappropriate to their kids about the other parent. Sadly, some parents engage in a campaign to poison their children against the other parent. Not surprisingly, this hateful and vindictive activity wreaks havoc on children.
Some of the most selfish and revenge-seeking parents are relentless in their assault on the other parent. It is no accident. This will negatively impact children as they develop into adults and beyond. When a child hears one parent badmouth the other parent, the child's self-esteem suffers. The continual bad mouthing of the other parent will gradually erode the child's self-esteem. Many mental health professionals refer to long-term badmouthing as “death by a thousand cuts.” I have personal experience with enduring a custody case where the other parent simply cannot control her own badmouthing, which stems from her own hurt and outrage.
Badmouthing is a symptom of pathogenic parenting and alienation, which left unchecked burgeons into unfettered child abuse. Badmouthing takes ground with younger children much easier than with older kids or teenagers. Younger children do not have the same perception of reality, and developmentally they are not ready to form their own opinions about their parents. They simply want to love both, and feel loved and accepted by both parents. Younger children may still believe in the tooth fairy and will believe anything a parent tells them. The parent who does this to a child must be made aware of their impact on the children, and the behavior must be stopped.
Distorting reality for a young child and depriving them from the other parent’s love is devastating and has long-lasting effects. It is cruel to the child and there is no acceptable excuse. This is child abuse.
I know first-hand that parents with this tendency do not often solve problems by being rational. They are seemingly not bothered or troubled by the the harm they are doing to their child. These people usually blame someone else for their problems, and it is always someone else's fault.
Most of these parents are oblivious to the damage they are doing, because it is always someone else's fault. Making negative remarks to a child about that child's other parent or family member is a behavior that is crippling to the child self-esteem. These abusive parents could and should establish and grow a relationship with their child without disparaging the other parent. However, often an underlying mental disorder or severe parenting deficits impede commonsense parenting.
The bottom line is that making disparaging remarks to a child about that child's other parent is child abuse. It does not matter if the other parent truly believes or knows what they are saying is factual and accurate. It is still child abuse because it harms your child emotionally. The intentional infliction of harm is child abuse. The issue of truth is irrelevant to whether children are harmed by hearing remarks that are negative about the other parent. Unfortunately, parents don't always act in ways that are healthy for their children, and some parents are relentless in their desire to remove the other parent from the child's life, regardless of the cost.
Judge Michael Haas, in an open 2001 letter, gave this stern warning to badmouthing parents:
"Your children have come into this world because of the two of you. Perhaps you two made lousy choices as to whom you decided to be the other parent. If so, that is your problem and your fault. No matter what you think of the other party-or what your family thinks of the other party-these children are one half of each of you. Remember that, because every time you tell your child what an “idiot" his father is, or what a "fool" his mother is, or how bad the absent parent is, or what terrible things that person has done, you are telling the child half of him is bad.
“That is an unforgivable thing to do to a child. That is not love. That is possession. If you do that to your children, you will destroy them as surely as if you had cut them into pieces, because that is what you are doing to their emotions.
“I sincerely hope that you do not do that to your children. Think more about your children and less about yourselves, and make yours a selfless kind of love, not foolish or selfish, or your children will suffer."
The mental health workers involved in child litigation are absolutely clear about the damage that disparaging comments have on children. These sick parents do not realize that making negative comments about the child's other parent within the presence or awareness of the child is tantamount to punching the child in the mouth. It is wrong, hurtful, and child abuse.
Bad mouthing, pathogenic parenting, and alienation are the most challenging adversaries in Family Court, because they can be difficult to prove. I know how hard it is because I live it everyday. You must fight back and your duty to protect your child demands it of you. In future
installments, I will explore who are the perpetrators, how we stop them, and how we can compel the courts to effectively intervene. I leave you with this quote if you're are struggling with a parent that is bad mouthing you to your children:
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Sean Abid is a Contributing Member of Pro Se PROS, LLC. Reach out to Sean directly at email@example.com.