Criticizing the Other Parent During and After Your Divorce
Key Points
  • It is always a mistake to put down your spouse in front of your children. Do not put your child in the awkward position of not knowing whether to agree, disagree, or say nothing.
  • Words are not the only way you put your ex-spouse down. Saying something like go ask your dad for the money, or I pay your mom enough in child support she should be buying this for you is still putting your ex-spouse down and makes your child feel bad.
  • You may or may not realize the words you use, but saying wrong things to your child can turn your child against the other parent. In this instance you are participating in alienating your child and this should never happen. Your child has a right to you and your ex-spouse.

Criticizing the other parent in front of your child is one of the most common mistakes. Each time you lash out or jokingly criticize the other parent your child is probably getting a very empty feeling in his or her stomach. Your child does not know whether to agree, disagree, or remain silent. Once again the child is being put in a vulnerable no-win situation in which he or she has no escape.

Criticism comes in many different forms and most parents that do criticize the other parent in front of their child often do it without even realizing it.

For example: a father says to his son, "I am not buying you new shoes this time. Ask your mother to, because I pay her money each month for your child support".

Another example: a mother says to her daughter, "no we are not going to that restaurant. That is where your Dad and I used to go and I always hated it."

You can see just how different these two examples are, but they have one thing in common, they each carry a negative tone towards the other parent.

In the first example, the father is insinuating that the mother does not financially support the child as well as she should with the amount of monthly child support she receives.

The second example is a "jab" at the father exaggerating that he used to make her do things that she did not want to do. Even if the statements are true, it does not mean they must be shared with the child.

PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome) is gaining popularity amongst the family law and family therapy arenas. The two examples mentioned in the previous paragraphs are probably borderline PAS. PAS is a syndrome in which a parent knowingly or unknowingly attempts to alienate the other parent from the child(ren) by means of physical and verbal actions or reactions.

Preventing or stopping parental alienation can be very difficult. If PAS is possibly a part of your situation, there are reactionary measures to be taken, but these actions can often cause more harm than good if not done properly.

Do not react by delivering the same types of criticism. This type of reaction will only fuel the fire, promoting the other parent to increase the criticism until it is absolutely out of control. It is suggested that you speak with the other parent regarding the situation in a place far away from your child. Try to emphasize how difficult things are on your child and that you should make it a rule to say as much positive about one another as possible. This may not seem realistic, but it can not hurt to give it a try. By having this conversation, at least you will be bringing it to the other parent's attention, in a level headed, mature manner, that you are aware of the criticism and are not happy with it. Legal actions can eventually be taken, but proving PAS in court can be an uphill battle, especially without hiring experts to testify on your behalf.

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Suggested Reading
Creating a Successful Parenting Plan Creating a Successful Parenting Plan
This extraordinary book and computer disk offers separating or divorcing parents a sure-fire way to create a workable, practical parenting plan/agreement that is in the best interest of their children.

Author: Jayne A. Major, Ph.D.

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