Badmouthing the Co-parent to a Child


Nah, FUCK him!“, among other things, is what I overheard her say about the co-parent of her 11 year old son, Adam, with him standing just feet away.

My heart pounded so hard for him. It’s almost as if I felt what he felt as he stood there listening to his mother badmouth his father. It’s not her first time either. She’s been this way for years. His older brother experienced the same thing, with the bad-mouthing towards his father.

Adam’s shoulders dropped and crouched forward with his head tilting to the side. I called him over to ask him a question and his eyes were drooping from the pound of her words. The pain that runs through Adam is real and probably even disorienting.
You see, children have the propensity to love their parents, unconditionally, beyond their transgressions. Their personal identity comes partially from each parent. Therefore, the defamation of a parent can be internalized as the defamation of that child. As a result, this behavior can backfire, with the child building resentment towards the parent who’s doing the badmouthing.

Interparental rivalry can be detrimental to a child’s mental health. It can place pernicious weight on the child’s psychological and emotional state. It is hurtful to hear someone badmouth someone you love and when being subjected to the denigration of one’s parent, it may put them in a position of feeling obligated to take sides, though they don’t feel what their parent expressed about the other. This can birth feelings of guilt or shame. It’s also disrespectful to the child and their relations with the other parent. Yet, the child may not have the tools to express themselves verbally, so this dysfunctional influence may cause them to internalize these burdens. Eventually, the impact of these burdens will seep out negatively. It can lead to self hatred, low self-esteem, poor school grades, substance abuse, a lack to thrive and so on. Children are helpless and lack the capacity to change their situation or the climate of their home life. This powerlessness is inevitable, especially for an 11 year old child. It seems like the only power he can obtain is how to survive these wounded acts.

It’s understandable that there may be resentment, unmet expectations, betrayal, and various pains involved among the adults but it is selfish and of great disservice to the child(ren) for a parent to mar the other parent, directly to a child or even indirectly, within their ear’s reach. That negativity can alter the child(ren)’s sense of self. It can also teach a child an unhealthy way to deal with adversities. It teaches inappropriate communication and also that it’s acceptable to be verbally insulting. As the adult, it would behoove one to learn to channel their emotions, thoughts and feelings about the co-parent. It’s a matter that should be dealt with among the adults, not spewed onto the child(ren). Along with the verbal and emotional abuse, these parents tend to draw out patterns of inconsistent disciplining, disloyalty and the blame game in all regards. These qualities (consciously or unconsciously) are being ingrained into the child. The loudest form of teaching is demonstration.

Learning to compartmentalize adult issues is advantageous, not only to oneself but also for the child(ren) involved. It is crucial to learn to separate adult issues from the child’s realm, especially if it involves displeasure, anger or degradation. The child(ren) would be spared the distress of a matter that’s not theirs to carry. At the same time, it would teach the child(ren) how to deal with real life issues in a mature fashion. All parents (together or not), should aim to have a healthy or at least a civil relationship with the co-parent. It provides a safe space for the child(ren) and also strengthens the character of a child. Choosing to consciously compartmentalize negative thoughts or feelings of the other parent would actually be an act of love. The status of one’s relationship should not contribute to a child’s fears or discomfort. They should be able to trust each parent. They deserve the opportunity to witness healthy interactions. They deserve to know what loyalty and respect look like.

Spare our children this trauma… please!

©2018 Liza Morales

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

― Frederick Douglass



Maiming the Island



oppression lives in my last name
a name that identifies
the trunk I branched from
with roots anchored
in Puerto Rico

Morales, from Aibonito
surname of Spanish origin, meaning
‘one who’s lived by a mulberry bush’

and mom’s side, Nieves
from Arecibo
‘Our Lady of the Snows’

la Isla where great-grandma
was forced to flee, with
ten kids on hips and back
because discrimination
said her fair skin ought
not to link with black
she birthed brown babies
abandoned and
chased across the ocean

Papa, my grandfather
loved la Isla
in a shared tin house
nestled in
the middle of the island
but colonialism is tough
a family needs more
than white rice and eggs
he flew to New York
in the fifties
and ran a bodega

Puerto Rico was enslaved
stripped of sugar cane
and coffee crops
where people were massacred
on Palm Sunday
and restricted to vote
for president
today’s debilitation
speaks the same dialect
intentional disabling
restricting resources
maiming the people

over 4,000 Puerto Ricans dead
4,000 human beings, blood
same that flows through me
veins, impassioned vessels
an oceanic causeway
for the ancestor’s voice
that’s bubbled in rage
for basic human rights
as people are sucked
into the mouths of hurricanes
the president plays golf

my people struggle
to keep afloat
half-baked under
Caribbean sun
casas, no roof
no electricity,
no running water
the mountains care more
than the U.S. government
paper towels thrown at us
and FEMA, aborted

heart monitors cease
dialysis machines stop
intubated lungs deflate
life support loses breath
thousands of people die
they even lie about that
a genocide formulation
as their eyes peer our land
gluttonous fingertips
reaching, to swipe our soil
while bodies perish in despair
they ignore the screams
entangled in palm trees
and the straining gurgles
that ebb and flow ashore

politicians are thieves
a ravenous culture
profiting from our deaths
and destructed properties
eyeing opportunities
from our misfortune
narcissists with agendas
look to capitalize
on coquis and
beauteous beaches
indigenous wail
as gushing wounds
are preyed on
and gasping breaths

lack of humanity scares me
this level of disconnect

chains are still clanking
the Jones Act snickers
oppression is real
and has lived too long
but our spirits
won’t allow us to give up
because our family names
remind us of those before us
and the fight they fought
to the fight we fight
with spines split forth
bent and hung over
a shattered land
but ancestors uplift
with valor and strength
to bolster our souls
above the peak
of Cerro de Punta

so, let it be known
we will figure it out
we will revive the soil
and plant new seeds
earth will reciprocate
all that we’ve sown
what’s ours is ours
and so it is.

©Liza Morales