“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.”