Back in the day, when my parents divorced they made us choose. We could only love one parent: if you lived with the mom, you could not openly or freely love the dad and visa versa. No visits, no phone calls. It was sad.
I married late in life (38 years old) and became the proud and loving stepmother of a 7-year-old boy (I’ll call him Jack) and a 9-year-old girl (I’ll call her Jill). I loved my husband very much; we dated for 2 years before we married. The children lived with their biological mother but I saw my stepchildren as often as I could. I adored Jack and Jill endlessly. Jack and Jill often confided in me about the pain of their lives and the impact of certain behaviors that hurt them so deeply. I truly believe I am a better person and mother now because of the many insights they gifted to me.
On behalf of my stepkids…I am compelled to tell the world what your children need from you deepest in the quarry of their magnificent hearts, even if they cannot verbalize it yet or put it together in those magical words that help people understand when they ‘really’ need to understand. What they really want is a gift that only *you* can grant them and it is a gift that will never ever stop giving as you watch their incredible accomplishments pile up, if you grace them with this one life-changing treasure. I am delighted to tell you it does not cost one penny, but if not bestowed upon the precious little person (or persons) who look up to you for guidance and care, it could cost a price that will never stop racking up.
The Golden Rule is to not say anything disrespectful of the other parent.
That’s it. It’s free and all you have to do is do what you do best: protect your child from the ugliness of hurtful talk about the other parent. Give them the freedom to love ‘everyone’ while they are young; it is priceless to their emotional development. My personal visual is to picture hurtful words as arrows, then envision those arrows with your ex-spouse’s name on it, then lastly recognize the first path that arrow will take is through your child’s heart. Maybe you don’t want to throw that arrow after all? This is the harsh reality children suffer everyday when adults do not realize the power of words and the lasting damage they can do.
Why follow this Golden Rule? You might be thinking, “because the other parent said mean things about me…” Maybe one thing that was incredibly unacceptable or many incredibly unacceptable acts, why should I not ‘warn’ my child and do what comes so naturally to ‘protect’ them by telling them what I might think they need to know? Try to remember there is plenty of time for *your* child to grow up, and to recognize what you saw in the other parent and be equally disappointed…you really do not want to rush that. I believe most parents do not want their child or children prematurely depressed and feeling let down any sooner than necessary; their youth is merely a wrinkle in time.
Because Jack and Jill still suffer today for all the hurtful words and acts thrown back and forth between their parents. You should know nothing ever was resolved, but merely continued the pain and anguish the children lived with every day throughout their childhood years. It stole what was rightfully theirs in the first place, which was being young and free of worries. They cried to me so often about the fighting that had gone on between their parents that many days they could barely carry the emotional load it put on them — both back then and now. Jill is self-destructive, Jack emotionally detached. They are still sad to this day about it all.
You might be asking yourself, “What if I have already thrown hurtful words about the other parent in front of my children, even as recently as this morning?” I would suggest that you make this the last morning that you are ever a ‘negative role model’ to your child or children and start anew right now! Never give up trying to reach your own ‘personal best.’
The biggest question is: Do I love my children enough to not hurt them with my own pain, which is minimally relieved with criticisms anyway? Am I adult enough to recognize they never asked to be my sounding board or referee? Perhaps this is where you might ask yourself ‘Can I give if it hurts me back?’ It might be an adjustment — keeping your comments inside until there is an adult around (and the child/children elsewhere) you can vent/talk/share with. But what you are also doing is keeping their precious minds and hearts clear and open to see the world in wonderment and awe.
The possible pluses: less aggressive behavior, less tension in the house, better grades at school, you’ll feel good that you are doing ‘the right thing’, less arguments between you and your child because they will be naturally compelled to defend the other parent, and the real soul food here…one day when they are older they will thank you for not making what was already hard enough for them to handle even harder.
Lastly, this is the one chance in life to really be a hero — a hero to your beloved dear child — is there anything more wonderful?
The biggest challenge: when you hear that the other parent badmouthed you, make that a positive too…You can say, “How did that make you feel when they said that?” (they might share)…you can say, “That is why I don’t say things like that; I don’t want to be responsible for making you feel anything but joy & happiness.’ (And remind them that just because someone says something does not make it so.)
It is my deepest wish for your children to know great joy & happiness in your company.