Hate Your Ex More Than You Love Your Kids? Effects of Divorce on Children of Divorce

judge admonishing about the effects of divorce on children of divorceThere is a family judge in Massachusetts who has a sign hanging on her door that reads:

Do You Hate Your Ex More Than You Love Your Kids?

Provocative question, right?

You might be thinking “of course I don’t — that’s just ridiculous!” Maybe you are even offended by the suggestion.

So why then would a judge so brazenly post this message?

After all, the chances are that if you are separated or divorced you are working hard to do the best you can to protect your kids from any harm stemming from the breakup. Your

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intentions are probably in the right place.

Sadly, sometimes intentions are not enough. Too often negative unintended harm comes to kids because of the conflict, tension, or even ill will that exists between exes.

How Parents Make the Effects of Divorce on Children of Divorce Even Worse

Since this article started by posing the judge’s provocative statement, let me ask another provocative set of questions: If divorced parents love their kids more than hate their ex, then why do so many co-parents…

  • Complain on the phone to their friends about their ex within earshot of the kids, or….
  • Fail to buy a Mother’s or Father’s day card for the child to give to the other parent, or…
  • Dig for information from their child about the other parent’s social life, or…
  • Roll their eyes when the child tells them about something the other parent said or did, or…
  • Ask the child to choose between attending an activity with Mom or attending another equally enticing activity with Dad, or…
  • Have their child pass messages on from one parent to the other parent, or…
  • Argue at pick-up and drop-off with the ex, or…
  • Fight endlessly over a parenting schedule leaving the child in uncertain limbo about the future plan, or…
  • Litigate endlessly to stick it to the ex, or…

Before you react defensively please take a breath.

Seriously.

I am NOT suggesting you are a bad parent if you can relate to any of these examples.

These are common

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behaviors among divorced parents and let’s admit it, the judge’s question contains quite a bit of hyperbole.

But it certainly got your attention, right?

How Parents CAN Decrease the Negative Effects of Divorce on Children of Divorce

Now, let’s do a reframe. Let’s say that it is clear that a parent loves their kids more than they hate their ex, and we know that because they:

  • Make sure to never complain about the parent within earshot of the children…
  • Go out of the way to make sure their child honors the other parent’s birthday and Mother’s and Father’s Day
  • Never use the children as a source to get information about the other parent…
  • Listen attentively and without judgment when the children are talking about the other parent…
  • Never ask the children to choose between Mom and Dad…
  • Communicate directly with the parent rather than having the children pass messages back and forth…
  • Behave politely with the other parent during pick-up and drop-off…
  • Establish a parenting plan in a timely manner that is geared to the child’s best interest rather than the parent’s…
  • Improve communication and decrease conflict by working with a divorce mediator, rather than litigate…

The bottom line is that kids of separated, divorced or never-married parents are hyper-aware of and sensitive to the relationship dynamics between their parents. When you get angry, frustrated, exasperated, furious, indignant and outraged at your ex, please remember this:

You Love Your Kids More Than You Hate Your Ex!

Remembering this could be the best thing you’ve ever done for your kids.

Please REPLY below to share other strategies that can minimize the negative effects of divorce on children!

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About the Author ()

I help families resolve conflict through family mediation and divorce mediation in Massachusetts. My services include mediation for co-parenting disputes, marriage problems, separation and divorce, parents and teenagers, and family conflicts. The goal of my mediator's blog is to help teach or remind readers of helpful communication and conflict resolution techniques that can be used in their relationships. I live in Natick, MA with my wife, son and dog and mediate throughout the Metrowest Boston region. Please note that my name is spelled Ben Stich, not Ben Stitch.

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Comments (17)

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  1. Thanks, Ben. This thinking is relevant outside of parenting, too: Do we live our lives FOR a cause we believe in, or AGAINST people we disagree with? Do we commit and work hard toward something we want, or do we look for an excuse for why we can’t have it? Are we part of the solution or part of the problem? Great self-reflections for the new year!

    • Ben Stich says:

      I always hope my posts can generalize for people in many circumstances. I appreciate how you have broadened the key idea of the post to make it relevant for almost anyone. I especially love the idea of living for a cause versus living against people we disagree with. As always, thanks for contributing!

  2. An evergreen topic to discuss, Ben. Thank you for doing so.

    So many families and most importantly, the children live in these types of environments. It wears the children down and causes more emotional damage than the parents would want to know. The parents also might not want to know how this erodes the respect the children have for them.

    While I respect the judge’s aversion to the drama and fighting, thus the reason for the sign you wrote of, I would also ask any family law judge – do the courts 1) respect both parents; no, really, both parents and the desires of the most children and most moms and dads to have healthy relationship quantity and quality and 2) are both parents, dads and moms, being held to equal standards of behavior?

    Courts say they are about facts, not emotions. They insist the rule legally. They don’t confess to being human and having emotional drivers that strongly affect their judgments that are often personal, not objective. I’ve sat through many hours and observed many families pain and struggle and at times, I’ve witnessed compassionate, reasonable judicial decisions and at other times, I’ve seen judges who would claim themselves dispassionate and objective visibly angry and completely ignore (both moms and dads) one side’s parenting desires.

    The courts claim they didn’t make the mess, they just work in it but they often throw gas on the fire, often enable one parent over the other.

    While your post is more directed at what the parents can control, their attitude and behavior, one parent’s (or both at times) can make co-parenting peacefully, for the maximum benefit of the children, more of a challenge than married couples and the courts might be able to comprehend.

    I do agree with your recommendations. The more one parent can rise above the fray or both parents can hold themselves accountable, the more secure and at peace, the more healthy the children stand a chance of being and becoming as adults.

    • Ben Stich says:

      Your post makes me think that you could write an analogous post titled, “Do you hate your job more than care for families…?” Or something like that!

      All kidding aside, you are passionate about your desire for the courts to serve the best interests of the entire family — parents and children. Points well taken, Michael!

  3. Unfortunately, this is so very true! The types of behavior referenced in the attached article is typical when parents divorce or separate. Whether they realize it or not, the parents’ behavior demonstrates that they hate their ex more than they love their kids. How sad is that?

    • Ben Stich says:

      It is sad, Mark. I would like to think that many times the parents aren’t even aware of the impact of the conflict with their ex on their kids. I know of a retired judge who nows runs a court-mandated program for high conflict parents who told me she’d be sharing this post with all future participants. My hope is that raising awareness will help parents step outside of their emotion-laden narrative and see more clearly how their actions affect their kids.

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion, Mark, and I hope you come back again!

  4. I do think litigating a custody issue contributes to the problem. The world (and the parents) look at the case’s outcome as one parent “winning” their children and another “losing” them. That’s a horrible way to begin co-parenting as divorced parents!

  5. I do think litigating a custody issue is the worst possible route: The world (and the parents) look at the outcome as one parent “winning” the children and the other “losing” the children. What a terrible way to begin co-parenting as divorced parents!

    • Ben Stich says:

      That winning/losing dynamic you describe may work for the winning parent, but is nothing other than a losing proposition for the children. Thanks for contributing to the discussion, Joanne!

  6. Imagine if all judges posted signs like that on their doors, AND held both co-parents accountable for this high, but necessary standard, consistently! More children would thrive after divorce. Ben, thank you for this great resource and for your service on behalf of children and families.

    • Ben Stich says:

      That would be amazing, wouldn’t it, Deesha?! I’m thrilled you liked the post — please feel free to share it with clients and colleagues if you think the context and tips could be helpful. I quickly checked out your site — looks great — I’ll look more closely over the weekend. Where are you located?

  7. Susan Lederer says:

    Hi Ben,
    You are so right about the co-parenting, and I agree with all the comments also…BUT… when what you suggest is not realistic due to some force out of the control of the courts, maybe one of the participants impaired in some way , then there really is a problem that therapists are faced with all the time. For example, if one or both of the parents are emotionally or mentally impaired, or if substance abuse is involved, or if extended families are battling and influencing the children, or if a child is impaired in some way , and I could go on…THEN…even an excellent child or family therapist has their work cut out for them! Finances play a part here as well. I am just hoping to add the reality that the ideal situation is not possible for many of our clientele, as well as many more who don’t seek professional help. I am a child therapist and have seen complicated family situations only multiply over the past 30 years that I have been in practice.
    Thank you for bringing up this situation for discussion.

    • Ben Stich says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Susan! Certainly my post is meant to illustrate common pitfalls and their unintended consequences, and steps parents can take to handle such situations more effectively. There is no question that co-parenting relationships can be complicated by mental illness, substance abuse, and the like. Substance use, in particular, causes tremendous barriers to effective co-parenting. No matter the impairment it can’t hurt — and can only help — to educate parents about the impact of their actions on their children. I know there are countless professionals like you trying to help parents recognize that their relationship with their child — and not their relationship with their ex — is what should drive their decision-making. Easier said than done, I know… It’s tough work! I give you great credit for working so long and hard (congrats on 30 years – what an accomplishment!) to help these complex families manage their dynamics in as adaptive way as possible.

  8. Ben,

    I found your article very helpful for parents and like the style of your writing. I have noticed that many people on Linkedin and their posts/articles use the word “ex”. I have emphasized, especially to my parents to replace the word “ex” with former partner/spouse” or “my child’s mother/father.” Language is very powerful and sets the tone for collaboration or conflict. It is a personal pet peeve of mine. Did you use the term in your article to grab attention?

    • Ben Stich says:

      Point well-taken, Ann Marie! Yes, I did use that language for dramatic effect to help engage readers but nevertheless your point is a good one and something that I will keep in mind in the future. Thanks for contributing!

  9. Norman Cooper says:

    I have read this before Ben and find it very accessible; I have used it as a discussion starter with a mother, who was grateful for the opportunity to refocus and remember she only ever wanted to be child centred.
    She was genuinely shocked when she thought about the behaviours she and the ex had got into’ but with the knowledge she was able to put it right.
    She chose to share the article in a group setting to discuss with other parents; which was a huge confidence boost for her to be able to tell others that she got it wrong, how recognising that made her feel, and how she used that feeling to be even more determined to focus on her children’s needs.
    Thanks from both of us.

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