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

judge admonishing about the effects of divorce on children of divorceThere is a family judge in Massachusetts who makes decisions for children of divorce every day. She 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 intentions are probably in the right place.

Sadly, sometimes intentions are not enough. Too often negative unintended harm comes to children of divorce 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 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 for children of divorce!

LINKEDIN USERS: LinkedIn does not have the capability for your comments on LinkedIn groups to appear on the original blog post. if you are commenting on a LinkedIn group please copy the comment directly on to the blog so my other readers can benefit from your ideas and reactions. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

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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 (32)

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  1. Anne Lafleur says:

    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!

      • Anonymous says:

        Unfortunately you are quite correct about how the parents hate one another more than they love their children.
        As the child of divorce, I can tell you with certainty that no matter what my parents will ever tell you, the truth is their conduct SHOWED me that they hated each other so much, it trumped everything they ever tried to do for their kids. I did write a letter to one on line psychologist. He worked for the courts in Canada and said he saw a lot of this.
        I have to say, while I am grateful to be here in planet earth, there were times when I was a child that I wish my parents would just kill each other or drop dead. That’s how stressful it was in our home. Very stressful. I realize they brought me into this world and started me off with the basics, something lots of kids never had. And that was their trump card – they had brought me into this world and I had more than some kids ever had. Once they got divorced, that’s all they had going for them. From there on in they completely forgot that they had a brood of children looking to them for love and stability. It ended.
        They are both old and feeble now and they still cannot shut up about their divorce 45 years ago.
        I was speaking to my mother and mentioned to her that my father – who has not treated me well – had been hospitalized for a gall bladder operation. Her reply? Why would I care about that. I dunno – because I care about it and he is the person you chose to have me with.
        I am sick to death of listening to their divorce drama. It is a really bad soap opera that never ends – until maybe they are 6 feet under.
        As a judge, I will give you the same suggestion I have to the phychologist. Suggest to the parents that their children may wish that they (themselves or their parents) were dead due to the level of stress.
        I am surprised that family services does not step in more frequently to warn the parents about taking their children away from them due to the emotional distress they subject their children to.
        As an adult person, I still listen hear it but I often tell them to shut up about it. It still bothers me that they have so little respect for my feelings. I already know how much they hate each other. I am sick to death (almost) of hearing about it.
        I know my mother changed my diapers and my father paid the mortgage. That’s the reason I compassion for them. But the terrible things they did later on because they hated one another more than they loved us were really not good.

        • Ben Stich says:

          Lynn,

          Your testimonial to the devastating effects of parental conflict on children (and on in to adulthood) is moving, and powerful. Thank you for sharing your experiences, and hopefully some parents out there will read your comments and give pause. I teach a High Conflict Parent Education program in Massachusetts and may print your comments for the parent participants — to give a birds-eye view in to the potential future of their children should they not make quick and immediate changes in their co-parenting dynamic. Wishing you all the best, Lynn. -Ben

          • Anonymous says:

            Hi Ben – Thank you for reading my comment and your thoughtful reply.
            A lot of children of divorce have this experience and they feel too humiliated or ungrateful if they speak up.
            Honestly, it is some type of child abuse to treat children in such a manner.
            There were times I felt as if I were the “bad partner”. How could that be? I did not marry either one of them, nor did I divorce either one of them. They are extremely confused people. This past Mother’s Day, I called my ailing old Mom who lives quite far away from me (she moved there) to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. I was regaled yet again about how horrible my father acted and how much he traumatized my siblings.
            Great. I was there, I saw it and it was tramautic to me too. How many times do I have to listen to this?
            Elderly parents have no idea the seeds they have sown in their children. And parents are unapologetic. Most people expect to help out their old ailing relatives as much as they are able to. Many older “kids” are 60 plus. It is not too surprising that it is difficult for them to muster up the energy to take care of old parents who have given them a “divorce trial” for so many years. It is a very mean thing for the parents to do. Who likes to take care of mean old people? This type of adult child is lucky if they have enough emotional energy to keep themselves together.
            Yes. Please share this with your high conflict resolution parent group. They really need to hear this from an adult prospective.
            The kids are watching. They are in the room. They are not furniture or possessions. They are small humans who the parents are privileged to have. If they cannot treat their children with respect, perhaps the children will have little respect for them as time goes on.
            Kids are not objects, they are people with souls. I guess if the parent has no soul, they cannot imagine that their child has one.
            Good luck doing your job. Some parents think because they pay bills and provide basic custodial care they can lay their problems on their kids. Helping out with household chores is one thing. Becoming a sounding board for the parents’ marital conflict is unconscionable.

  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.

  10. Bob says:

    I just had to surrender to the ideal that she’s never going to see it, stop soliciting favor, nor change! I’ll never forget when she took me to court for child support, she had to pay her attorney big cash, only to come away with an order for slightly less than what I was historically paying anyways. She whispered to her attorney in court and then attorney appeals to the Judge by saying I was scum and a drug addict-alcoholic. Judge turned to me and asked me what that was about. (ex had excluded this from petition and held it as a Trump card)
    I was prepared as a pro se, with affidavits of sobriety with dozens of character witness’s contacts, a certificate of graduation from a local college as an addiction counselor and a six year coin. Judge told the ex and her mouthpiece, “I’ll hear no more of that”!
    I gave up jobs, location of residency, a hot couple of girlfriends, income, security, drove 180 miles per weekend for visits of which not a mile did she offer to assist, didnt give up when she moved out of state and did so w/o notification……all just to avail my kids to me being a part time dad that was always there.
    Recently she texted, I wish you were the one who was dying, your pathetic and will die alone!
    Well, as karma would have it, her 2nd husband passed at an early age and she shacked up into a lonely condo and alienated the in laws already.
    My kids, older now, I suspect see me just how she wanted. Pathetic and alone. I can’t begin to tell you how I succumbed to her literal black male because I loved her that much back then. Getting pregnant by going off contraceptives without telling me for example, just to get me to marry. BTW, I always state afterward this comment-which I’ve shared only with close friends- is that my kids are no mistake!
    (I know, I had a choice. I didn’t see one)
    I’ve no extended new family because I experienced that and it was weird.
    I communicate and contribute still to my adult kids, hoping someday they can appreciate that I loved them more than my life and despite their brainwashed facial and verbal expressions that tell me they don’t respect pops all that much.
    (don’t like the word “hate” btw, I always tell my kids not to use that word regarding people)
    So I’m human, have always either not spoke badly or rolled my eyes regarding her and if I did I caught and asked to be excused for doing so.
    The one exclusion would be when the kids told me their mom was taking them, moving, to Idaho from Cali next week, which I was unaware of! (Yes, newly sober I stipulated to shared legal and didn’t go to court-where the ex motioned, unopposed- for sole legal custody)
    I don’t remember the words, but I pulled over and got out of the car to calm myself. How I found out was as follows:
    I was driving them home after a visit, a 90 miles drove each way, and I was telling the kids we can do something next weekend. They were maybe 6 and 8 years of age. My daughter said, ” we can’t next weekend Daddy because we’re moving to Idaho.”
    I adjust my attitude each time today when the kids keep me at arms length. But give me a few minutes and I could change that in a hug or similar act, when all that bull kaka they were exposed to disintegrats in a moment.

  11. Ray says:

    As a parent whom was demonized by my Ex once we divorced (after 15 years of living the Good Life with her and our 2 kids), as I told her many times, it was ultimately our kids who were hurt the most but she still this day doesn’t want to see it, nor does she want to admit she did many of the things listed in this article, NOT to do? Yes, denial usually does run deep but it is your children whom suffer in the end. Reading your Article solidified what I originally thought and while Im no perfect Parent, the level of hate that has been instilled by her in my opinion, still impacts our now 23 year old daughter to the point where she is now having her own relationship issues when connection and socializing with others, needless to say our relationship, well we dont have a Father Daughter relationship. My 24 year old son stays in touch with me now but my daughter is the one who Im most worried about, we almost lost her to a suicide attempt this summer. I thought the good that was to come from episode was we (my daughter and I) could then start having a better relationship as we were calling one another while she was hospitalized and later in therapy and I offered her to come stay with me and my New wife once she was released from therapy BUT something went terribly wrong and my daughter once again decided to shut me out once she was released? I later had a conversation with my Son and told him I think your Mom told your sister I had something to do with her not being released from therapy the first time and he just listened, not once trying to defend his Mom or tell me no Mom didnt or wouldnt do such a thing Dad, its all on my sister??? So the cycle of Hate continues & it is so sad. I honestly wish I lived closer and could make frequent visits but I dont and I feel really helpless most of the time. At least my Son stays in touch but I do worry about my little girl in Charlotte, NC very often…..

    • Ben Stich says:

      Thank you for reading the post, and am sorry to hear how difficult things have been. Unfortunately, to your point at the end of your comment, geographic distance is another significant factor parents need to consider.

  12. Adam says:

    My ex-wife gave me 3 hours notice before leaving to live with her mother, brother and sister 4 hours away.

    My kids found out from their aunt that she was leaving and never coming back.

    Please don’t do something this cruel to your kids.

  13. we say says:

    This is reminding me of my last drop of child to mother. Earlier I was doing it through her friend but for some reason I had to give the child directly to her mum. I was thinking after years she has become more reasonable.
    I was very wrong.
    Emmediately she saw the child she raised a storm how bad and unkempt the child hair was. We had just come from a child recreation faculty. So I just stood there not sure how to help the 7 year old girl being shouted at by her mother. This reminds me why I really hate that woman. For many times I have asked myself whether doing child exchange through her friend was not excessive on my part. I now affirm that it is not. The evil mother should be handled as she is.
    I will restrict her contact to me even more.

  14. James says:

    I have another provocative question.

    If the child comes from about half of the parent, how can you love your child when at the same time hating their parent? This would seem to be an obvious contradiction. You cannot have it both ways. You choose to love or to hate.

    Perhaps this begins to explain the damage divorce does to children and how hating your ex, regardless of how you follow made up good co-parenting rules, is an exercise in selfish abuse of your children and ultimately yourself.

    • Ben Stich says:

      Great question, James! We hear the spirit of what you are talking about from children of divorce, particularly when reflecting back as an adult. By hating Mom/Dad you were telling me that you hated part of me….

      Provocative, and important idea for folks to think about — thanks so much for reading and contributing, James!

    • Anonymous says:

      I take your point too James. And have heard it ad infinitum from my parents. It is a perception children have. Did I do something wrong? Am I inherently bad?The fact that the parents hate one another – well, if the other parent is part of the child. It is impossible for the child to be “okay”.
      I remember other relatives – grandparents, aunts and uncles – who made me feel loved and accepted. Smartly, they realized the parental conflict was not a reflection on the child and made a certain point of seeing me as a whole acceptable person, regardless of how my parents felt about themselves or one another.

  15. Tywanna says:

    I really need advice. My ex and I have been divorced for 4 years and separated for 6 years. I’ve always forced him to be more involved as a parent but he never seems to get it. Now he is engaged to be married and is doing more to show he’s involved but I see it as an act. In the last 6 months he’s shown more interest in our kids and I feel he’s just doing it to impress his fiance. It makes me absolutely angry and lately I’ve displayed most of the symptoms you describe. I’m trying to figure out how to let go of all of this anger. He wanted me to meet his fiance last weekend and I refused because I was afraid of what I would say. I feel he was trying to show her we are a united front and we don’t even get along. I do feel bad about it and things really got ugly. I just can’t shake that all of this is a show.

    • Ben Stich says:

      Tywanna,

      I’m so glad you are recognizing some of the qualities in this post in your interactions with your co-parent — that takes a lot of courage and honest self-reflection. I understand how infuriating it can be to have your co-parent seem to be putting on an act for his fiancé. I supposed the real question is how your kids are responding? I would encourage you to focus more on the impact on your children, and not so much his intentions (and your feelings about what feels like hypocrisy for you). If getting re-married is helping him to better function as a parent I say good! Take advantage of this moment to help your children have a better childhood!

      Remember, the number one factor that leads to better or worse outcomes for children, bar none, is their exposure to conflict between their parents. Feel free to hate your co-parent, but radically accept that he is their father and if he is trying to be cooperative and more involved now, despite his difficulty doing so in the past, it is only the now and the future that you can influence. Put your love for your kids above your disdain for him. If it continues to be hard to get to this place on your own I’d encourage you to seek some guidance from a therapist, or clergy, or some other trusted expert.

      I hope this helps — it’s a real challenge for sure — good luck!!

  16. B says:

    It is my husband’s birthday tomorrow. Right before bed, he received an email from his ex saying she is moving the kids 1000 miles away out of state. She’s helped alienate the older two kids from him, but the youngest loves her time with us. You can imagine his feelings of loss before trying to go to sleep tonight. He was the SAHM dad before they divorced.

    I only hope and pray that they realize/appreciate how he unwaveringly sticks to the second list in this article. I hope it counts for something someday.

    • Ben Stich says:

      Kudos to your husband for sticking with the co-parenting best practices despite the terrible circumstances you describe. One day the children will be adults, and may have a very different perspective. In the meantime, I wonder if consulting an attorney on this issue of relocation might be helpful for your husband, if only to learn his options and rights in your state. Wishing both of you all the best!

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