How can I handle this??? We have been divorced for almost two years and have joint custody of our three children, 10, 9, and 5 (the youngest is a boy). Things are going OK now after some rough spots at the beginning for which we got counseling (my idea). My ex often takes our kids to his parents’ house and I approve because my parents live far away and I feel my children need grandparents in their life.
BUT the children’s grandmother badmouths me and tells outrageous lies about me and the divorce. My children come back asking me about what grandma said. How do I protect my children from this vitriolic barrage of negativity? My ex laughs about it and tells me I am “too sensitive, get some backbone, it’s not important.”
Heins: No grandmother, or grandfather, on either side of the family should badmouth the mother of her grandchildren, EVER. Being part of a family, divorced or intact, means you pay attention to each other’s feelings. A child’s bond to the mother is so strong that negative remarks about her hurt the child to the quick.
When there is a divorce, Grandma’s badmouthing places another “I-feel-torn-apart” burden on the children who are no doubt already struggling with the loss of their intact home, a move to another house, maybe a new neighborhood and a new school.
Divorce is a life event that is terrifically troubling to children, especially young children. One protective factor that helps mitigate the effects of divorce on children is keeping their lives as normal, predictable, and familiar as possible.
It is tragic when grandparents take sides and exit their grandchildren’s lives angrily and abruptly. One mother told me her ex-husband’s parents never see her children and they don’t send even a birthday or Christmas card. “I try calling my husband’s mother and she hangs up on me. It breaks my heart that my children have lost a whole half family, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.”
Divorce can cause pain. The grandmother in today’s question assumes the ex-wife is responsible for the son’s pain and her own. Sadly Grandma’s actions hurt her grandchildren, not just their mother.
Grandparents are so important to children that the bond between child and grandparent is second in importance only to the child’s bond with a parent. A cartoon on my bulletin board says, “My mom does great. She’s like a grandmother to me!”
In order to thrive, every child needs at least one person who is absolutely, positively crazy about the child. With two parents and two sets of grandparents the lucky child has six people who demonstrate such unconditional love. Unconditional love means never withholding love, or making the child feel uncomfortable, or abandoning the child.
Abandonment, real or perceived, is a serious side effect of divorce. Children not only feel abandoned when a parent moves out, but they may feel they are responsible for the divorce and abandonment. “If I were a good boy my Daddy wouldn’t have left.” Grandparents, if they are nearby, can offer stability and love when the child needs it most because the two-parent home is “breaking”.
If you are a grandparent whose grandchildren are involved in a divorce please put your grandchildren’s well-being ahead of your anger. Even if your anger is profound and, gasp, even if it justified.
If you cannot get along with the child’s parent, arrange for the children to visit you without the parent you can’t stand.
But obey the following rules:
You will not speak ill about this parent.
You will not pass nasty messages to this parent via the innocent kids.
You will be civil when he or she picks up the children.
This is referred to in the divorce literature as “situational peace.” You don’t have to like the person, you can even dislike the person. But when you are together, you will remember your manners and be nice.
I suggest today’s questioner make another attempt to talk to her ex-husband about this burden on his children. Show him this column and ask him to understand what his mother’s words are doing to his children. This may or may not work.
But please take the moral high ground here. Tell your children that family connections are very important. Yes, Grandma tells stories that are not true and that hurt their feelings but they still must be respectful to her.
Try not to be defensive. Don’t feel you must correct everything she says about you as that might put more emphasis on her stories than warranted.
Always speak respectfully about your children’s father. The last thing you want to do is add to your children’s burden. I urge you and your ex-husband to both read “Divorce Vows.” http://parentkidsright.com/vows/
In this ParenTip I list vows to take when marriage vows are no longer in effect to protect your children from the trauma of a divorce. A friend whose parents divorced with great acrimony when she was a young teen told me years later that, “Divorce is a death that keeps on dying” after her mother refused to attend her father’s funeral.
A word to any relatives out there who are “going through a divorce” with a family member. We tend to take sides in a battle and, sadly, many divorces are battles. But the children involved love both of their parents and you guys too. Don’t do or say anything to hurt them.
Dr. Heins is a pediatrician, parent, grandparent, great-step grandparent, and the founder and CEO of ParentKidsRight.com. She welcomes your individual parenting questions. Email info@ParentKidsRight.com for a professional, personal, private, and free answer to your questions.
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