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home : opinion : columns July 27, 2016

12/14/2012 6:01:00 AM
On Parenting: Know what not to say - and when
AHRON SHERMAN/MinerEven Nickole and Nathan know it’s best if I just keep my mouth shut when it comes to their biological dad.

Even Nickole and Nathan know it’s best if I just keep my mouth shut when it comes to their biological dad.

Ahron Sherman
Miner Staff Reporter

Silence is golden, especially when it comes to speaking badly of your ex-husband or ex-wife in front of your children.

But though keeping your mouth shut when you have nothing good to say is a "no brainer," it's often easier said than done.

"I can't imagine there's ever a benefit" to speaking poorly of an estranged parent in front of his or her children, said Jan Williams, a licensed professional counselor who does a lot of work with families at her private practice in Lake Havasu City.

It can be incredibly destructive to the children's emotional well-being, she said. It breeds fear, resentment, confusion, anger and even feelings of responsibility for the breakup.

Children tend to have an emotional need to take responsibility for things not working out between their parents, she said. Speaking ill of the missing parent adds fuel to that fire.

Talk to your children, let them know it's not their fault, tell them you understand their frustration and pain, but don't blame the other parent no matter how much fault he or she bears.

My wife Angela's ex-husband made it nearly impossible for her to keep her children, Nickole and Nathan, out of the middle of their divorce. And when she and I got together, I found it equally difficult to keep how I felt about him to myself.

When they were married, he physically and mentally abused her right in front of the kids. But after the divorce, she still allowed him to continue his relationship with the children. It didn't work for very long, though.

Once she and I moved in together, he started stopping by the house unannounced. He wouldn't come there to see the kids; he would come there to start an argument with Angela. It got so bad that she decided he wasn't allowed at the house, and if he wanted to see the kids he needed to call first, set up a time and wait for Angela to drop them off at a neutral location.

He agreed to the new rules, then disappeared for nearly a year. The next time we saw him he was on our doorstep calling Angela all kinds of horrible names and blaming her for everything bad in his life. The kids saw and heard everything.

He left that night, but started showing up on a regular basis. His verbal abuse quickly transformed into him making threats toward her and me. Again, the kids saw and heard everything.

So we moved.

Things were peaceful for more than a year until one day he saw Nickole at the park and followed her home. He was back and meaner than ever.

The very next day, Angela and Nickole were at the grocery store. Her ex came out of nowhere and grabbed Nickole from behind, which scared them both. His behavior seemed to have taken a turn for the worse, which didn't seem possible, considering his history.

We decided to get a restraining order. After a couple of brief court dates, the judge granted the order. We haven't seen him since.

I really tried to stay out of it. I love the kids, but I never wanted to be the replacement. I just wanted to raise them the best I could and promise them I would never leave.

But as his abusive, stalking ways progressively got worse, I found it more and more difficult to stay out of it. There were many instances where I said how I felt about him in front of the kids. And though she hates him with a special kind of passion, Angela continued to correct me and tell me that putting him down in front of the Nickole and Nathan is unacceptable.

There are times when the kids, especially Nickole, will start bashing him. They did, after all, witness the years of abuse. But Angela is so good at changing the topic of conversation and telling the kids, "That's enough," it never lasts for long.

In these types of dangerous situations, Williams said it's important to get help from outside sources. Safety must become priority No. 1, she said.

However, just because the estranged parent is acting like a lunatic doesn't mean you can say whatever you want about him or her to your children.

"Don't drag them further in," Williams said.

When the aftermath of divorce turns dangerous, it's important to only speak facts to your children, she said. For example, you could say to them, "He'll always be your dad, but right now we need to make sure we're safe," she said.

Local mother E'Dagny Harron said she divorced her husband when her daughter was 2.

"He had beaten me one time too many and it was time to call it quits," she said.

Not one time in the 12 years following the divorce did Harron speak badly about her daughter's father.

"I tolerated our parental communication necessary for her visitation with him with fake smiles and (a) calm demeanor," Harron said. "This was not easy, but under guidance from fabulous family members whom I trusted with my whole heart, I followed their strong suggestions."

But then her daughter started asking questions about the divorce. Harron promised to explain when the time was right.

Her questions persisted, and after her 16th birthday Harron gave her the police report that detailed the last time he abused her.

"The fact that I had never made him out to be a monster to try and make myself look like a victim helped her on many levels," Harron said. "Victims require sympathy, (and) not necessarily respect. When one parent is constantly trying to tear down the other it causes confusion and all sorts of negatives that children are not fully equipped to sort out.

"My advice to newly divorced parents - do not speak ill of the other parent, ever."

I'll take her advice one step further: Try not to speak ill of the missing parent ever, whether you're newly divorced or haven't seen your ex in 20 years.

Remember, I want to hear what you have to say. Send your ideas and personal stories to asherman@kdminer.com. If you'd just like to chat about parenting - the struggles and the victories - go ahead and give me at call at (928) 753-6397, extension 229.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, December 16, 2012
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

In a perfect world this might happen but we live in a imperfect world and one parent usually the custodial one, usually the mother will bad mouth the dad and in some cases the dad with custody will bad mouth the mother, no amount of media attention can fix flawed angry divorcee's who started out saying I love you and ended up hating the use to be loved with the same passion of hate!

Posted: Friday, December 14, 2012
Article comment by: Cammie Garson

I agree that no bashing should go on. But that is impossible when the ex-wife is a pathological liar and evil. Not to mention bi-polar. The children suffer and after awhile start to just believe what she says since that is the easiest way to get by. Children are smarter than adults think they are sometimes. My grandson knows just how to play the game now in order to get new toys, video games, etc. And he is only 13. Who knows what he will be like at 20. It scares me to think about it. If he follows in his mothers foot steps, God help him.
So the courts can say and do whatever they want but that doesn't mean that both parents will abide by the rules.

Posted: Friday, December 14, 2012
Article comment by: Saved by a Breather

The only time I get a break from the abuse is when the old broad takes a gasp for more air.

Posted: Friday, December 14, 2012
Article comment by: TJ Ervin

It is very hard on a family to go through a divorce. My children were 5 and 9 when we got divorced and the first year was very difficult. Luckily their father and I worked things out well enough that we have a very close relationship now after 7 years of being divorced. Our children both benefit from what is now a close friendship. We work together as parents to do what is best for our children and even though we may disagree on a few things with them, we still present a united front when approaching parenting. It is a total blessing for all of us. No matter what has happened in the past, once the ties are broken its time to move on to a better future and do what is right for everyone.

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