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spinner's avatar

Help, my ex continually bad-mouths me to our children.

Asked by spinner (178 points ) July 9th, 2010

My ex-husband is clearly very hurt about the fact that we are no longer married. Our divorce has been final for nearly two years, our marriage was disintegrating for years before that, and we were full on estranged for the last year and a half. Even with all this time, he has not dealt with his pain and insists on sharing it with our children. He consistently tries to come across to them as mortally wounded by the end of our marriage and makes it perfectly clear that – in his mind at least – I am 100% responsible. I certainly made some missteps in the time we were splitting, but I see no reason for him to share all the gruesome details with our children. He continually does this and it is starting to wear on me. Every time they return home from visiting they are disrespectful or even down right defiant. I have asked him time and again to stop undermining me with them and to stop bad mouthing me, but he refuses. I have never told them anything about the way he mistreated me over the years and have steadfastly refused to speak negatively of their father to them. I am at my wits end! Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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21 Answers

Seaofclouds's avatar

Unfortunately there isn’t a lot you can do to make him stop talking badly about you to your children. You could see if you can get it put into the court order, but that would require going back to court and even then, it might not help.

How old are your children? Have you tried to explain to them that there are multiple sides to every story and that their dad is telling his side and that is all it is. When you say he is underminding you with them, what do you mean exactly?

wordnerd's avatar

I’m sorry you find yourself in this situation. It’s so unfortunate that he feels the need to pull your children into the fray and give them information they, quite frankly, should never have. Good for you for not shooting back at him through them, but I know that noble act can’t be easy to reconcile when your kids come home defiant.

My best advice – tell him that if he continues to badmouth you, the custody agreement will need to be revisited. Remind him that if he wants to be the father he thinks he is, he needs to put his kids first. They shouldn’t be operating with any of the gruesome details (trust me), and he’s doing them a disservice by giving them a reason to disrespect you. He’s hurting you, certainly, but something tells me that’s his purpose. Try pointing out to him that he’s using your kids as pawns and they’re people—people he loves!

dpworkin's avatar

It’s terribly irresponsible, and very damaging to the children. Perhaps you can get a neutral third party to explain to him that he is required to love his children more than he hates you, and that only bad things can come of his self-indulgence. Your kids are suffering because of this, and if he keeps it up he will drive them away from himself, which would also be sad, as they need you both. Just don’t get tempted to retaliate.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@wordnerd, a new Jelly gave you a terrific answer. You must continue to take the ethical high ground and explain to your children that you love them and are concerned for their best interests and that is why you will not speak badly about their father.

When your kids come home angry and defiant, point out to them that they should treat both you and their father with respect, no matter what things they may hear other people say. Explain the their father feels angry and may say things about you that he knows are not true and that he shouldn’t say. Tell them that as they mature, they will be able to judge for themselves what kind of person and mother you are.

spinner's avatar

@Seaofclouds my kids are 12, 11, and 9. My ex undermines me by continually making himself out to be the innocent victim of my horrible behavior. He says nasty things about me and blatantly disrespects me and my authority with them.

I have tried to explain to them that they shouldn’t be given the burden of the information their father is giving them. The problem arises because he cares less about respect than he does about pity. He is not interested in his children respecting him, he just wants them to feel sorry for him.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Ugh, I’ve gone through this with an ex of mine and it wasn’t fun but it did stop. In my case I told my then bf to not speak badly about his ex wife when his daughter was around because she was hearing plenty of ugly crap from everywhere else already. I told the daughter who was very young at the time to change the subject whenever her dad got started and like others have said, there are several sides to a story and if the things that happened were simple enough to forgive and work on then her folks would still be together. I told her it was our job as the people who loved him to help him get through it and concentrate on what kind of life we could all have in the present and future.

What I noticed is the my stepdaughter would have enough information to be angry or sully but she wasn’t sure what to do with the feelings so I would keep insisting in our home that she not bad mouth her mom or dad which kept her from pitting the two against each other (kids do that too). Tell your kids you aren’t ready to talk about the way you and their dad dealt with each other but that there is hurt on both sides. Ask them to respect your hurt and privacy, maybe they’ll back down.

marinelife's avatar

Consider asking your divorce attorney to speak to your husband—if necessary through his attorney.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Join the club. I’m in the same situation only reversed. I’m the father, and the mother spends her waking hours setting my son against me.

The best move I made was to hire two lawyers for our custody battle. I hired one for me, and also hired a Guardian ad Litem for my son. I was awarded joint physical and legal custody with time split 50/50. This would not have happened if not for the Guardian. Once they are in place, that’s the only person the Judge will listen to.

Now, if there is ever any problem, all I have to do is call the Guardian ad Litem and let them know my concerns. He doesn’t have to go through any lawyers at all. He makes one phone call to the Mother and lets her know that he has been made aware of the problem. She can defend herself all she wants, and make every excuse imaginable, but since the Guardian has direct access to our son, it’s not hard for him to get the straight story, upon which he sets the parents back on the parenting path and diffuses the issue straight away.

The Guardian ad Litem was hired at the time of custody case. I’m not sure what the issues would be hiring one afterwords. But I would imagine, that since your issue specifically involves the best interest of the children, that you could hire one with no problems. He makes a simple phone call to your ex-husband, introduces himself as representing the children, and sets your ex straight on what’s in their best interest.

The Guardian ad Litem is not interested in what’s best for you, or your ex-husband. He is only concerned with the physical and mental well being of your children.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Just curious…has anyone ever had someone, be it a lawyer, friend or yourself, that has turned this type of situation around?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Read my post above. It gets turned around with one phone call by the Guardian ad Litem.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Tell the Guardian ad Litem to use this line of logic. He immediately understands this where your ex-husband may not have the ears for it.

It goes like this…

The children are half you, and half him. By hearing that one of the parents is bad, they quickly conclude that they are half bad themselves. As time goes by, they see the complaining parent as being bad for always bitching. This gives them cause to consider their other half as bad too. Now the kids feel like they’re all bad.

The Guardian ad Litem can make it all good.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Kids act out the most in the environment they feel the emotionally safest in. Pick a time between visit with their dad, sit them down and look at family photos, starting with your wedding, and explain that you didn’t get married to their father expecting to get divorced. Explain that in a family, parents have two type of relationships, that of a married relationship, and that as parents. Even if the married relationship cannot work out, and the family now has two households, they still have two parents that love them very much, and that it’s still a family. Tell them that you would never make them choose sides, and that you’re very sorry that your father is so hurt with you that he would say mean things to make himself feel better. Perhaps use examples where their friends said or did mean things, and ask them how they would feel if you butted into their arguments with their friends and made things worse by acting as if you were their friend and not a grown-up. Then tell them “I want you to know that when you say mean things to me that you don’t mean them, and that you love me. It’s okay if you’re mad at me, but in this family it’s not acceptable to be disrespectful to adults. I promise you that I will never say anything mean about your father because I want you to love him, and not feel like you have to choose between us.”

Sign the kids up for a visit for family counseling, and let the counselor talk to the kids, and then bring your husband in to talk about the children. Let a third party point out the damage that he’s doing to the children.

JLeslie's avatar

I didn’t catch how old the children are? Hopefully you will be able to get him to stop. If none of the suggestions above work, then I would submit that at least as your kids get older they will have his number, if you know what I mean. Honestly when they are old enough, I don’t think it is the worst thing to explain why you left him. I don’t mean talk badly about him all of the time like he is of you. What I mean is if your children tell you something negative, I would tell them that you feel it is innapropriate for daddy to be burdening them with his dissappointment and anger, and it is a horrible burden. And, if he is saying you are the reason their mommy and daddy are no longer together, then you might have to defend your position a little. I had a friend who was very angry with her mother for leaving her father. Two years years after the divorce, in an argument, her mother blurted out, “I had to leave, he cheated on me over and over again.” That made things much better for my friend, she didn’t hate her mother anymore for distroying the family. She also, wound up having a strong relationship with her dad in the end, even knowing what he had done. I don’t know if that helps at all.

BoBo1946's avatar

I would sit down with him, if that is possible, and work out your differences for the sake of the children. It is a long process…graduations, marriage, etc. If he refuses, get a hearing with the judge, and go from there!

trailsillustrated's avatar

my ex did this also, for years, and I never got to see my children. He even told them I was dead! the good news is, kids always know there is something lopsided about this, and they will question it whether they say anything or not. The best thing you can do is take the high road, never talk shit about your ex to your kids, and quietly tell them that things are not always black and white, or good versus evil when they bring up what he said about you. They’ll figure it out. It’s very unfair to them. My kids are 14 now, hate their grandparents for doing this, and see their dad as sort of a hopeless buffoon. Your kids will realise over time the injustice that’s being done to them. Kids always love their parents. give it time.

BoBo1946's avatar

@trailsillustrated what goes around, comes around. Way to go girl…..

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@trailsillustrated I’m sure you’re aware, that as important as it was for your kids to have faith in you, and not accept the lies about you, it is just as important for them to not think of their father as a “hopeless buffoon”.

My child has also come to terms with 14 year old realizations about his mother. I answer by telling him how special and beautiful she is, and how much she loves him. I also tell him stories about her heritage, giving him a sense of pride in the family genes… from both sides.

trailsillustrated's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies – this is their own estimation of him that they have arrived at after years of life with him, and observation of his and his family’s behaviour. I have never disparaged my ex to my children. I’m sure you’re aware that kids are people and at a certain age are capable of forming their own opinions, unaided.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

No doubt, and I tend to agree with you.

But interestingly, in my son’s experience of enduring his mother’s tirades against me, he was prompted to ask of her one day… “If Dad is so foolish, why did you ever hook up with him? Who is more foolish, the fool or the one who mothers a child with the fool. And what does that say of me?”

That’s why I compliment her at every opportunity, specifically to prevent him from developing negative feelings about her.

Saun's avatar

Meh. I don’t know, I have a dad that was a real jerk to my mother. I can never stop loving him, but yes, I do sometimes think of him as a “hopeless bafoon.” I’ve recently ended my very first relationship, and after realising the gravity of the effect him cheating on her must have had, and after remembering things like my dad throwing a plate at my mom, and them swearing and cussing all the time, I was very happy when he left. :s I see a lot of myself in him. Some things I do like, some things I wish I didn’t have.. but he is an incredibally irrisponsible, self centered man, though I’m sure he didn’t mean to be. I think this is a quality we share, though I don’t think I’m quite that… ..extreme. My mom has talked to me about this, yes. Maybe it’s a horrible thing. I don’t see it as such.. my mother is very alone. When my dad broke up with her, I was really the only person left in her life. She doesn’t go out much, she doesn’t have a lot of friends.. and every time she’d tell me bad things, or make fun of him, she’d apologise after. I don’t blame her. She probably couldn’t hold it in, because she had no one else to tell her that it wasn’t all her fault, and she wasn’t in the wrong. I honestly have no doubt that my dad badmouths my mother around his new wife. I know his new wife simply hates my mom. I remember her sending a letter to our house, just to write her last name as “Ketcher” and get under my mom’s skin. Imo, she’s a witch and I cannot stand to be around her. She’s breaking up my whole dad’s side of the family really. No one likes her. I think mom gets more angry about her than dad. She’s just mad at dad for giving in to her so easilly, ‘cause he’s a tad of a pushover.:s ..Anyway. * Cough * People are human. While I think your ex is being a total jerk for doing what he’s doing, maybe you should try to talk to him on his level. Find out why he’s doing it, other than “Well, I’m bitter and I haven’t gotten over you yet.” You were sad when you had broken up too, weren’t you? Try to speak to him on the same level, see if you can get him to respect you, without directly asking to stop. Explain how hard it’s been, dealing with your own children giving you a cold shoulder. What you could also do, is tell him that if he has a bone to pick, he can leave his children out of it and tell you straight off. .. Of course that can go one of two ways. He could say everything, possibally hurt you, and MAYBE get it all off his chest then, or he could get pissed off. Then you can have a big yelling session, and you can inform him of how bloody cowardly his antics are. If he’s still being a jackass, then yes. Turn to your children and drop subtle hints about things not always being “black and white.” Just simple, motherly advice type things. Always maintain that high moral ground. They may treat you bad now, but later, they’ll understand. I said I hated my mother when I was young. I also told my dad to “just leave, dad.” when I was young during one of their big fights. ( I believe I meant for him to go ride around the block, but mom told me that really really hurt him. .. I feel terrible about that. x_x ) But now that I’m older, I understand things better. Maybe wait for them to go through their first breakup. If that doesn’t pry some eyes open, I don’t know what does.

Good luck!

Enjoy your lovely textblock. From yours truely. <3

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