To speak ill of your Ex with your child says “I love you, but biologically you’re 50% a Jerk.”

Speaking poorly of your child’s other parent is one of the largest issues overlooked by co-parents – and yet it is one of the easiest for you to resolve. The reasons (or should I say excuses) that it is acceptable to slag off about your Ex to your children are numerous and yet the confusion that it causes in their life is immeasurable.

Every time you diminish your Ex to your children, you diminish your own parenting – and significantly so. To place your children into a position where they could be left to feel they must choose between where their loyalty lies, invites further deadening of life’s passions and thirst for creativity. This choice is felt every time you contradict the views held by your Ex. This may have you ask “how do I not contradict when I firmly disagree with them?” This is a very important part of constructively parenting beyond separation. You are entitled to hold different views than you Ex — and often the level of strength with which these are held are the very reason you are now Ex’s — so what is the answer?

Unwrapping right and wrong, we reframe situations as being appropriate or inappropriate. Free from judgement about events being right or wrong, basically Events are held as neutral — they just happen — but it is our assessment of the event (usually in context) that gives it a label of being right or wrong. What we do with that judgement is our response and a matter of Choice; we can either be reactive or proactive. This is to say that we either consciously choose our response or we unconsciously react from previous experiences. This will then determine the next Outcome. Event + Choice = Outcome

This means we cease to judge the event, and instead, observe the outcome in context of whether they are appropriate or inappropriate in achieving the initial intension. As you come to understand the reasons for removing right and wrong from your conversations, you’ll learn that — regardless of the temptation to do so — using your Ex as an example of what your children should, or should not do, is not only ineffective, it’s inappropriate. It sends powerful, yet silent messages that infiltrate their thinking — messages that your children will find challenging to undo in the years to come. Discussion and examination of actions as either appropriate or inappropriate, provided we are constructive, presents a great opportunity to learn.

Here is a case study of this in action: Peter is a particularly neat and tidy sort of person who spent several years in the armed forces and learned discipline and duty. He believes his boys should mimic this orderly behaviour in their bedrooms as a basic household standard. Kim is quite the opposite. She’s a happy-go-lucky woman who is far more focused on providing a homely feel to the house, so having stuff left lying around isn’t of any consequence to her.

While Peter and Kim were together, their opposing views (while they caused tension) contributed a certain balance to the home. Now that they live apart, this difference has become very apparent. During the routine pick-ups and drop-offs, Peter can’t help but notice the chaos. Unable to contain his growing concern about what he believes is a poor parenting standard for his boys, when he gets them into the car he tells them how bad it is that they live in a pigsty. “That’s not how it’s meant to be. Your rooms should be tidy, clothes put away, and everything cleaned at least once a week.” Of course the boys already know this because that’s how it is in Dad’s house and has been for quite some time.

What Peter has actually told his children is very different from what he thinks he has told them. He has said “Mum is wrong; I am right.”

While there may be great merit in orderliness in your children’s bedrooms — goodness, we all wish for that — unfortunately, Peter’s desire for orderliness is lost through the tone of right and wrong in his delivery. Can you see that his conversation is targeting the circumstantial layer, while the message that is silently sent to his children hits at their belief layer instead? It may affect the situation in Peter’s favour in the short-term, but it profoundly affects the children’s beliefs for years to come.

By keeping your discussions within the context of appropriate or inappropriate, with a little practice, you can send messages that consistently build constructive beliefs, and still attend to the needs of the moment. There is no reason to ever bad-mouth your Ex, especially in the presence of your children; while it is not always easy to do, it is as simple as making a good choice in each moment. Your children need to learn to love themselves — even their most irritating genetic side.

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Jill Darcey (author, parent, founder, and speaker) is a mother of three with thousands of hours of experience as a counsellor and coach, and more than a decade of real-time experience with "complex family" parenting --- parenting through separation, divorce or some other family breakdown. Jill is someone who has both vision and wisdom and has learned a lot of what does and doesn't work — and some of it the hard way!

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