While it is impossible to break up or divorce without impacting your child or children, it is possible to break up or divorce without hurting your child. Children are most often hurt during the divorce process because their parents are blind and deaf to the damage that their own issues are doing to their child. It’s so important to remember that you are breaking up with or divorcing the other parent, your children aren’t.
During the breakup of a marriage, it is normal to have negative thoughts and feelings about the other parent. You may feel that it is their fault that the marriage broke down, or that they are behaving unfairly, or irresponsibly. It is crucial that you have an outlet to express your feelings, perhaps a friend, or counselor. But under no circumstances should you express your negative thoughts or feelings about the other parent to or in front of your child!
This sort of behavior will lead your child to believe that you don’t really want them to spend time with, or care about, the other parent, which is bad enough for a child. But even worse is the message it sends to your child about themselves. It is critical to realize that children are very aware of and identify with both parents. Your child knows that half of who they themselves are comes from you, and half from their other parent.
To Divorce without Hurting Your Child You Need to Hold Your Tongue
So what does it mean to a child to be told that “Your daddy is a jerk”? Do they think “Daddy is a jerk, but mommy is good”? No! They think “Half of who I am is a jerk, so I must be a jerk too.” When a child hears “Your mother is selfish and greedy,” that child thinks “If mommy is bad, then I must be bad too.” And when your child overhears you telling a friend that their mother is a “no-good piece of ****”, what that child internalizes is that they must also be a no-good piece of ****, because one of their parents – half of who they are – is a no-good piece of ****.
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These are very important concepts to grasp and to really understand. Few parents would knowingly tell their children that they are no good, and yet every time a parent puts the other parent down around their child, this is exactly what they are doing.
This situation is the epitome of that old saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” In this case that saying is “If you can’t say anything nice about the other parent, don’t say anything at all around your children.”
Of course, if you want to be an exemplary single parent, you will find ways to say positive things about your child’s other parent. Sure, maybe they were a terrible spouse or mate. Right now you may even truly believe that they are an irredeemably horrible person. But there was a time when you thought they were ok; and maybe even thought they were a good parent. If you can, reflect those attributes to your child. But if you can’t bring yourself to do that, then just keep quiet around your child when it comes to their other parent. It may feel good in the moment to vent around your child and imagine that they are learning how awful their other parent is, and how great you are, but really all you are doing is causing your child’s self esteem to be dealt a crushing blow.
This article is based on the information in the book The Single Father’s Guide.
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