While common sense should tell us that its inappropriate to speak negatively (badmouth) your ex in front of the kids, there will be times where your emotions and opinions are so strong that you find it hard to bite your tongue. I admit, I've been guilty of it. Sometimes I refer to the father by his first name instead of “Daddy" when talking to my daughter. I don't always leave the room when I'm on the phone with my mother complaining about him. It really is difficult to control at times and no parent is perfect.
The important thing to remember is that even though it may feel good for you to put the other parent down, its harmful to the child. Keep in mind that the child loves both of their parents and, in most cases, they are bonded with them. Any time someone insults our loved ones, it hurts us too. For a child, the fact that the insults are coming from another person that they love causes them emotional turmoil and they may feel like they are betraying one parent by loving the other parent too. None of that is worth the ounce of satisfaction we might get from calling him an idiot or calling her a slut.
There are also more subtle ways parents have of slipping in negative comments about the other parent. For example, your child tells you they want a bike for their birthday and you find yourself saying “I can't afford it. You'll have to tell your father to get it for you since he's the one with all the money" or “Tell your mom to use some of that child support she gets from me to buy it. " It may not be the same as outright name-calling but it still causes the child to feel like they're caught in the middle.
Biological parents are not the only ones who may be guilty of alienating the other parent. Although you may know of grandparents or siblings or aunts and uncles that speak ill of Mom or Dad when the child is around, its more common for a stepparent or new boyfriend or girlfriend to do it. There may be feelings of jealousy or resentment that the “new wife" holds towards the mother and, whether consciously or unconsciously, the stepmother takes it out on the child. What the stepparent needs to realize is that their attempts to come between a child and its mother or father will only cause damage to whatever relationship the stepparent has or hopes to have with the child themselves. A child may struggle with feelings about loyalty and betrayal when caught in the crossfires of a parental feud. But with a stepparent, generally that relationship bond is not strong enough to hold up to such attacks and it will end up being the stepparent from whom the child pulls away.
Whenever you're tempted to lash out or vent your frustrations about your ex, just keep in mind that you both have the same goal in mind which is to provide a safe, healthy, and loving environment for your child. Allowing your anger towards the other parent to contaminate that environment serves no good purpose. Find a healthy way to process your emotions when the child isn't around so that when they are around, they will be getting the best of you.
April Jones is a single mother of three children. After experiencing two difficult custody battles, she became an advocate for single parents and encourages them to form effective co-parenting relationships for the sake of the child. Ms. Jones is also the creator of the website But What About the Kids, located at http://www.butwhataboutthekids.com