Lynne Namka, Ed. D writes:
It is tough to be a child of divorced parents. It is absolutely terrifying to be the child of divorced parents who are at war with each other! Divorce hurts. It is a terrible thing to have happen to a family. Everyone gets hurt, but children remain scarred for years when parents continue the war. Research shows that negative behaviors from parents act after a divorce can cause more problems to a child than the divorce itself.
There are three ways of acting that divorcing parents can make. These three ways of acting during and after a divorce are (1.) Argumentative, (2.) Disengagement, (3.) Cooperating. The type of arrangement that you engage in, is directly related to the level of your maturity.
People who are getting divorced often try to control the person they are divorcing. Rationally, this makes no sense. If you couldn't change your spouse when you were married to them, there is no way you can force change on them now. You can't win by demanding, yelling or saying bad things about your ex. Anger only escalates the conflict in the situation and then both sides dig their heels in and the child loses.
Patricia Evans in her important book The Verbally Abusive Relationship, says that verbal abusers often have had an insecure childhood that created an unhealthy (sometimes abnormal) need to control others. OR they were spoiled when they were young and continue to think that everything should go their way. Evans says people who yell and scream at others really don't have their own personal power. So the abuser avoids feelings of powerlessness by trying to dominate and control others.
Do not let your child be a witness to your anger at his or her other parent. Belittling your child's mother or father is a form of child abuse that can affect your child's self esteem permanently. Your child is half of the other parent. If you criticize your ex, your child will feel ashamed of half of him or herself. You WILL hurt your child if you habitually yell at your ex, trash talk about them, if you are self righteous in explaining how wrong their point of view is or if you try to evade the legal custody arrangement.
Often, the greater a person's sense of guilt about how they have acted in the marriage or during the divorce, the greater their need to cast blame on others and not take responsibility for their own behavior. So look to your own motives if you act out your anger by blaming your ex.
Screaming, taunting, cursing and calling others names or making threats are all verbal abuse! If you habitually yell, threaten, tell the other that he or she is wrong and call them dumb, stupid, that is abuse! If you twist things around, try to have the last word, pick fights and look for the wrong in everything your ex spouse does to start arguments or threaten to go back to court frequently over small things, guess what? You are a verbal abuser.
In bad mouthing your ex, you add to their stress and parental stress deeply effects the harmony of your child. Being a single parent is hard. If you think of the best interests of your child, you will want to support your ex spouse emotionally, rather than create more stress for them. The more you keep your anger in check, the better off your child will be.
Engaging in inappropriate verbal behavior comes down to being ego invested that you are right. It often is based on the egotistical idea that you are so unique a person that the rules of basic kindness which apply to others shouldn't apply to you, especially where your ex spouse is concerned. The rules of kindness always apply even though your former spouse may be angry, manipulative, or downright mean. Keep your integrity by refusing to stoop to a low level. Find safe outlets for your anger. If you can't control your anger when you talk to your ex about visitation arrangements by yourself, take an anger management class.
If you think you aren't hurting your child when you rag about their other parent, you are in denial. Keep a check on how you deny your inappropriate behavior. Denial distorts reality by seeing all the wrong your ex does, while telling yourself that your behavior is impeccable. You may minimize and ignore the damage that your actions cause your child. You may rationalize actions and make excuses for your bad behavior. Rationalizing is always lying to yourself. Energy is put in to justifying your behavior instead of seeking solutions to help your child deal with one of the greatest losses he or she will ever face--the intact family.
Any time you blame anyone other than yourself for your anger, that is denial, for sure. Denial of your own anger is a way of lying to yourself. Lying can become more and more practiced until you can convince yourself that you are blameless. Convincing yourself of how bad the other parent is, always backfires on you and damages your child. Your child is a little pitcher with big ears who takes everything he hears in. In addition, you teach your child that not only do marriages end, but it is okay for people who used to love each other to treat each other badly.
Anything that you say that follows the word "but" is frequently denial. (I didn't mean to yell at him, but he made me so mad.) When you are unwilling to look at what you are doing because you fear finding out you are wrong, that is denial. The only cure for denial is to give up the lies and admit to yourself the reality of the harm your child faces. Divorce is hard enough for the child, don't add parental immaturity to what your child has already suffered.
Taking your hurt and anger out on your ex-spouse WILL damage your child. How you deal with your ex is another indicator of your self-esteem and maturity. If you are raging, then you have lots of problems to work out. If you blow it and act out with anger, apologize to your ex and to your child. Then make a resolution to better in the future. Keep working at keeping your temper under control You don't have to be a jerk where the parent of your child is concerned. You don't have to be a jerk in any situation. Acting like a jerk is your choice--let your conscience be your guide, not your righteous indignation.
Use your anger to make a positive difference in your future. Anger is a momentum which gives energy for change. Use it to get off dead center and invest it in making a difference. Go to Divorce Recovery classes or anger management counseling.
You only get one chance in the raising of your child. The childhood years cannot be taken back and redone. If you blow it, your child suffers for life! Professional help is available. There are agencies that have a sliding scale for counseling to fit your circumstances. Even if it costs some money, get help. Money is not the object here. Your child's success in life is the important thing. You are worth it. Your kids are worth it.
Make your goal to get a working relationship with the other parent of your child. If you are willing to see how your angry actions affect your child and do something about it, your child has the best chance for a happy future. The pain of the divorce can start to heal for everyone. Your life will become happier and get back on even keel, Remember, the best revenge for the misery of divorce is making a good life for yourself! And your child will be the better for your investment in his and your future.