Q. My wife's ex-husband tells the kids, ages 6 and 7, that the reason he and their mother broke up is because I stole her away. He said I made him lose his job and he has nothing because of me. He is an alcoholic. My wife left him because he was abusive and passed out on the couch each night. He lost his job because he got drunk on his lunch break. I did meet my wife very quickly after they separated. She and the kids were living with her mother when we met, although they were not officially divorced. The kids ask me questions about it all the time, and I don't know what to say. What's good ex-etiquette?
A. In my opinion, the kids don't need to be privy to any of this. Even if you did do the things dad is accusing you of, it's not going to help the children at this age to hear the drama and have to choose which parent is telling the truth. They deserve a calm, loving environment in both homes.
When I have explained this to parents in the past, some understand the importance of keeping the kids out of it, but others are wrapped up in rage and resentment and feel getting the children involved will vindicate them in some way. "You want me to LIE to my kids? Don't they deserve to know the truth?!"
That approach is more about the parents' revenge than what's best for the children. Kids don't want to be in the middle, even if the choice seems obvious. And, if dad is truly an alcoholic and passes out on the couch, these children have already seen and heard enough -- besides not being safe if they are left alone with him.
Their little children minds can't process everything that's going on around them and the only thing they can do is hunker down in the home in which they feel the safest. Yet the courts require them to continue to go back and forth -- unless Mom can prove that Dad's drinking is detrimental to the welfare of the children. That may take a call to Child Protective Services. If they determine there's a problem, he may end up with supervised visits.
But mom will need documentation: DUIs, things like that. CPS will interview the children. When there is a court order in place, you can't just arbitrarily accuse someone of bad behavior and stop sending the children to their home without proof that continuing interaction is detrimental.
If you are looking for a way to set the record straight without calling Dad a liar, try using the word "mistaken" when the kids ask you for clarification. If Dad is "mistaken," he's not lying. He just doesn't have all the facts.
For example, "Daddy said we aren't living together because of you!" Your reply can then be, "Honey, Daddy, is mistaken. Your mommy and daddy were not living together when I met mommy. You were all living with grandma." And, then direct the conversation to how much the children are loved by all. That's good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)
(c)2020 Jann Blackstone
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