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Ex-etiquette: Resist urge to bad-mouth your ex

By Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. It's generally known that divorce damages children. I spent months researching when it became obvious my wife was having an affair and was going to dissolve our family. I pleaded with her to stay until at least our boys were off to college (four years away). She decided against it, left, and now our boys are hurt, angry and confused. I've gone to great lengths to try to protect my wife from their angst, but I cannot control their feelings. She blames me for their occasional harsh words toward her, has accused me of "poisoning" them against her, and has shared that with her family. Now I'm hated for something I haven't done. I refuse to speak poorly to the boys no matter what she's done. As you have pointed out many times, our boys need both parents - but it hurts to be hated. What is good ex-etiquette?

A. If we could control what others do, life would be considerably different, but you have seen firsthand, people have free will to do exactly what they want, even if it's not necessarily in the best interest of their children. And, when someone makes questionable choices, it's not uncommon for their parents and extended family to love them unconditionally, even though their choices seem like blatantly poor choices at the time.

That said, as much as we want to protect our children from all the bad things, there are times it's simply out of our control. If, indeed, your ex-wife left for someone else in full sight of your children, she knowingly made that choice. Your kids have seen it, and if they lash out, her blaming it on your behavior sounds predictable. She doesn't want to accept responsibility for making such a choice and therefore shifts the blame to you - and, because her family loves her, they line up right next to her - and there you are shaking your head wondering how people you regarded as family could support such betrayal. Understandably, it's confusing and hurtful. A perfect example of "blood is thicker than water."

You should know it's really not your job to protect your wife from your children's angst. It's your job to protect your children and reinforce that they are loved by both parents. You don't have to make excuses for their mother. She can communicate directly with the children - just do your best not to further undermine her now. Here's why: Your kids are looking for stability and someone they can trust. If you start badmouthing their mother - or even agreeing with them when they say derogatory things, it will further undermine their security. The way kids in this position have explained it to me, it's not that she left Dad, but that she left at all. A kid's logic tells them that the parent who left loved someone else more than they loved them. "Maybe if I was a better kid, she would have loved me enough to stay." They are not only hurting because their mother left, but they are questioning their own self worth.


So, your job is to be there so your kids know without question they can trust you to stay with them, protect them. Don't' run defense for mom, but don't pour salt in the wound, either. Of course it's hard. We all understand that you probably want to say, "That (bleep)!" But, don't do it. Put your kids first (Good ex-etiquette for parents rule #1). 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, Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website at

(c)2020 Jann Blackstone, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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