Unfortunately, badmouthing is a common tactic that a hostile parent will use to get back at their ex and manipulate the children to believe that the other parent is unsafe, unloving and unavailable.
What is Badmouthing?
Badmouthing can be anything from calling you names, speaking negatively about you, telling blatant lies about you, openly blaming you for the divorce, criticising you at every opportunity and ultimately changing your child’s perception of you.
Here are a few examples from my clients:
“Your mom is a very mean person and nobody likes her.”
“Your dad would rather spend all his money on his new girlfriend instead of you.”
“If you want to do well in life, you better live with me. Your mom isn’t smart enough to teach you important things like science or math.”
“You must be really mad that dad didn’t show up for your recital. But at least you know mommy came because she loves you.”
“You better stop acting like that or you’ll turn out just like your (mother/father)!”
Signs You’re Being Badmouthed
While it’s hard to know for certain what your ex says or does when you’re not around, here are common indicators that you’re being badmouthed:
Your child tells you. They might suddenly blurt it out in anger during an argument, “Dad said you’re crazy and he’s right!” Or they may simply ask you out of concern, “How come Daddy says nobody likes you?”
Behaviour changes. It’s one thing when your child is reacting to the divorce but if they’re suddenly targeting all their anger towards you, or treating you with blatant disrespect or they don’t want to spend time with you at all, you’re likely being cast as the villain.
Favours the other parent. There is evidence of black and white thinking where your child perceives one parent as good and the other parent as bad. Suddenly you can do no right and the other parent can do no wrong.
Mimics the other parent. You may also notice your child mimicking words and behaviours they pick-up from the other parent.
Your child may start to talk in ways that are far in advance of their age. This might suggest that your child is repeating the words and ideas of the other parent while insisting that they themselves came to that conclusion.
Your ex speaks negatively towards you in front of them. If your ex has no qualms about talking down to you with both you and your child present, then chances are he’s also badmouthing you behind your back.
Why You Need To Take Action Now
You could lose your child.
Your child who has always loved and valued you can suddenly reject you out of hatred and fear.
Your child may no longer wish to be with you and may even make false allegations against you.
Ultimately, your child is harmed if they lose a parent.
What To Do and Not Do
Don’t engage in any badmouthing whatsoever. Heat of the moment outbursts or remarks made from frustration and resentment can fuel the fire with your ex-partner.
However egregious the attacks may be, you have to be the “perfect” parent and do or say nothing that could harm your position
Don’t react in anger and lash out at your ex or try to reverse the situation by telling the kids your “version of events.”
Please see below for ways to talk with them.
Don’t take the high road and assume that being the bigger person will ultimately show your children that you’re the wise, caring, loving parent.
Do respond to the situation immediately but first take steps to ensure you’re in a calm state and able to correct the misinformation in a gentle way.
Do empathize with your child’s feelings and ensure them they didn’t do anything wrong.
Do explain things in a way that is honest and reassuring without casting the other parent in a bad light.
What To Say
To name calling and lies…
“I know it must be very hard for you to hear Daddy say those things about me. I think this divorce has been very hard for all of us and sometimes when people are hurting they say mean things that aren’t true. It’s not right and I’ll have an adult talk with him okay?”
When the other parent tells your child that you don’t love your child because…
“Honey I’m so sorry you were told that. Of course I love you! I love you more than anyone in the whole world and that will never change no matter what. Your Dad and I don’t get along anymore but we both love you and don’t ever feel like you need to choose between us.”
When the other parent blames you for the divorce…
“I know it’s hard for you to understand right now and I’ll explain it to you when you’re older. Mommy and Daddy both made some mistakes but it doesn’t mean we’re bad people. We both love you very much and we’ll always be your parents no matter what.”
Take Further Steps of Action if Needed
Talk to your ex. Whether you find out through the kids or if your ex badmouths you directly in front of them, stay calm and suggest having a discussion at a time that works for both of you.
“I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. Actually there are some matters between us that are making me feel upset also. Let’s schedule some time so that we can see how to resolve this and can get along better for the kids’ sake.”
In some cases, the badmouthing parent is so consumed with their own emotional pain, they don’t realise the damage they’re causing their children. It may just be a matter of having that discussion.
Seek professional help. If your ex isn’t cooperating and the badmouthing continues, the next step is to seek the help of professionals. These could include:
- A coach who is there to support you, who can work with you to create solutions and help you parent your children well.
- Legal support. Keep your legal team members informed of the situation and seek their advice.
Talk to your wise friends. Tell them about your suspicions and get their wise opinion. If they see alarm bells then pay attention.
Record everything as accurately as possible
Continue to follow your co-parenting plan to a “T.” Regardless of how devastating it is to pick-up your child only to have them reject you and refuse to accompany you, always show-up on time according to your agreement.
Send them emails, texts and letters.
Attend your child’s school events, games, performances and practices.
Make sure that the school knows that you are your child’s parent and that the school communicates directly with you about your child.
Be a stellar parent.
Don’t Take This On Alone
Being targeted by a badmouthing parent who seeks to alienate you from your children can be devastating and also very frightening.
Please know you are not alone and this also not the kind of situation you should try to take on alone either. For the sake of your heart and for the sake of your children, seek the trusted support you need to be strong, wise and focused on a quick resolve.