The Bad-Mouthing Ex
I am divorced from a physically and emotionally abusive ex husband. But he badmouths me to my 9 year old son. My son is comes home from visits every week and asks me if the information is true. Also, he is beginning to treat me badly, by not listening, and being very rude. I really believe it is because of what his father is saying about me and about my family. Is there anything I can do to stop this?
There are a few issues going on here, and I can understand how powerless this must make you feel. Firstly, no, you can’t control what your ex says about you. Despite how angry it must make you feel, it is important for you to remind yourself of what the truth is, and remind yourself of why your ex is engaging in this hurtful behaviour. There are some things that you can control and others that you simply can’t.
You mentioned that your ex was abusive. Is this another attempt to hurt you?
It is very unfair and damaging to your son to hear negatives about either of his parents. So I urge you not to respond by ‘slinging’ back. That said, I also believe that you have every right to defend yourself. But be careful not to badmouth his father as you are doing so.
Teach your son to make judgments based on what he knows is true, rather than on what he simply hears. For example, to protect him from being swayed by your ex’s badmouthing, you might say something like, “Sometimes when you hear something bad over and over again, you may start to believe that it is true, even if you knew in the beginning it wasn’t true. I know Daddy often says that I don’t take good care of you, but that doesn’t mean it’s the truth. Am I kind to you? Do I listen to you? Do I hug and kiss you? Do you feel happy and safe with me? Make your own decisions, and if you are afraid or worried, we can talk any time you want. I will always tell you the truth.”
Be reassured, as most children get older they begin to question inappropriate badmouthing without being prompted by their parents.
On another level, you mention that your son is behaving badly and that requires attention. Even though you may be feeling emotionally defeated by constantly having to explain or defend yourself, it is paramount that you help him through this struggle, because to ignore it could result in more serious behavioural issues, later on. Your son may be wrestling with the truth, and he may be taking it out on you, because you are the one safe and dependable person in his life who he can count on. From a child’s eye perspective, you may be the one person he can trust. However, it is important that you retain the role as an authority figure, so I would schedule an appointment with a therapist who specializes in parenting issues as soon as possible.