Shh...The Children Are Listening

A few weeks ago, I was enjoying a tasty pizza with some friends. In the table next to us, a mother was dining with her two children: a ‘tween girl and a pre-tween boy. The mother was attempting a conversation on her cell phone, loudly telling us all about her soon-to-be ex-husband’s latest evil tactics. Meanwhile, her two children attempted to engage their mother in conversation about an exciting series of books they were reading.

I admit: my friends and I were amused at first. “Are we that loud on the cell phone?” and “That sounds like something my ex would do,” were comments among us. Then the name calling against the ex became vulgar and the kids quieter as they listened to their mother tell her friend horrific things about their father, along with rather inventive name-calling. At one point, the girl leaned to her brother and said, “She’s going to tell the ___ story next.” This was obviously nothing new to them.

The boy was visibly upset and said to his sister, “She shouldn’t talk about Daddy like that”. Finally, the kids had their mothers’ attention. Turning the color of the tomato sauce, she exploded at her children. Now, I’m not going to repeat everything this woman said. I can tell you that after hearing the way she just spoke about her soon-to-be ex-husband then telling your children they are just like their father cannot be good for the child- in any way.

Look, I get it. Relationships end. There is anger, resentment, disappointment, and hurt that can feel like the deepest black hole. There is always something good to be found in any experience. If you brought a child into this world, a creation from the two of you, you created something that should outshine any negativity, any hurt, and one that should certainly not feel ashamed for his or her existence.

We can get overwhelmed becoming a single parent, in the midst of a break-up, trying to manage work and/or school, and trying to regain some sort of normalcy in a hectic life. Remember that YOU are the adult. YOU chose to join with someone to create a life and bring it into the world. YOU are responsible to ensure that child feels loved and safe and secure. Saying they take after the parent they have heard you saying nasty things about are NOT conducive to a child’s well-being.

Approximately 20 years ago, Judge Michael Haas in Minnesota had some excellent parenting advice. Judge Haas is now deceased, but his words of wisdom live on:

"Your children have come into this world because of the two of you. Perhaps you two made lousy choices as to whom you decided to be the other parent. If so, that is YOUR problem and YOUR fault.

"No matter what you think of the other party -- or what your family thinks of the other party -- these children are one-half of each of you. Remember that, because every time you tell your child what an 'idiot' his father is, or what a 'fool' his mother is, or how bad the absent parent is, or what terrible things that person has done, you are telling the child half of HIM is bad.

"That is an unforgivable thing to do to a child. That is not love! That is possession. If you do that to your children, you will destroy them as surely as if you had cut them into pieces, because that is what you are doing to their emotions.

"I sincerely hope that you do not do that to your children. Think more about your children and less about yourselves, and make yours a selfless kind of love, not foolish or selfish, or your children will suffer."

Practice empathy, put yourself in your child’s position and hear what you are saying. Would you want the other parent to say it about you? Co-parenting is about putting your own differences aside with mutual respect and understanding for the best interests of the child. Show the child they mean more than any animosity you feel toward one another. Teach them healthy relationships. It should never hurt to be a child.