By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
I am starting a new series within the blog about parenting. This first installment, though, focuses not on the children, but the parent.
The most successful parents put their children first, they sacrifice for the betterment of their children, and they tend to be the best at not speaking negatively about the other parent. This obviously gives their children the greatest chance at success in all areas of their lives. Good parents strive for all of this, but sometimes they do this to their own detriment, treading so lightly not to cross an inappropriate line. This often arises when the other parent speaks ill of that parent to the child, involved the child in a disagreement between the parents, or even flat out misrepresents facts to the child. Those excellent parents’ first response is to protect the child, know that it would be wrong to engage in similar behavior, avoid putting the child in the middle, and, as a result, vow to not respond. However, a therapist shared with me that that is not fair to the child or the parent.
The child is left with an uneasy feeling and questions, and the parent is hurt and possibly angry by the lies about him or her. It is okay for the parent to reassure the child, and at the same time stand up for him or herself. It is always good to thank the child for sharing, and the child should be encouraged to release such confusing feelings and experiences. It is likewise okay for the parent to apologize to the child for what he or she heard, and to say that it is not appropriate for a child to be involved in such a discussion. The child should hear that they are loved too much to further involve him or her in a discussion that should just be for parents. The parent can still teach the child right and wrong,, and this approach does not sink to the level of the other parent.
The final step in all this, though cannot be skipped. The parent needs to stick up for him or herself. It is not improperly involving the child to simply state that what the child heard about the parent is just not true. It is okay for the parent to make clear to the child, and role model in the process, that the parent has self-respect and will not tolerate misrepresentations about him or her. That is all that needs to be said. The child is left comforted and with enough clarity to move on, and the parent has said just enough for self-worth and inspiring the child to respect that as well.