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Talking with your child about a co-parents’ problematic behavior

On Behalf of | Sep 20, 2023 | Family Law |

You and your co-parent aren’t together any longer for a reason – maybe many. Likely their negative habits and behaviors didn’t end with the marriage. You just don’t have to deal with them as much. Your child, however, does.

We’re not talking about violence or a serious substance abuse issue that would warrant preventing them from having access to your child – at least without supervision. When a child has a violent or abusive parent, even if they rarely see them, it’s typically best for a therapist to be involved.

Acknowledging your child’s feelings without criticizing your co-parent

How do you acknowledge and discuss a co-parent’s behavior with your child without criticizing that co-parent? Children often take criticism of either parent personally. This can harm their self-esteem and even make them feel like the criticizing parent is angry at them as well and make them feel protective of their other parent.

Let’s use a simple, relatively benign example. Say your co-parent is chronically late. We all know people like this, but it can feel like they’re doing it deliberately.

When your child expresses frustration at their parent’s chronic tardiness in picking them up, your first instinct might be to vent your feelings on the matter to your child. However, that won’t help them. That’s the key factor you should consider before discussing any negative behavior of your co-parent’s – what’s best for your child? 

It’s important to validate your child’s feelings. They have every right to be frustrated with their parent always running late. They need to understand that it’s not personal. You shouldn’t use this as an opportunity to turn them against your co-parent. “I guess your Mom just doesn’t care about you as much as I do” would be a particularly egregious example. “Well, at least you have one parent you can count on” isn’t much better.

Giving your child some coping skills is much more productive. They’ll have to deal with plenty of other chronically late people as they get older. Assuming this isn’t an issue of regularly forgetting to pick your child up, you can say you know it’s frustrating when people aren’t punctual, but their mom or dad isn’t doing it to hurt them. Then talk to your co-parent away from your child. 

If your co-parent is doing something that’s not in your child’s best interests and you can’t resolve the issue with them, it’s smart to get legal guidance to help you determine the best course of action.