All separated parents probably have some pretty unflattering things to say about each other, which is why they are no longer together. But, good parents try their best to filter their thoughts so that at least in front of the children they are not broadcasting those negative opinions. Parents that fail to do so, then fall into two categories: those that knowingly denigrate the other parent, and those that unknowingly do so.
Regardless of one’s intent, however, when someone makes disparaging remarks about a child’s parent they have to realize that the person that really is being harmed is the child, not that other parent. It takes two people to create a child, and like it or not, that child will most likely identify with bits and parts of both her creators. Putting down someone’s parent is essentially a critique of a child’s origin, and psychologically it is not easy for anyone– child or adult– to handle that well.
Is it easy to keep your mouth shut? Of course not, but take solace in knowing that at a certain age, the child will figure things out on his own. Sooner or later, he will realize who is the one that goes to all the school meetings and doctors appointments; he will see who buys most of his clothes and pays for his haircuts. The goodwill you build by hosting all those playdates, planning fun birthdays, and taking him on great trips will accumulate over the years to prove the dedication you have to your child’s overall well-being. Let this be your record, it will speak for itself.
For those that feel they are wrongly being maligned, I know first-hand that it is not easy to hear your child repeat an alternate version of reality. But all you can really say is that each person is entitled to his/her own view of a situation. If it is really bad, you should try and get your child into counseling. And if it is truly unbearable, there is always court as a last resort. Unfortunately, proving parental alienation is not easy, and then it still begs the question as to what a court should do about it? In extreme circumstances, some courts have given custody to the non-alienating parent and ordered extensive therapy for the child. But how can therapy ever fully heal the huge void a child will inevitably feel if we essentially cut one parent out of his/her life? There are no easy answers in these cases.
Sometimes, the parent that makes the disparaging remarks is actually the one that ends up destroying his/her relationship with the child, especially the stronger the ties between the child and the other parent. Some may think that is karma at its best, but again this fails to take into account the psychological trauma to the child.
Kids ultimately need to feel safe and loved, preferably by both parents. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to spend equal time with both parents, and a lot depends on the fitness of each parent, the child’s needs and several other factors that play into the decision of what is ultimately in the child’s best interest.
We can all argue about what is truly in the child’s best interest, but one thing that is clear is that denigrating a parent in front of any child is not.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.