Most educational programs pose that “quizzing” their child’s stay during their ex-spouse’s time should be avoided. Unmistakably, asking about mom or dads new date or spending habits reflects immaturity, and is indicative that the person has not healed from the divorce. Yet, contrary to popular teachings, remaining silent if you have an ex-spouse that participates in bad mouthing is one of the worst things a parent can do. Many parents are indeed in a conundrum when the child comes home, Sunday evening, or what ever day the decree has established, and their children display various undesirable behaviors. The targeted parent knows all too well that the child did not leave in this disposition. Depending on the age of the child, behaviors can range from rudeness, the popular silent treatment, or outright aggression. If a parent inquires how the weekend went, and the reason for their new mood, the child becomes defensive. The other option is to ignore the behavior and not to ask. On the other hand, remaining silent is one of the worst tactics to offset vindictive tactics by a passive aggressive ex-spouse. What then, is a parent to do?
As noted by Dr. Warshak (2001) author of Divorce Poison, “The conventional advice is to do nothing for fear that any response could result in greater injury to the children” (p.1). Sadly, this is what many target parents do—nothing. He goes on to note that being passive has not worked and it often progressively deteriorates the parent child relationship. Dr. Warshak suggests that, “parents need to develop a thick skin” (p.46). When the child comes home and openly discloses verbal trash that the ex spouse has said, the parent will have a strong urge to engage in defense and debate. Warshak (2001) notes that, “One cannot reason with an alienated child if their mind is not open to reason” (p.170). Thus, what should a parent do with a child that has a closed mind? Despondently, there are times when children need to hear constructive criticisms of their other parent (p.13). Sure, this is not ideal. Keeping children out of the middle is the best parenting practice. Nevertheless, not saying a word may eventually sever any form of relationship.
The key factor is that a parent must consider the reason for their response. According to Warshak, “you must be convinced that it is primarily for your children’s welfare, and not primarily for your own satisfaction, and that the disclosure primarily helps your children rather than hurts them” (p.13). The parent must keep in mind that the child’s un-desirable behavior is perpetuated and condoned. They have learned that they can get away with disrespectful behavior when it is encouraged and sanctioned by the other parent (p.57). Put another way, the kids get kudos for acting disrespectful and harboring disparagement. Unfortunately, while always a last resort, going back to court may be the only option for a target parent. Innocent children should not have to endure bad mouthing by a parent that is too immature to find an age appropriate sounding board.