Parenting Matters

shhhu

Dear Dr. Darcy:

My ex husband is a bitter angry ass since I asked for the divorce… I always try to ignore him and just remain myself and not [let things] get ugly (most importantly because my beautiful little daughter is by my side and I want to do the right thing).

But in the last year or so my daughter seems to be changing her behavior toward me when the asshole is around. She is an amazing loving sweet compassionate child and we have an awesome relationship - she is doing amazing in school, she helps me at home and is an awesome athlete and dancer- (just so u know there are no other signs of trouble) but this is really upsetting me - she will give me the cold shoulder or try to be super cool and not hug or be warm w me ONLY when the father is around.

I told her a few times (after he left) how I noticed she treats me differently when Daddy’s around and almost is afraid to show me any love and that it’s hurtful to me and she apologizes and always comes around-- but Darcy it's making me sick because I know it's that f’n asshole that can't keep his ugly emotions towards me inside and he's showing my precious daughter this disgusting ugly behavior.  I don't want to come down too hard on [my daughter] because I know it's coming from him--& in some sick way it seems like it gets my ex off to see when [my daughter] treats me like shit.

Maybe this question will help other divorced moms whose exes are assholes too.

ANSWER

I hear you loud and clear: You’re terrified that your ex is going to turn your daughter against you because you believe that he’s not keeping his opinion of you to himself. It makes sense. Controlling yourself from talking negatively about your child’s other parent is, hands down, the toughest challenge facing divorcees.  With that said, it is absolutely IMPERATIVE that you NEVER talk shit about your ex.

Now before you launch into a defensive, “I don’t talk shit about him in front of my daughter,” let me tell you that in a 3-paragraph question, you called him an asshole or an ass 5 times (1 of which I edited out). I know you speak negatively about him within earshot of your daughter if not directly in front of her/to her. I point this out to you not to scold you (OK, maybe a little), but (more importantly) to let you know that your daughter is not confused about your feelings for her father. And she is not confused about her father’s feelings about you.

As a result of BOTH her parents talking shit about each other within earshot of her, she is in a very fucked up position. Her parents hate each other, but she loves them both and doesn’t want to lose either one. Consequently, she feels self-conscious about showing love or affection to either in front of the other. I can assure you that she’s far more loving to her father when she’s alone with him than what she demonstrates in front of you, just as she’s far more loving of you in private than when her Dad’s present.

Here are your 2 takeaways:

  1. Stop talking negatively about him when she’s in the house. I don’t care if she’s in the west wing of the home and you’re in the east wing ~ kids hear everything. Why parents are oblivious to this is beyond my comprehension. Virtually all parents make this mistake. They think that their kids are preoccupied with watching TV or doing homework or talking on the phone or screwing around on the computer and so they use that belief as an excuse to be emotionally lazy and have a conversation on the phone with a friend to bring her up to speed on what a douchebag the ex is. Your child hears EVERYTHING. Just as you did when you were a kid.
  1. Don’t burden your daughter with your needs. I know it hurts you that she isn’t openly loving to you in front of your ex. And maybe she’s downright cold to you in those situations. Let her be. Stop pointing it out to her. She’s a kid. She doesn’t know how to handle this. You can begin fixing the situation by ceasing to speak negatively about her father. Take the high road. Let him be the only one who speaks negatively. Your daughter’s not stupid. She will form opinions about her father if he keeps badmouthing you and he’ll pay a huge price for it when she’s a teenager/young adult. This family needs an adult. Clearly your ex can’t be counted on. Be the hero. Be the change that you want to see. Your daughter will thank you.

Writer’s Stats: Female, Straight.