During the difficult times of divorce and separation, children look for ways to get attention from their parents. And no matter how careful you think you are being, your children are acutely aware of the conflict between their parents and will often exploit that conflict to draw the attention they desperately want. They've probably noticed that if they say something bad about the other parent, it usually gets a reaction. As part of these efforts, children will even stretch the truth or manipulate the situation.
I'm not suggesting that everything your children say about their other parent is an exaggeration or attempt to bend the truth just to get your attention. I am suggesting, however, that before you react with a call to your attorney or leave a scathing message for the other parent, step back a bit from the information and consider it without emotion. Think about whether this is something you really need to respond to, or just something you should be on the lookout for in the future.
Instead of calling or emailing the other parent with the message, "Sally says that you told them I'm a delusional bitch who is screwing our kids up royally. I really don't appreciate the way you're always trying to turn the kids against me," try a softer approach. Consider that if that's what Sally told you, she may have said something equally as inflammatory to the other parent about you. The most important message here might be that Sally needs some attention from you.
As long as what you've heard doesn't point to any actual danger to your children, you might not have to say anything at all to the other parent. Or, you might calmly say, "I'm worried that the conflict between us is negatively affecting the kids and wonder what we can do to cool things down." Even if you don't feel calm at all, you'd be amazed at how a calm tone will often then be reflected back to you by the other parent. If one of you makes an effort to treat the other parent like a business partner, the other often follows that lead. It is, after all, very difficult to keep one-sided conflict going.
So don't over-react to what your children say about their other parent. Help them and each other by staying calm and taking all comments with a healthy grain of salt.
© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com