I have been divorced for a year. I have two small children for whom I share custody with my ex-wife. Sometimes my daughter who is four will say bad things about me, which I believe she is repeating, like “That’s because you’re a bad daddy and you don’t care about any of us.” My wife says things like that on the phone to me and I think she is parroting what she has heard, but it hurts me a lot. How do I handle this?

–Hurting Dad (Australia)


I would start by having a neutral conversation with your ex-wife, possibly with a family therapist, and emphasizing the importance for each of you to speak with respect to each other. Even though your daughter is probably parroting what she has heard her mother say to you, this will impact her thinking, possibly for years to come or for the rest of her life if this is not addressed as soon as possible.

You might want to go with the whole family as well to therapy so you can all start building a new and positive way of relating to each other in the context of the new family structure.

No matter what your ex says to your children, never say anything negative about her. If you are defending yourself, I suggest not saying things like that she was wrong or whatever, but just stating the positives as related to your own self. For example, if your daughter says that you don’t care about any of them, simply state with love that you will always love her and her sibling. Maybe you could even say that you will always love her mother because she gave birth to her and her sibling and that you’ll always be thankful for that. Talk to the family therapist, though, and get some specifics guidelines on what would be appropriate for the ages of children you have and for the particular family dynamics you’re working through.

I applaud your courage in working through this and for finding a way to improve this situation with positivity and love. In the end, love is the only thing that matters.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. njncguy
    May 28, 2014 @ 08:29:09

    Good advice. I handled a similar situation a bit differently. My 7 year old daughter came back from her mom’s and within seconds burst into tears. She told me how her Pop-Pop (my wife’s dad) said I was the “bad guy” in the divorce and just overall an awful person. My daughter — through her choked backed tears — wanted to know if it was true what her Pop-Pop said.

    Like your advice, I assured her of my love for her. I also said how what Pop-Pop said just wasn’t true. And then I bit my tongue (despite going crazy inside).

    But later that day I emailed my ex about what had happened. I told her that that if she couldn’t get her dad to keep his mouth shut I would tell our daughter (and young son) every last detail of her (my wife’s) behavior. Now in my case those “details” were pretty mind blowing (multiple secret affairs are just the start). That email seemed to work.

    Still, I can’t help but wonder if I should have gone ahead and told some level of “details” to my children when the divorce was still new. I think Pop-Pop’s running me down to my daughter got it in to her head that I was indeed the “bad guy” in the divorce (when the reality was I wanted to end the marriage because of my wife’s unrepentant affairs).



    • askdalimama
      May 29, 2014 @ 12:48:25

      I think you handled it beautifully. I think if you had shared more details with your children early on, you would have gotten pulled into a no-win game of triangulation and it wouldn’t have really helped anyone. Kudos for your grace and courage.



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