When we divorce with children, there is, justifiably, much concern about bad-talking the other parent to the children. The problem arises in an abusive relationship when the other parent is continuing to hurt the children and we shy away from speaking up to avoid bad-talking them. We have to be careful to separate the need to discuss situations from the desire to destroy character.
We have to be careful who we protect.
Speaking badly about someone is sharing things the kids don’t need to know about, talking about things that are past and forgotten, revealing private adult interactions, or lying about things… speaking badly is purposely trying to turn the children against the other parent. It’s about gossip and untruths, not about helping our child through difficult situations. Don’t make the bad situation, don’t point out or detail the abuse, but absolutely be willing to open the conversation when your child becomes aware of the abuse, especially against them.
Protecting our children emotionally means sometimes speaking about the bad stuff. When the other parent does something that hurts your child, you need to discuss it. you need to make it clear that it was wrong, that your child deserved more. You need to protect your child even at the risk of talking badly about the other parent. You need to stand up and say “that was wrong”. We must teach our children to protect themselves, to believe in themselves, to recognize when they have been wronged – no matter how close the person who wronged them is, or who they are.
This does not mean bringing up every other instance where the other parent has done your child wrong. It absolutely does not mean sharing the details of abuse against you. It means addressing this one incident, being honest, and helping your child work through the emotions of this situation. If your child brings up past situations, discuss it, help your child face reality. If your child recognizes abuse against you or themselves, acknowledge it. Lying to our children does not protect them.
The abuser may accuse us of bad-mouthing them when we face reality with truths, but this does not make their words true. They hate having their actions held up to the light. They want their abuses to remain hidden.
Too often we find ourselves protecting the abuser when we go overboard to prevent ourselves from talking badly about them. In our efforts to make sure our character is untarnished and to ensure we are honorable in our interactions, we risk putting ourselves and our children in danger.
Ask who is being protected when it’s time to handle the pain caused by the abuser. Protecting yourself and your child means facing the pain, working through it, and talking about the situation to find healing. Sometimes, it means hiring a therapist for you and/or your child. If you are avoiding confronting the situation to protect yourself from the abuser, then the only person being protected is the abuser.
Speak up and be honest. This is the way to healing.