When your ex starts bad -mouthing your new spouse to your kids, what do you do? That is today's
question on Tips on Teens. My name is Kent Toussaint. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist.
I lead two organizations specialized in helping kids, teens, and families live happier lives.
One is the Group Private Practice Teen Therapy Center, and additionally, the non -profit organization
Child and Teen Counseling, both here in Woodland Hills, California. Every Wednesday at noon,
I come to you on Facebook Live to answer your parenting questions. Let's jump into today's.
My ex -wife and I just divorced four years ago. And our kids spend the week with me and the weekend
with her. Recently, I remarried to a wonderful woman whom I love and, most importantly, whom
my kids adore. Here's the issue. My ex -wife won't stop bad -mouthing her in front of the kids
on weekends. My kids told me about this when I picked them up, and I'm very frustrated. My ex denied
saying anything when I asked her about
it. I feel angry and stuck. What can I do? That's a tough situation. A situation a lot of families
struggle with. I think here's the trap. You know, you have your wife who you love and adore, your
kids love and adore, and you perceive that your ex -wife is badmouthing them to your kids. So
not only do you feel bad for your wife, but you also feel bad for your kids as well. Here's the trap.
You step in to save the day and set the record straight. This is a trap Do not do this as much as you
feel like you need to defend you need to set the record straight You need to make sure that honesty
is being portrayed and defended. It's it's it's gonna go nowhere In fact, it'll make things
worse so What I'd recommend you do and depending on the age of your kids if you got your kids are
four and six or fourteen and Sixteen you probably handle this in different way more nuanced
way depending on who it is But, what I think you want to do is talk to your kids about how they're
feeling when their mom is
doing this. Or it could be their dad, because it happens with moms and dads. But for this situation,
what we have is a dad talking about his ex -wife. So I would first go to the kids very calmly, make
sure I'm breathing, and say, you know, and the kids say, hey, mom is saying this about stepmom.
And I would take a breath and say, wow, how did you feel when she said that? I would just talk to
her or talk to them about what their experience is because it's important is their experience
Not yours and not your spouse's experience. What is their experience? Do they think ah, it's
no big deal. I don't care Do they have their feelings hurt? Are they confused? You know, no, even
they may even ask why does mom say these things? Why does she do this? That's another trap question.
Do not explain what your ex -wife is doing Say, I don't know why, because you don't know why. If
you try to explain, you get into the position of attacking, and they're going to perceive it
as attacking. So you need to make
sure you're not drawing your kids into a middle of this battleground here. Never go into the
battleground. Just let it go. Just say, you know what? I don't know why your mom said that. Is
that your experience? Do you experience, you know, the things that she's saying, the bad about
your stepmom? Is that how you see things? And let them say yes or no. Or if they do say, yeah, we
see it the same way, say, well, let's find a way to resolve that because, you know, let's talk
to your stepmom. I don't think that's her intention, but let's talk about it. So the more you
talk about it as a collaborative approach, something where you guys are all on the same team
and you're not putting your kids in the middle, you're not shaming them, you're not getting
mad at them, you're not discounting their experience, even if their experience is heavily
influenced by their mom and is not really based in fact, don't discount their experience. The
more you try to discount it and explain it away, the more you
put them in the middle, and now they have to defend mom because it's very easy to need to defend
mom because let's say in this situation mom is attacking stepmom because mom feels threatened
so the more mom attacks stepmom because she wants her kids to love her and she's feeling replaced
again this is all speculation about this situation I don't know the details but this is a common
occurrence so the more you mom is trying to pull them into this battle if you're not eventually
kids recognize, wow, dad's never getting mad at us. He's never judging us. He's never getting
upset at us. He lets us have our feelings. He is safe. And stepmom is safe. And then another thing,
stepmom, stepmom's got to be on her A -game all the time. Because she could do a hundred things
right and the one misstep is going to be blown out of proportion. It gets reported to their birth
mom and it's all about that one misstep where stepmom was just having a bad day, right? So it's
really important. It's gonna happen.
So it's really important that stepmom is Making sure that she's minding her boundaries reaching
out in a kind supportive loving way all the time Because it's tricky after a while kids will start
getting wise to what's going on, but it can take a while So it's important to be patient and play
the long game with us If you try to do the short game and try to win the battle now The only big losers
are gonna be is your kids So and talking to your ex -wife about this, is it appropriate or not?
It kind of depends, you know is talking to her going to help make her back off a little bit Is talking
to her actually going to fan the flames is she going to take that as a reason to lash out at the kids?
Say oh, you're replacing me with your stepmom You love her more and now mom is guilting them and
now the kids like ah, I can't handle this I need to protect mom because I need mom acceptance Again,
there's a lot of ways I can go But it's really important that you as the the parent Who is trying
calm and rational and reasonable and loving stay that way Don't jump into the fight that your
ex is trying to pull you into or X trying to pull the kids into and she may not Be doing consciously.
She may not realize she's doing it there may be a lot of hurt and pain that she's going through
and this is how she's acting out with us and Hopefully she finds help in dealing with us and again
with your kids and maybe with you do you guys need extra support with this because this is a hard
thing to go through especially with a quarantine and Curfews and civil unrest and all the other
stuff that's going on in our life right now Again, there's a lot of ways we can go with this, a lot
of details we can go into that we don't know about this email, but I encourage you to keep reaching
out to us. If there's something about this question that is in more detail that needs to be resolved,
contact me, call us, email us. If you have a new question you'd like us to answer next week, you
can email us at tipsonteens
at teentherapycenter .com, or you can direct messages right here on Facebook. Thank you so
much. Again, my name is Kent Toussaint. I'm a licensed family therapist and I'll see you guys
next Wednesday at 12 o 'clock on Facebook live. Take care. Bye. Bye
How do you talk to an ex about their behavior around the kids? This week’s Tips On Teens question comes from a parent wrestling with exactly that. We’ll be discussing how to respectfully approach your ex with an issue and strategies to make co-parenting smoother for everyone involved. Here’s the question:
“My ex-wife and I divorced 4 years ago. Our kids spend the week with me, and the weekend with her. Recently I re-married to a wonderful woman whom I love and-most importantly-whom my kids adore. Here’s the issue: my ex-wife won’t stop bad-mouthing her in front of the kids on weekends! My kids told me about this when I picked them up and I am very frustrated. My ex denied saying anything when I asked her about it. I feel angry and stuck…what can I do?”
Tips On Teens is a vlog that our Clinical Director, Kent Toussaint, hosts every Wednesday at 12:00pm on Facebook Live. He will be answering parenting questions submitted to us by you to our email at TipsOnTeens@TeenTherapyCenter.com. Send us any questions you might have about parenting kids and teens and Kent will be answering them every week!
Head on over to our Facebook page every Wednesday at 12:00pm to watch LIVE! Check out our page here – https://www.facebook.com/TeenTherapyCenter/
If you have more questions or would like more information, please contact our Clinical Director, Kent Toussaint at 818.697.8555.