“Daddy Said…” Handling Negative Comments, The Pro-Child Way

[I write this as a mother who has an ex and a daughter.  If you are a father with an ex, read “Mom” where you see “Dad”.  If you have a son, read “he” instead of “she.”  The thoughts are universal, regardless of the pronouns.]

“Daddy said…” has been an issue swirling around me lately.  Many moms and dads are listening to their child repeat words of anger, regret, and fear that were spoken by their other parent.  Words concerning you.  Words concerning your new partner. Words concerning the divorce.  Words that may be truth, may be false, but certainly not appropriate for your child to hear.  These are words that make your child uncomfortable.  And likely, they are words that make you want to scream.

And she repeats them to you, because she doesn’t know how to process it.  All she knows is that it doesn’t feel good.  She’s looking to you for the magic wand that will make it all ok.

In wading through this issue, there are many points to cover.  Many points for you to cover with your child.

1. Secrets.  Secrets are a heavy load for your child to carry.  How much time has lapsed since your child first heard these words of anger till the time she told you.  Likely, she carried it for awhile, debating if she should tell you.  In telling you, would that be betraying her dad?  If she didn’t tell you, would that be betraying you?  Your child, guided by her still intact memory of love, doesn’t want to hurt anyone.  But under the weight, she looks to you to lighten her load, and she tells you.  She’s taking a chance, and hoping that you are a safe place to rest her burden.  Open your arms and receive: lovingly, non-judgmental, and with a sense of gratitude that your child feels safe enough to share her secret. 

2. Listen.  Your child has something important that she wants to tell you, listen.  Don’t interrupt.  Don’t comment.  Just listen.  What she’s telling you may or may not be what was said by her other parent, but it is the impression that she took away.  Listen not only to the words that are being repeated, but also to how she says them.  This divulging is major for her and she deserves your attention.  Listen, and tell her that she is heard.

3. Smile in gratitude.  Separate yourself from the topic.  What if your child was telling you a secret not involving you?  You would be so relieved that your child finally arrived at a point where she felt secure enough to tell you.  She trusts you.  She trusts you enough to tell you even very painful things.  You should be very grateful that your child has come to you with this, and that deserves a smile.

4. Wait.  Don’t assume that your child wants you to respond.  Perhaps this burden was so heavy that she just needs to rest after giving it away.  Whether it’s in the next moment, or after a period of rest, your child will let you know when she’s ready to take the next step in healing.  Till then, your smile comforts her.

5. Separate her ‘tude from the issue.  When hurt, not all children react the same.  In relaying this message to you, your child may express her sadness, her anger, her resentment, her sarcasm.  But no matter the package, the gift is the same.  As the adult, your job is to know this.  Your child is fearful that your love for her will be diminished upon hearing her secret, and her walls of protection come in many forms.  Luckily, all of them are vulnerable to love, and that is how you should proceed.  Don’t get sidetracked with her ‘tude.

6. Tell her “you know”.  A secret isn’t a secret anymore if you already know.  Perhaps you don’t know the specific situation in which these words were spoken, but you generally know how your ex has felt.  “I know Dad has felt that way. I know that Dad has thought and said things like that, so it isn’t a secret.”  Go on to tell your child that she shouldn’t think that it is a damaging secret, because you already know.  “You can tell me if you wish, you can not tell me if you wish, but it is something that I already know, so please don’t think that I’m going to be angry or shocked or hurt.  I can’t be angry over something that I already know!  I’m your mom, and it’s my job to listen whenever you have something to say.”

7. Tell her “it’s ok”.  (“OK?!” screams your ego, ‘how can it be OK?!  Her Dad told her that I was a whore!”)  Whatever “Dad Said…”, it’s ok.  It is OK.  “I know Dad said that, and it’s ok.”  If the words were true, then it’s ok.  If the words were false, then it’s ok.  “Dad has his thoughts and he is allowed to have them.”

8. Tell her it’s not her job to defend you.  “I want you to hear me: I know that dad feels this way and it doesn’t effect my love for you.  It is not your job to tell dad that he is wrong or to defend me.  I love you no matter what, and I understand.  Don’t think that you need to respond to him for my sake.  I know that to get dad to stop talking, you may even say you agree with him!  That’s ok too.  I understand.  But, please don’t feel that it is your job to tell him otherwise.  Dad can think how he wants to think, and if he ever wants to change his thoughts, he’ll discover it himself.”

9.I love you”.  Finally, tell your child how much you love her.  And that you are sorry if she’s been feeling down about this.  Important: you are sorry for any feelings that she had, not for what her other parent did.  If you say something disparaging about her other parent, then you’re just continuing the circle.

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Child: “I saw you at the restaurant but Dad wouldn’t let me come over because you were with your friend and Dad doesn’t like him.”

You: Smiling warmly, “Yes, I know Dad has felt that way.  And it’s ok.  Dad is allowed to think what he wants to.  I can’t make dad like him, and neither can you - it’s not your job.  We would have loved to have said “hi” to you, but I understand.  I’m sorry if that made you feel bad.  But you know what?  I know that you love me.  I know that I love you.  I know that dad loves you.  And I know that my friend loves you.  All of that is much more important then whether we say “hi” to each other at the restaurant.  Next time, you can either say “hi” anyway or listen to Dad.  It’s up to you and how you feel.  But, I’m your mom, and I love you no matter what! [pause while you see if she is done with the subject…]What did you have for dinner?”  Magic wand waved.

Likely, your child will be able to move on in childlike flare knowing that love is intact.  Likely, it will take you some time to recover.  Scream if you want to—just shield your child from your reaction.  Call a friend, not your ex.  And take some time to find your peace.

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Relates to The Pro Child Way: Parenting with an Ex. 46 Pro-Child Solutions for Typical Divorced Parenting Situations. by Ellen Kellner. Now available on Amazon.com. www.TheProChildWay.com All rights reserved.  Permission to repost with credit.

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