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How Labeling Your Child’s Parent During and After Divorce can Backfire

How Labeling Your Child’s Parent During and After Divorce can Backfire

When you go through a divorce you may think that when you call your ex “toxic” or a “narcissist," you are accurate in your description. This can be especially true when there has been a betrayal and there is high conflict in your relationship. However, when you have kids, what you say about your child's mother or father can have significant consequences for everyone involved. Here is how labeling your child’s parent during and after divorce can backfire:

Consider Why You are Labeling Your Ex

These days words like “toxic,” “narcissist,” “antisocial,” and “sociopath” are often used on social media and in popular shows and podcasts to describe everyone from criminals to politicians to ordinary people. They have also become more commonplace when we talk about personal relationships. During a difficult divorce, you may consider some of your ex’s behaviors and conclude that he or she may have a personality disorder or that they are “toxic.” While it might feel vindicating to label your ex as a sociopath or narcissist, that doesn't mean it's accurate. You may be using a convenient negative term to try and make sense of a failed relationship. Assigning a clinical diagnosis to your ex can make your former partner seem more guilty for what went wrong in your marriage. But this approach can also prevent you from accepting accountability for your own role in the end of the relationship.

Does Your Ex Really Deserve the Label?

Divorce can distort your perceptions and make it seem like your ex is using the process to hurt you. Additionally, your perspective may be influenced by your past experiences and the stress of the situation. Although things may have ended badly, you may need to step back and assess whether your ex deserves the label you have assigned.

Divorce can bring out the worst in people, but that doesn't necessarily make them dangerous or pathological. If your ex has adequate parenting skills and can safely care for your children, the two of you will probably be sharing custody and placement. By letting go of any negative labels you may have given your ex, you can start to shift your focus to building a more cooperative co-parenting dynamic. However, if you continue labeling them, you may find it much harder to transition from the past and into a healthy co-parenting relationship.

Labeling the Other Parent Can Hurt Your Children

When legal custody and physical placement are at issue, you have to choose your words carefully when talking about the other parent around your children. Labeling the other parent as being “antisocial” or a “narcissist” or anything else negative can send a message to your kids that something is wrong with their parent. Likewise, if their mother or father has a mental health condition or substance abuse issue, labeling them as "crazy" or a "drunk" or "drug addict" can be upsetting and difficult for children to process. Kids may be afraid to ask either parent for help or guidance in this situation. Psychological and psychiatric illnesses can be treated and managed. A person with addiction issues can successfully maintain their recovery. It will only create stress for your children to hear negative terms about their parent, especially since they are one half that parent.

Your Kids May See You as Being Unfair

Kids need as much stability as possible, both during and after divorce. They need to feel that where they live is safe. Using labeling terms that came up during the divorce brings conflict back into their lives and your home. Your children also can internalize these labels and believe them to be about themselves. Further, if your kids hear you regularly labeling the other parent, you could look like you are picking on their mother or father and end up hurting your relationship.

There may be a few reasons that you are labeling your ex. Your ex may have done some terrible things during your relationship that led you to question why you got married in the first place. You may have concerns about what it will be like to co-parent with someone you feel so much anger towards. All of that being said, if you believe your ex can parent your children, it may be time to consider taking negative labels out of your vocabulary.

Attorney and mediator Karyn Youso
 of First Look Family Law has extensive experience helping clients understand their options during and after their Wisconsin divorce cases and can help you connect with the resources you need. Contact us today to take a “first look” at your situation.

Contact First Look Family Law today to set up a phone or Zoom consultation.