I wrote this article in early February while in New Orleans at the Dad 2.0 summit: a gathering of influential dad writers, marketers, speakers, and bloggers.
On the airport shuttle bus to the hotel, I witnessed something that made me sick to my stomach. While most people ride a shuttle bus in awkward silence, the two women in the two seats behind me, with children that were likely eight and five, were anything but silent.
From what I, and everyone on the bus could gather, one of these women was grandma to the kids and the other was mom in conflict with the dad.
Here is a quick snippet of one of the exchanges. While I try not judge or eavesdrop, the entire bus was privy to all of this due to the angry women’s volume and colourful language.
Grandma: "Is that jerk still texting you?"
Mom: "Yes, the piece of s*&# spent that money on his car!"
Grandma: "You gotta teach that a$#hole a lesson, he is so foolish!"
This continued for 20 ‘cringe worthy’ minutes. With every slam on the dad, I felt like I was being stabbed.
Now, I'm not debating or speculating his character or on their relationship, maybe he really is a foolish a--hole that loves his car more than his children.
However, all of this was said in front of the children, HIS children.
As you already know, kids are always listening and watching.
- They hear your frustrated mutters to yourself.
- They see you slam your phone after talking to your partner.
- They hear your side of exasperated phone call, and lean in a little closer when your rants turn into angry whispers.
Even a very young child can sense a venomous tone, body language, and anger.
How will the children begin to process what they are hearing?
"If I'm half mommy and half daddy, and she says daddy is like that, maybe I’m like that too?"
No matter was is said by one parent about their parenting partner, it's like getting slimed in Ghostbusters, some of that negative ‘ick’ will stick to the kids; kids who don't understand the adult situations and end up confused, anxious, and stressed.
Trashing your partner in front of your children will only do harm, serious harm.
Believe me, I know this is sometimes extremely difficult. I survived a painful divorce where many bad choices were made by my former partner, and it would have been easy to vent to the kids.
I know the temptation to fire back something spiteful when you feel that you are just defending yourself to your children against something that the other parent said, such as “I don’t know why Daddy won’t let you play hockey this year…”
It is easy to want justice and your pound of flesh, but remember you can only control YOU and what comes out of YOUR mouth. You can choose not to damage your children even when your spouse is too wrapped up in their own needs to make the same intelligent choice. Emotions can run high during a crisis but no matter what is said or done, you MUST bite your tongue.
If you need to vent, then vent to your support network. Those are adult conversations that need to take place well out of earshot of children. Your support network should not include your kids, even if they are teenagers. As much as they would want to help you, they are not counsellors, they are your children.
If I wasn't so terrified of these women on the bus, perhaps I could have gently reminded them of the damage and stress they were inflicting on the innocent children. At least if I had done that, they would have stopped talking about that dad, and instead talked about this nosy, nervy Canadian boy that had better shut his damn mouth....
Until next time...
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