Linda, 52, is divorced and a mother of two children, David and Cindy. She had complaints about her son. “David has disappointed me to no end. I raised him to be a good boy with strong family values and a good work ethic. But instead, he turns out to be an alcoholic who’s cheated on his wife and is now unemployed. He’s a loser, just like his father.”
Linda did everything in her power to make sure David wouldn’t turn out like his Dad, Wes. She should’ve known better than to marry Wes since his father was also a cheater and a drunk. She wishes David would be more like his sister, Cindy, who she describes as a great girl, good job, sweet, kind, caring. Though Linda is puzzled as to why Cindy, now 30, has not had a long-term relationship and still lives with her at home.
Linda married at 19, crazy in love with the tall, handsome young dreamer, Wes. They met at UCLA where he was going to be a great actor and she wanted to be an attorney. Linda loved his eyes and his big laugh. It always made her feel safe. They dated for a year, married and set off on a wonderful life together. Wes even put off his acting career to get a day job so he could provide a home and a life for his first born, David, while she finished law school. It wasn’t until Cindy, their daughter, was two, and Linda had her feet firmly planted as an attorney that Wes got to pursue his acting career. Unfortunately, it didn’t wok out well and Wes quickly gave up his dream. He tried real estate, but his heart wasn’t in it and he ended up unemployed, Linda supporting them. His frustration led to drinking, drug abuse and ultimately began cheating on Linda. All the dreams they once shared were gone. Then, when it was Wes who asked for a divorce, Linda was infuriated. “I gave him everything and now he does this to me!”
It was a nasty divorce. If splitting her savings, the house she paid and the investments she made wasn’t bad enough, the final insult was that Linda had to pay the bastard alimony. Linda vowed she would hate him forever and do everything in her power to turn her children against him. Even with a shared custody ruling she would poison the kids with “the truth about their dad”. She told them he was an alcoholic, a cheater and did nothing while she was out making a living for the family. She told them that marrying him was the biggest mistake of her life. She would make her children feel guilty for wanting to see their Dad or spend time with him. She never said one nice thing to them about their Dad. In fact, when her son David got married, she refused to go to the wedding if his father was invited. David didn’t invite his father. Linda never remarried and raised her children to the best of her ability.
She asked, “Where did I go wrong”?
So we told her. Maybe all the things she accuses Wes of are true. He may be a drunk, a drug abuser, a cheater, and chronically unemployed, but bad-mouthing Wes to David is also bad-mouthing him. Remember that David has half your DNA, but also he has half Wes’ DNA, too. When Linda voices her complaints about David’s father, he may overtly love, side and be a confidant of hers, but covertly he will love his father by following in the footsteps of the negative patterns that he is demonized for. Children will seek to love their parents equally.
Linda was frustrated. She heard what we had to say. “But what should I have done? Lie to my kids? The answer is no. But you said your intention was to poison them against their Dad. And you succeeded but at a cost. The cost for daughter, Cindy, is in her lack of relationships and inability to launch from the nest due to her loyalty to her mother. Cindy’s unconscious agreement is, “I will be like you, Mom, alone”. The cost for David is his unconscious loyalty to Dad, which has him following in his footsteps.
So, here’s the answer to Linda’s question. She could have told them good things about their Dad. Which she quickly retorted, “there wasn’t anything good about him”. So we reminded her how she had depicted their early days. He was tall, handsome and had a big laugh that made her feel safe. He put his dreams on hold and put Linda through law school. She could tell David that he’s handsome like his Dad. And his laugh that his laugh is so like his father’s and that makes her happy. Looking at him reminds her of the joy and love she and Wes shared when they were in love and made him. Children want to hear about the love that they came from. And, it is never too late to start sharing that.
Relationships don’t always work out. Often one or both of the partners is left with anger and pain, but it is always a choice how we want to remember our exes. There is never a good outcome when we try to enroll our children in our negativity about the other parent. That person may be our ex-partner but she/he is still, and will always be, the children’s parent. Parents’ anger, accusations and complaints are not the business of their kids.
If you want a good outcome for your children after divorce, tell them good things about their mother/father, your ex-partner. You fell in love with him/her enough to have a child with them or three or four. Remember that you didn’t always feel about them the way you feel now. And remembering your ex-partner with your heart is not just good for your children, it’s good for you, too.