DR. SUSAN RUTHERFORD: It’s important that a divorced parent is careful about what she says about the other parent to their child.
It would be best if she tried to act neutral and avoided saying outright negative things about the ex-spouse. As the child gets older, he’s likely to figure out what kind of person his father is on his own from observing his father’s behavior.
MOLLY: This question was asked by a mother in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She explained that she is divorced and wants to tell her 9-year old son that he is loved by his dad and that he of course should love his dad, too, but that his father does not always model good behavior due to his drug use and dishonesty, among other things. She doesn’t want to turn her son against his father, but on the other hand, she doesn’t want her son to emulate him either. What should she do?
DR. RUTHERFORD: I don’t think she needs to tell her son to love his dad; that’s really for him to work through. Her job here is to avoid saying negative remarks about her child's father.
If she is critical of the boy's father, it will backfire on her as the child will dig in and defend his father to the end. And he will likely also stop talking to her about his dad.
Instead, if she remains neutral, her son will feel freer to express both positive and negative feelings about his dad's behavior as he witnesses it and experiences the effects.
As the child gets older, he’s likely to want talk to his mother about things he sees and experiences the father doing if he feels safe doing so with her. Her job is to be sympathetic to her son; as events unfold,she shouldn't ever deny what the father has done but should instead focus on being supportive of the son as he sorts out his relationship with his father.
MOLLY: When should she tell him the truth about his father?
DR. RUTHERFORD: The best time for that is when....
Molly Skyar and her mother Dr. Susan Rutherford publish Conversations With My Mother.com, an online resource for offering practical parenting tips and psychological insight into raising kids. Dr. Rutherford is a Clinical Psychologist with a busy family practice for more than 30 years. She has degrees from Duke University, New York University, and the University of Denver
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