By Julie Garrison
Special to DadsDivorce.com
One would like to think that when a divorce proceeding has wrapped up, everyone is finally able to move on with their lives and stop looking back. Maybe this happens in Fantasy Land, but it almost never happens in the real world.
An ex-wife will often vent anger to her children by berating their dad at every juncture. The children end up with an exponentially skewed impression of their father.
In her book “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce,” Judith S. Wallerstein writes about about the effects of divorce when an ex-wife vents to the children about the real or imagined shortcomings of their father.
“This is the kind of rage that can last for decades after divorce and it is the kind of anger that leaves lasting residue on a child’s personality,” Wallerstein writes.
Here are some common untruths that an angry ex-spouse will vent:
- “Your dad is nothing more than ‘Half-a-Daddy.'”
- “You kids aren’t going to get what you want for Christmas this year because your dad refuses to pay for it.”
- “Your dad doesn’t really want you.”
So what can a dad do when his ex-wife is filling his children’s impressionable minds with boatloads of nonsense?
Document the Children’s Statements
A good first step for a dad is to buy a spiral notebook and start documenting the lies that the children are reporting to him. This is very important for proving a case down the line.
Of course, a mother may go so far as threatening her children to prevent them from reporting the truth of her statements to a social worker or court-appointed psychologist. But mental health professionals have other ways of deducing the truth from children.
The behavior of lying to the children about an ex-spouse is called “parental alienation” and is considered by the courts to be a serious offense.
If a parent becomes entrenched in the behavior of alienating her ex-spouse from their children – even just mentally – there can be serious consequences beginning with a strong admonishment by a family law judge against continuing in this pattern of slander.
Correcting the Lies
When the children of a divorced dad treat him with a lack of respect or relay negative statements about him that have been dished out by their mother, it is in the dad’s best interests to continue as a strong male role model.
Some untruths can simply be countered with the truth, i.e., “I am so happy to spend time with you,” followed by a strong hug and a tussle of the child’s hair. This type of Kodak moment is the best antidote to blame and vitriol.
There is no need to volley the erroneous charges back to their mother’s side of the court or to behave defensively. A dad can also try to reason with his ex –wife, but this rarely does any good.
The Nuclear Option
No ex-husband is required to always take the high ground. If a dad has filled a notebook with a pattern of entries that illustrate bona fide parental alienation, he can help his children (and himself) by meeting with a family law attorney to go over all available options.
These may include a change of custody, a better equalized parenting plan, and continued court scrutiny.
“Any attempt at alienating the children from the other parent should be seen as a direct and willful violation of one of the prime duties of parenthood,” writes Michael Bone and Michael Walsh in their article “Parental Alienation Syndrome: How To Detect It and What To Do About It.”
Every father has the right to be portrayed as having integral importance in the lives of his children – whether he is still married to the mother of his children or not.
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Julie Garrison has been writing articles and short stories for the past 10 years and has appeared in several magazines and e-zines.