Regardless of how badly a relationship may have ended, bad-mouthing the mother or father of your child is one of the worst things a parent can do. While this may cause the other person reputational harm, it could also negatively affect your child.
Andreas Mphunga says that much of the information that the denigrating parent is passing on to their son or daughter often isn’t factual and will stay with the child for a long time.
“The danger of bad-mouthing is that eventually the truth will come out, which could cause the child to resent you,” Mphunga says.
“It’s important to remember that the child has relationships with extended family members of the parent you’re speaking badly of. And these could be the people who correct everything the child has heard about their other parent, and so expose your agenda.”
Mphunga says the child will feel stuck in the middle because while one parent is feeding them certain information, the other is saying something different. This means the child is forced to pick sides.
“Eventually the child’s relationship with both parents will be compromised because they might refrain from investing too much of themselves in the parent who’s being bad-mouthed. Later on, when they discover the truth, the relationship they have with the parent who had been spoken ill of will be compromised,” Mphunga explains.
“Then it might be difficult for the child to build a stronger relationship with that parent and essentially it’s the child that’s left alone in the middle.”
The youngster will also internalise guilt and shame as a result of the situation. “As the child grows up and starts thinking more deeply about the situation, he or she might feel a sense of guilt and shame, wondering whether they were unfair to one parent and whether they gave one more of a chance, forgetting they’d been dictated to and influenced,” Mphunga explains.
Your child might also end up internalising your “hate” – they may take everything you say about their mother or father as something you’re saying about them, because there are elements of the child’s identity that are linked to the parent being belittled.
“The child is likely to think that, ‘Because I am an offspring of my other parent, and judging from what I’ve heard about them, I myself am impure,'” Mphunga says.
He stresses that parents need to understand that belittling the other parent is more detrimental to the child.
“Parents need to stop pushing their agendas onto their children. It’s important to let the child experience each parent organically and to draw his or her own conclusions, with no outside negative influence.”