Current Issue

Q: My two children, ages eight and five, visit my ex-husband every other weekend. Invariably, they come home with tales of nasty things he has said and lies he has told about me. I don't know what to say in response to this stuff. Sometimes I just go into my room and cry, not because of what he said about me, but because of the confusion and hurt this must be causing the kids. I've told them I don't want to hear it, but they say they need to tell me. How should I respond to these reports?

A: I agree with the children. It is better that they tell you than that they keep these things locked up inside themselves. I also agree with you. The person with whom the children share this junk needs to be sensitive to the unfortunate position in which the father has placed them. So listen and respond with utmost sensitivity, so as not to further feed the fires of slander.

I would suggest that you simply say something like this: "I can understand your father saying things like that. I lived with him long enough to understand how he thinks. If you ask me, I'll tell you a different story, but then that's no different from the two of you telling me different stories when you fight with each other, now is it?"

And let it go at that.

By the way, contrary to pseudo-psychological rumor, this sort of thing is not confusing to your children. Distressing, yes, but not confusing. In and of itself, this sort of thing is not likely to cause them psychological harm. The important thing—which you are doing—is that you help lessen, rather than exacerbate, their distress.

I applaud you.

Q: My second husband reads me your column every week. It's infuriating! He says I don't discipline my two children, which isn't true, and that I won't let him discipline, which is true. The truth is, he doesn't discipline; he picks. What am I supposed to do?

A: First, to your husband: I do not approve of what I term "beating one's spouse" with my column. You do not convert a person to this very traditional point of view—which is not mainstream and therefore causes some people considerable dissonance—by forcing it upon them.

Second, to you: One of the reasons the failure rate for second marriages is greater than for first marriages—especially when children are involved—is the failure of the mother to vest her second husband with full disciplinary privileges. Quite simply, you cannot be truly married, and you cannot be a true family, unless and until you do.

As for your husband "picking" on the children, when a wife prevents her husband from disciplining, the husband resorts to "picking." That, of course, only serves to confirm the wife's belief that the husband would actually do some harm to the kids if he disciplined. So she continues to protect, and round and round they go, only to eventually stop in a lawyer's office.

The fact is, your husband may be inclined to be stricter than you. That's not going to harm the kids. He may also make some disciplinary blunders as he learns the ins and outs of disciplining your children. All parents make disciplinary blunders. A blunder here and there doesn't cause harm, either. So relax. Be a wife first and a mom second.

Also, by taking the leash off your husband, you take a burden off yourself. As you should already know, the most effective discipline is delivered from within the context of a functional marriage, not from one parent working alone or against the other.

Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, call Elizabeth Stevens at (919) 403-8712.

Divorce and Remarriage—and Kids

by John Rosemond
From the May 2005 Signs