Question: I left my ex-husband 10 years ago because of his abusive behavior toward myself and my oldest child. The children have had to maintain court-ordered relationship with him. My son was older and he has been able to maintain his dad at a safe distance. Our daughter was always his little princess. She has no memory of the abuse as she was too young when I left.
I get comments from people that I should never speak ill of their father to them and that I should encourage a positive relationship, but how do I do that when he has such a continuing pattern of lying and passive aggressive behavior? The mind games concern me, especially when it affects my daughter’s spiritual walk. We try to teach the truth from the scriptures but when he contradicts things how can we correct her thinking without bashing him? Once my daughter witnessed a violent outburst where he screamed obscenities but he excused himself because he was tired and she bought it. How do I deal with that?
Answer: It is difficult but not impossible. Children do best when they have a positive relationship with both parents however awful one person has been in the marriage. Children want to believe the best about their parents and want to feel that they are loved and important, even if the marriage failed.
That doesn’t mean that you never contradict what your ex-husband says to your children but you try very hard not to disparage his character. In other words you might say something like, “Daddy and I disagree on this subject. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but we believe that God’s Word speaks truth and that is what we are going to believe or do in our family.”
What you don’t want to say is, “Daddy is crazy.” Or “Daddy is a liar.” When you know he is not portraying the situation truthfully, you could say, “Daddy and I see things differently. I don’t know why he is saying that but I don’t see it that way, or I don’t think it happened that way.”
However, if he is violent and/or abusive, you must not cover up, make excuses or create another reality. So in the above situation you might say, “Daddy lost his temper. Yes he was tired, but that doesn’t mean we can hurt people with our words just because we are tired. Let’s pray that daddy will learn to control his temper even when he’s tired.” Framing it that way enables her to continue to have compassion toward her father, but you are also helping her learn that each person is responsible for the way they behave, regardless of the circumstances.
If he is a danger to your daughter (driving recklessly, drinking while she visits, being abusive towards her), then you may need to take firmer measures like court ordered visitation. Again without disparaging his character you could say, “Right now daddy has some problems that he needs to get help for. Until he does, I can’t allow you to visit with him unsupervised.”
At some point it may be important to communicate with your ex-husband about issues you are concerned with. I would recommend you do it in writing – through e-mail so that you have a documented trail of your correspondence. Be factual and describe your concerns in concrete terms. For example, “I want Amy to have a good relationship with you. I will do everything I can to encourage that. However when you consume alcohol during her visits (or whatever your specific concern is) it puts me in a protective stance. I cannot allow Amy to visit you when I feel she could be in danger.”
There are no easy answers in this kind of dilemma. You will not do it perfectly but I sense that your heart wants as much as possible to give your children the best opportunity for form some sort of relationship with their father. The bible encourages us as much as it depends on us, be at peace with all people (Romans 12:18) but sometimes it is just not possible because you cannot make peace all by yourself.