My Ex doesn’t want to do any family dinners anymore. His problem is with me but his actions are hurtful to our daughter.
MOLLY: The reader explained that she and her ex have been having family dinners once a week for the past three years as a way to connect and set a positive example for their daughter. Her ex has said he’s hurt and angry and doesn’t want to do them anymore. How does the reader explain to her daughter (who will be devastated) that the end of family dinners is not the daughter’s fault and that there’s nothing she can do to help.
Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): I understand this kind of issue and how it must be very painful for this mother, but the reality is that the ex-husband is psychologically unable to participate in these kinds of dinners because he’s in too much pain, then there can’t be any dinners at this time. As the ex-wife, she needs to respect his pain.
The reality is the marriage is over and the daughter will have to come to terms with that just as her parents must accept it.
It doesn’t mean that the parents can’t be friends or be friendly; hopefully they will be because it will be better for the the children all the way around. But at this point, she can’t pretend that everything is okay for him when it’s not. That would actually be worse for the child to experience than not to have them eat together once a week. It’s probably unrealistic to expect that they would continue to do that anyway because they each will likely move on to other relationships.
MOLLY: It seems like the more important thing is not to trash-talk each other. The daughter doesn’t need to see them together interacting in the same room, but she does need for her parents not to talk badly about each other to her.
MOM: That is the most important thing. The number one rule for putting the kids first in a separation or divorce is to never, ever say anything negative about the other parent to the child. Trashing the ex- will usually boomerang back onto the parent that said it anyway, and the child will automatically side with the other parent.
MOLLY: Because they’ll feel defensive?
MOM: Right: it’s automatic. I understand this woman’s pain but she also has to deal with the reality of this situation and if this is how her ex-husband feels, this is how he feels. He’s obviously in a lot of pain himself.
MOLLY: What might be the long term effects on the kid?
MOM: The long term effects of parents getting together when they are not really ready psychologically to be together is probably worse for children to witness than if the parents lead more separate lives until some of the pain wears off for each of them. The child can end up feeling quite caught in the middle of these two parents who might not be overtly fighting with each other but are clearly unhappy with each other. The child gets in the position of taking care of the other parent and may maintain that position all of her life in one form or another. That’s not a particularly good long term consequence.
Later on it might be easier for everyone to spend more time all together when there’s less emotion involved for the parents, but until that happens, it actually can be harmful to the child.
Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success working with your X spouse on family issues. Or Contact Us if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed.