7 things You Should Never Say About Your Ex-spouse in Front of Your adult Kids

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Divorce brings out the worst in people. We get angry, we want revenge, and most of all, we want everyone to know how badly we are hurting!

Sometimes, in a clumsy effort to get the support we want, we say dumb, hurtful things in front of our kids. 

When parents are navigating a divorce with minor children, many state court systems require them to take an online class to help them develop co-parenting skills.

This class, often called the “Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course,” covers topics like respect, badmouthing the other parent, and healthy ways to handle conflict between ex-spouses. 

When divorcing parents take this class seriously, it can have a positive impact on their children. It can minimize the emotional drain on young kids as they navigate different homes and different lifestyles.

Hang on, My Kids Are Adults Now

But what about if your divorce happens when your kids are adults? Do the same rules apply, or is it totally cool to share your hurt and anger with your now-grown kids?

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Let’s talk about the 7 worst things you can say about your ex-spouse to your adult kids. Spoiler alert: talking badly about your ex is never a good idea, no matter how old your children might be!

Navigating the complexities of building a healthy relationship with your adult kids after a divorce can be challenging, especially when emotions run high. One of the most critical aspects of sustainable trust and emotional connection is behaving with respect and using neutral language about your former spouse, particularly in front of your grown children. 

Divorce Sucks But Don’t Use It As A Weapon

As a Marriage and Family therapist, one of the biggest mistakes I see is when one of the parents starts to use their adult kids as a place to vent, cry and rage about the divorce process.

Most grown kids feel obligated to listen to a hurting parent, and as a result, end up with a dump truck metric ton of gossip, slander, and inappropriate intimate details.

If you get one thing from this article: Do not use your grown kids as a place to vent. Your adult kids are NOT your best friend.

They are NOT your therapist. It is emotional abuse to expect your kids (of any age) to comfort you and help you survive your divorce.

Are we clear? Good.

Let’s get started: here are seven things you should never say about your ex-spouse in front of your kids and why you must keep these types of comments in check.

1. “I Hate Your Father/Mother”

Expressing hatred toward your ex-spouse in front of your children can have a profoundly negative impact on their emotional well-being.

Children, including your adult children, often see themselves as extensions of both parents and hearing such strong negative emotions can cause confusion and distress. 

It can also damage their self-esteem and sense of security.

Instead, if you must talk about their other parent, focus on neutral or positive aspects of that person. If you cannot maintain a minimum of basic courtesy during the conversation, consider seeking professional help to manage your feelings.

2. “Mom/Dad Doesn’t Care About Our Family”

Blaming your ex-spouse for perceived neglect can create a sense of insecurity and fear even in your grown children. No matter how old they may be, it is likely that they will internalize these negative messages, potentially leaving them feeling unloved or unwanted. 

When a marriage ends, former spouses often criticize or demean their partner’s new relationship. Telling your adult kids that your former spouse “has a new family now” is very damaging. 

It’s so important to protect your children’s emotional health by avoiding blaming statements. 

If there are genuine concerns about neglect or irresponsibility, address them directly with your ex or through legal channels, but never in front of your grown kids.

3. “Your Father/Mother is a Liar”

Calling your ex-spouse a liar in front of your children undermines their ability to trust. Trust is a cornerstone of healthy relationships, and even adult children need to feel they can trust both parents. 

When you label your ex-spouse as dishonest, you risk damaging your child’s relationship with them and creating an environment of mistrust.

Instead, encourage open and honest communication and model integrity in your own life and conversations,

And, if your ex-spouse did lie to you, don’t share that with your grown kids! Unless it is information that they need to make a moral or ethical choice about their other parent, keep it to yourself.

4. “You Remind Me of Your Parent in a Bad Way”

Comparing your grown child to your ex-spouse in a negative light can be incredibly hurtful.

Every child, including adult kids, deserves to feel valued and accepted for who they are. 

Of course, your kids will have qualities that remind you of your ex-spouse.

They are bound to have mannerisms and behaviors that reflect both parents. Drop the urge to strike out at your former spouse by belittling your grown kids. 

Even as a grown adult, negative comparisons can diminish our sense self-worth and create internal conflict. Celebrate your child’s individuality and encourage their unique qualities, steering clear of harmful comparisons.

5. “I Wish We Never Got Married”

Oh, this one hits home! Having been through a divorce with adult kids, this statement is a nuclear bomb that can destroy childhood memories and obliterate the happiness your kids experienced growing up. 

It’s natural to look back after a marriage ends and wish your younger self had done things differently.

You are not a bad person if you think these types of thoughts. You are normal. The key is to keep these types of normal thoughts to yourself. 

You Can think it, But You Shouldn’t Say it!

No matter how mad you are or how big your regrets might be, do not say this statement out loud in front of your adult kids!

This statement can make children feel like their existence is a mistake. Do not ever forget that your marriage, regardless of its outcome, brought your children into the world. 

Undermining the past can be deeply hurtful to them. Focus on the positives that came from your marriage, particularly the joys of parenthood, and avoid comments that might make your adult children question their own worth.

6. “Let Me Tell You What Your Father/Mother Did”

Sharing inappropriate or highly personal details about your ex-spouse’s behavior can overwhelm and burden your grown children.

They should not be placed in a position where they have to understand or process your private marital issues. 

Do everyone a favor and maintain healthy boundaries with your kids. Find a friend, a therapist or someone outside of your family to help you process your pain and anger. 

Keep your conversations with your adult kids focused on their lives, empathizing with your own positivity and support for their lives. 

7. “Your Other Parent is the Reason for Our Problems”

Attributing all problems to your ex-spouse creates a biased and one-sided narrative that can backfire with grown kids.

Please understand that it is even more damaging when you remain in a victim role, expecting your grown kids to choose sides.

Because your kids are adults, they have developed critical thinking and emotional maturity skills.

Don’t be surprised if they begin to challenge your victim attitude. If you are not careful, you might lose the privilege of having a relationship with your grown kids.

Your Adult Child Does Not Owe You A Relationship

Despite what you might believe, your independent adult child does not owe you a relationship. They have the right to set boundaries around communication and minimize the complaining about their other parent.

You must take responsibility for your actions and avoid painting your ex-spouse as the sole villain.

Being a loving and divorced parent of adult kids requires cooperation and mutual respect, even in difficult circumstances.

Make a serious effort to provide a balanced view and focus on solutions that connect the family rather than blame your ex- spouse.

Never Forget You Made Kids With This Person

You might be right, your ex spouse might be a calculating soulless monster of a human. Thank God you got out of that unhealthy marriage!

But, you must never forget that you made kids with that “monster.” Don’t be the reason that your adult kids feel pressure to choose sides.

Divorce is hard enough for families; don’t erode your emotional connection with your kids by attacking their other parent. 

Do your very best to respect your former spouse. That includes speaking about them in a neutral tone and refraining from personal accusations that could feel like an attack on their character. 

If you have been through a divorce with adult kids, what advice would you add? Please leave it in a comment below!

Make sure to grab my free guide to “Balancing Your Empty Nest” 🪺  I wrote it to help women who are struggling with their identity and purpose in this new season of life. 

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Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.

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