Divorcing parents routinely say some extremely hurtful things to or in front of their children. Some of these barbs are delivered on purpose, others are said in haste without realizing the injury they might cause. Here are some things commonly said by parents during divorce, along with an explanation about how they hurt your kids:
“I wish I’d never met your father.”
If you got your wish, then your children would have never been born, so such a statement can be taken as a lack of love or respect for them. Not to mention most kids love both parents, so hearing you say this stings them.
“If you don’t behave, I’ll send you to go live with your father.”
Seriously, why not just drive a stake through your child’s heart instead? Not only is this a hidden jab at the other parent (living with them is punishment), but it only reinforces many of the primary fears children have following a divorce. You’ve essentially just told them that you’re willing to abandon them, too, if they displease you: that your love for them is conditional on how they act or behave. Such statements will create an insecure attachment disposition in the child while eroding the parent-child bond, and is also considered a form of emotional abuse.
“If your mom loved any of us, she wouldn’t have left.”
There is no more stinging of a statement you could make to a child than to suggest that their parent doesn’t love them, and that their “unloveability” led to abandonment. Keep your feelings to yourself, and search for better ways to explain the absence that won’t cause such a deep social injury.
Parents leave for all sorts of reasons: emotional problems, fear of responsibility, uncertainty about life, personal crises, etc. But to suggest that a parent left for such a personally culpable reason as not loving his or her children will make a kid feel horrible. It will also heap guilt upon their shoulders. The child thinks: “If I had only been nicer to mom or behaved more or shown more love she wouldn’t have run off.” It’s entirely inaccurate, and it puts a child in the position of feeling guilty about what they might have done differently to prevent the parent from leaving.
“I could get along here better by myself.”
Once again you’re saying something severely wounding to the child; essentially telling them you don’t like them, they’re a burden, you don’t enjoy their interaction or even their presence, you don’t want them around. This is a verbally abusive statement.
“You’re no good / lazy / stubborn / pig-headed just like your mother.”
Fill this in with any insult you’d like, it’s verbal abuse against both the child and the other parent. It gives a child negative messages about both.
“If you weren’t here, I could (fill in the blank).”
This statement implies your kids are a burden and that you don’t want them around. You’re telling the child that they’re the reason you’re not happy. It’s an extremely hurtful thing to say.
“Sometimes I wish I’d been the one to skip out.”
Again, this is a direct insult to the child, and one that plays off of their worst fears. You’re not only telling them you don’t want to be around them, but you’re stoking the fear that you might decide to abandon them, too.
“If he loved you, he would send your child support check on time.”
Even if such a thing were true, (which it generally isn’t), this statement does nothing but injure your child. Never, for any reason, insinuate that a child’s parent doesn’t love them. There are dozens of other reasons a parent might struggle with child support, all of which have nothing to do with love.
“If you don’t like the way I run things, perhaps you’ll do better with your father.”
Once again, the child interprets this statement as a rejection and also disregard for their feelings, which it is. You’ve just told your kid that you’re perfectly okay with abandoning them unless they fall into line and do exactly what you say. You’re also disregarding them as a person, by responding to their grievances with a threat of abandonment. Such a statement may haunt children for decades, and many parents throw this barb out there on a regular basis.
“Ask your father to buy it for you.”
How would you feel if your former spouse made commitments on your behalf? If they came back from their time at Dad’s house saying, “Dad said that you need to buy me a new Playstation and a new pony.” Might it kind of irk you? Don’t do this to them, either.
“Maybe if you talk some sense into your father he’ll come back.”
The idea that parents will get back together is 99% of the time unrealistic, and shouldn’t be encouraged. It prevents a child from moving on or adapting to the divorce and accepting that their life has changed. To try and use your children as secret agents to get your husband or wife back is even worse. Not only does it stoke their unrealistic hopes, but it puts the burden of responsibility on their shoulders, making them feel guilty when it doesn’t happen.
“We stayed together because of you.”
This might seem like a noble statement from the parent’s perspective, but it isn’t from the child’s perspective. Telling them this can essentially send the message that they are responsible for years of your suffering. No kid wants to bear that burden…to think that their parent stayed miserable because of them. Even if it’s true, this is something you should keep to yourself.