If you have a co-parent who is demeaning you to or in front of your child, it’s only natural to be concerned that this behavior will damage your relationship with that child and even alienate them from you. However, a study published in 2019 found just the opposite.
According to the researchers, the denigration of one parent by the other “appears to boomerang.” They wrote, “Children consistently report feeling less close to parents who denigrate more than to parents who are the target of denigration.”
This appears to be the case whether it’s one parent making the disparaging comments or both are disparaging each other. In the latter situation, however, a child can end up distancing themselves from both of their parents.
A study explored the impact of parental denigration
The study included almost 1,000 participants. These were young people with both married and divorced parents. The vast majority of those surveyed reported mutual parental denigration rather than one-sided denigration.
Many parents believe that if their child is reporting negative things their co-parent has said about them, they need to respond in kind to even the playing field and try to ensure that their child sees their other parent’s flaws as well. However, this study indicates that this can simply cause your child to back away from both of you.
How should you handle this problem if it happens to you?
By refusing to engage in this negativity when your child reports it and acknowledging that hearing these things must have been upsetting to your child, you can take the high ground and help solidify your own relationship with your child. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just let your co-parent (or their family and friends) insult you and lie about you to your child.
If this is becoming a problem, it’s worthwhile to try to talk to your ex about it and point out that they’re only upsetting their child. If that doesn’t work, you may want to seek to add a “no denigration” clause to your parenting plan. This may not be easy to enforce, but it can at least codify your intentions to take care with your words about each other around your child.