In pain from watching ex disappointing our children

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    The pain I feel from watching my kids get disappointed (over and over) by their dad is overwhelming.  I don’t know how to deal with it…how do I get it to stop.  I do not bad mouth their dad to them and that is going to kill me but I know it is the right thing.  I cry myself to sleep at night with this terrible feeling for my kids.  They are 11 and 15 and take it like troopers but I know it hurts them so much.  What do other people do?  What do I do?  Please help?  Any advice is welcome.


    Dear Betty:

    My advice is to talk with your kids about their father’s behavior, not to bad mouth him, but to give them the opportunity to communicate their distress about his behavior. Following such talks, you may have a better idea about what you can do, in practice, to protect/ help them further.

    It will be very difficult for you, I assume, to have such conversations with your kids because your emotions on the topic are so intense. If you can calm yourself and remain reasonably calm during such conversations, do ask your kids open ended questions regarding their father’s behavior (not leading questions, like: are you hurt by your father doing X? Instead: when your father did X, how did it make you feel?)

    Your kids may answer you honestly if they feel that you are not too distressed, if they believe you can handle their answers. Otherwise, they will deny their distress so to protect you. This is why you will need, I believe, to establish with them first a trust they need to have: that you can remain calm whatever their answers may be.

    Post again, anytime. I would like to be helpful.



    Dear Betty,

    I had wise advice from a counselor just before my divorce. She told me my ex would develop his own relationship with our child and I should not try to control that, makes excuses for my ex,  or apologize to my child for his behavior. The best thing to do is to comfort your child when their father disappoints them. Acknowledge their hurt, but don’t apologize or try to fix it. You are responsible for your relationship with you child and your ex is responsible for his relationship with your child. My child is an adult now. Kids figure it all out on their own.


    Yep I agree encourage them to discuss feelings around it , not to save them or fix it. Read up on active listening skills, learn to really listen and leave your stuff at the door.

    Hope you doing okay




    Hi Betty,

    I agree with all the above.  Good for you for not bad mouthing their dad to them.  That negativity will do as much damage as any disappointing behavior from their dad.

    Although painful for you and for your children, their dad’s disappointing behavior is really a valuable tool in helping your kids learn about relationships.  If you can be there for them to talk to in as non-judgmental a way as possible, you will be helping them understand their feelings, which will help them develop strength to not only deal with their dad, but with other people who disappoint them.

    You don’t want to “lead” them into what they are feeling, but giving them ideas on putting words to their feelings will help define those feelings.  They may express their disappointment in any number of ways…anger, sadness, stone face.  Acknowledging whatever they may be feeling – never telling them it’s wrong to feel whatever they are feeling – will help them know it’s okay for them to feel however they feel.  Then help them figure out where they go from there.

    Also help them understand that the way they deal with their dad’s behavior today may be different than the way they deal with it in the future.

    Wishing you and your children peace.


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