You Make Me Sick

A boy covering his ears with his parents talking behind him child custody

“You make me sick!” Do you ever think that about your soon-to-be-ex? You might. But making your feelings clear to the child you two share could make your child physically or mentally ill, for years, well into adulthood.

Would you be surprised to discover that the better your relationship with your child’s other parent, the better your child’s long-term health? Dragging your ex’s name through the mud might make you feel better in the moment, but it might also negatively harm your offspring’s health.

And imagine the increased impact if your ex is doing the same thing to your kids when they are with him!

Listening to you, someone they love, trust, and rely on, trash their other parent, whom they also love, trust, and depend on, creates stress that may negatively affect your child’s immune system, sometimes resulting in delayed, but lasting detrimental consequences.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Each time a child faces trauma, whether it’s bullying in school, turmoil at home, a stressful life event, or some other emotional distress, it takes its toll on the child. We have a name for such negative events: adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer a full overview of ACEs, including a Vital Signs Fact Sheet that features their negative influences on health, education, and employment opportunities.

Typical ACEs include:

  • Being a victim of violence, abuse, or neglect at home
  • Witnessing violent acts in your home or community
  • Living with a family member who attempts or commits suicide
  • Living with someone who suffers from substance abuse
  • Living with someone who suffers from mental health problems
  • Having parents who are separated or divorced
  • Having a household member who is incarcerated

ACEs also include being parented by someone who repeatedly speaks ill of the other parent. Such an “adverse childhood experience” doesn’t guarantee a future problem, but it does heighten a child’s risk of future mental health issues, injury, risky behaviors, infectious or chronic disease, lack of income, fewer educational opportunities, and even of catching cold.

So What’s a Parent to Do?

So, when you feel your future ex “makes you sick,” what are you, as a parent, supposed to do? Well, first, before you say anything negative about your child’s other parent, count to ten and consider the potential impact on your child. Then…do the right thing!

“And what’s that?” you ask. In fact, this may be the perfect opportunity for taking a non-confrontational approach to your divorce or separation. Instead of airing your grievances to your innocent child, a team of collaborative professionals can enable you to communicate your concerns directly to and with your soon-to-be-ex, something that rarely happens when a couple tries to resolve their differences through the judicial process.

I Know What I’m Talking About

I speak from personal experience. When I was seven, my parents divorced—in court. As a result, my mother loaded us kids into the family van and moved us all the way across the country, 3000 miles away. She then spent years filling our heads with tales of how our father had attempted to kill her and my baby sister, how he never paid child support, and how he might attempt to kidnap us from our new school. She even devised a back-door escape route home from school and tested us on how well we knew it.

So what was the impact of this ACE on me? Of course, we can’t be sure if my anorexia nervosa was caused by these stories. But it’s a good bet. And what about the Juvenile Diabetes I developed at age 32, to my doctor’s amazed disbelief? Although allegedly a genetic disorder, no one else in my family has ever suffered from this auto-immune illness.

The Right Thing

Protect your children. Do what you can to repair your interactions with the other parent. Instead of complaining to your children about it, fix what you can. The collaborative dispute resolution process can help you focus constructively on your kids and give you tools for effectively managing your communications.

After their collaborative divorce, one of my clients remarked, wonder in her voice, “I learned to listen to my husband again!” When his lawyer debriefed her husband, he observed, “I became a better person in my divorce.”

If you need help deciding whether to restructure your family, or, if so, how, visit us at Open Palm Law or email me at We are here for you, and for your children, during whatever change your family is going through! As I have told my daughter more times than either of us can count, “There are pluses and minuses to everything.” We can help you find the pluses in your child’s other parent, for your child.

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