Archive for June, 2012

Ya Know, You’re Just Like Your Father!

June 13, 2012 1 comment

As autonomous individuals we all strive to find our own form of independence, distinct and separate from our parents. This may come out in many forms, including the way we dress, our hair style, our taste in music or our interests and hobbies. However, there is a piece within us all that also strives to be somewhat like our parents. To be able to relate to our caregivers. Typically, our morals, beliefs, and coping skills are heavily influenced by what our parents teach us and model for us growing up. Our parents play an important role in the way we view ourselves and interact with the world around us.

However, what happens when our parents do not get along? Divorce plays a crucial role in a child’s development. What’s more is when a child is left in a predicament in which one parent is constantly degrading the other in front of the child. Parents, especially when divorced, can sometimes be left with a sense of bitterness that the child is left to hear and cope with.

Let us take this idea a step further. I’ve worked with many families of ugly divorces and I’ve noticed one thing that parents do that can be detrimental to bond development and behavior.

What happens when a parent dislikes the other parent so much that they compare the child’s negative behavior to that of the disliked parent?

¬†For example, a mother I had worked with in the past was left by her husband for a life of drugs and petty crime. The mother felt abandoned and betrayed in that the man she loved and stood by would leave her and her family for something like that. Her daughter, who grew up idealizing her father developed negative behaviors because she had trouble dealing with the loss of her dad in her life. Mom, who was desperately trying to protect her from what she thought was a similar path of her father, compared her to the father in saying that she, “was going to be a loser just like her father.” Or, would say, “what you’re doing is something your father would do.”

Another example, is of a mother who divorced her husband because he was locked away for 2 years due to drug distribution. The child was 7 at the time and was 11 when I began seeing the family. The mom admitted that she felt resentment towards her child because he looked, spoke, and even wrote like her ex-husband (their signatures were eerily similar). It got to the point at which every time the child would do something she considered wrong, she would be unable to tolerate him because of the similarities of the two.

So why do parents compare their child to the negative parent while speaking so poorly of them?

When a parent speaks negatively about the other, that parent typically believes they are doing it to provide proper guidance for the child and protect them. In discussing the negative aspects of the parent they wish to keep their child from harm by outlining for the child what their lives could look like. These parents believe that they can instill good judgment and proper behavior simply by vocalizing their anger and distaste for their ex. However, these parents are unaware of how counterproductive this method truly is. In fact, parents typically mistake their child’s increased negative behavior as rebellion and opposition which can, and typically does, perpetuate the situation.

So what do parents needs to know when they find themselves engaging in this type of behavior?


Your child to some degree idealizes you both.

Although children try to establish their own identity by doing things that rub you the wrong way (dying their hair green and growing a Mohawk comes to mind) they still get their values and morals from you. Your parents are you caregivers. No matter how bad or neglectful a parent can be a child only has two parents. Sometimes we don’t get the parents we want, but children still hold them to their idealized standards. When a parent speaks so poorly of the other and then compares the child to the “bad” parent you are destroying the vision the child has for that parent and they can then internalize themselves as being “bad.”


By degrading and negatively labeling the other parent you are telling your child that half of who they are is “bad.”

Remember that genetics plays an important role in the creation of your child. Your child gets half of their genetic material from you and half from the other parent. When you tell your child that their other parent is “no good” you are telling the child that half of them is “no good” too. When a parent tells their child that their mother or father was a “no good, drug dealing, loser” we forget that the child does understand that they have inherited a portion of their mother/father’s genes. The child then can believe that they too are a “no good, drug dealing, loser.”


If you compare your child’s characteristics to a disliked parent, your child must live with that reminder for the rest of their lives.

Suppose your child barely knows or even dislikes the other parent as well (as in the second example above). The mother then points out that the “bad” parent has a similar signature to this parent. By coupling the child’s negative view of the parent to their own signature, it could be a daily reminder of a dark side of their being. They have inherited something they dislike, but must live with.

Knowing what your child might be thinking, where do we go from here?

When working with families of messy break-ups, especially those with children involved. It’s important for the parent to be honest with themselves and identify some of the counterproductive behaviors they are engaged in. Keeping these tips in mind when you feel yourself getting caught up in comparing your child to something you view as bad can help save your relationship with your child and keep the child thinking positively about themselves.


Never verbalize that you’re comparing your child to someone you dislike.

When you do that the child will own the negative behaviors and resent you for the comparison. Keep the thoughts to yourself if you have them and seek out help to assist in dealing with these feelings. I don’t want to minimize the importance in recognizing that something about your child reminds you of someone you dislike. It’s important to be honest about it to yourself, but never take it out on your children.


If you find yourself having to be honest with your child in communicating something negative about the other parent, keep the conversation light. Do not insult the other parent and do not make the conversation heavy and angry. Take time to explain your viewpoint and leave harsh negative language out.


Remember that when you’re talking to your child they may still have positive feelings for the person you dislike. Validate those feelings for your child and don’t try to change their mind. Work with what your child is saying to you and make it a learning opportunity. The idea is not to have your child on your side. There is no winning team with families. Work together and let the child know it’s okay to have positive feelings for someone you don’t like as long as the thoughts are positive and cause no harm to anyone.

As your parents undoubtedly told you, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Keeping this in mind you can have a beneficial conversation with your children even if you dislike the other parent. Comparing your child to someone you dislike can only hurt your child and even though you may think that you’re saving them from future failure and distress. You may be causing more harm now than you think.

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