An Ex is Really Never an Ex ... When Children are Involved

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Us Magazine is reporting that Bristol Palin and her baby's daddy, Levi Johnston are "back on," with Bristol announcing, "Levi and I are turning a new page here as co-parents to this wonderful boy and putting aside the past because doing so is in Tripp's best interest."

The magazine goes on to suggest that more is going on than a commitment to improve their parenting, suggesting that Levi spends the night in Bristol's condo and that romance is afoot.

Whether or not the rumors of romance are true, this story underscores the compelling truth that when children are involved, an "ex" is never really an "ex," and parents (and grandparents) should exercise restraint when talking about one another poorly if they sincerely want to put the child's welfare front and center.

The truth is, a child is 50 percent of each of their parents, and nothing can change that. While there are unfortunately many instances when a parent walks away from a son or daughter, or for psychological/ physical safety is deprived of contact with their child, parents and grandparents never serve a youngster by bad-mouthing his or her father or mother. As painful as Bristol and Levi's breakup may have been, a "No Comment" response to reporter's queries would be in far greater service to Tripp than the sorts of tantalizing accusations that were offered to a hungry media, eager for a "Family Feud" headline.

We all understand that Levi and Bristol are young and still finding their way toward growing up; walking towards adulthood beneath the glaring spotlight that came with Sarah Palin's overnight notoriety must have been a nightmare. Adults twice their age -- and even older -- forget to exercise caution when speaking about their estranged spouses or in-laws, so far be it from me to judge their lack of discretion.

But their story does remind parents of one of the cardinal rules of responsible parenting: Do not badmouth your child's other parent-or son-in-law!

It's tempting, oh-so tempting to reveal a tidbit, or imply an indiscretion, and win the favor of friends or, in Bristol and Levi's case, a ravenous public, eager to take sides. No one wants to feel judged or misunderstood, often making it impossible to resist the urge to tell "the truth" and "set the record straight."

But here's the thing: The only record that needs to be set straight is that Tripp has parents and grandparents who love him and want what is best for him. The moment two people decide to engage in behavior that might produce offspring, they are also deciding to take on the responsibility of putting a child's needs before their own, no matter what.

And what this child needs is to know that both halves of the equation that produced him have admirable qualities, even if those qualities get buried beneath less desirable behavior for a time ... or a lifetime.

Whether Bristol and Levi take another shot at romance or are simply finding their way toward a friendlier relationship on behalf of their young son, let them be a reminder to all of us to be careful about what we say about our "ex." Children need and deserve to know that they inherited wonderful attributes from the two people who brought them into this world. If there are issues that caused parents to part ways, let them find a trusted confidante or therapist with whom they can sort out their heartbreak privately, rather than with gossipy friends -- or national media outlets!

Family feuds sell headlines, but they come with a massive price tag. My hope is that Sarah, Bristol, Levi and everyone else involved in this child's life considers the impact of public bickering and mudslinging, and puts that behavior to rest once and for all, on behalf of young Tripp.

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.