Help! My Children's Mother Teaches Our Kids to Cheat and Lie

Filed under: Divorce & Custody, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Education: Tweens

Dear AdviceMama,

My ex-wife, who has primary custody, has created Facebook pages for our 10 and 12-year-old children. The photos make my son look 13 years old and my daughter 20 years old. When I asked her to remove them (since both sites require the members to be 13), she refused, claiming that it was safe. She is teaching our kids to go around rules and to lie to get what they want. When I asked the children to do the right thing and not use the sites because they are not old enough, she cut off my Internet access to talk to them.

Facebook Father

Dear Facebook Father,

As difficult as married life can be when couples don't get along, co-parenting with someone after divorce requires parents to face challenges that make unhappy married life seem like a walk in the park! But the fact is, your children need and deserve two caring and attentive parents, which requires you to do your utmost to make peace rather than war with their mother, if at all possible.

While I agree with your point of view on this issue, it's important that you keep your eye on the prize, and focus on the outcome that is best for your children, rather than using these situations as opportunities to vent or point out your former wife's character flaws.

If your children's mom does things you believe reflects poor judgment, resist the urge to come at her with reasons that suggest she's being a "bad" mother. This approach will only upset her, which may prompt her to "punish" you by withholding access to your children (a tactic that is always wrong and should never be used by feuding parents.)

I suggest that you limit the list of things you have to negotiate with your former wife by identifying the issues most important to you. Then consider working with a professional to create agreements about those topics.

These days, even if you and your children's mother live far apart, you can find therapists who will work with you by telephone. Your wife may be willing to address issues of ethics and rule-breaking if they are brought up by an objective, neutral third party who can help explain how harmful it is for children to be involved in dishonest behavior without triggering her resistance or defensiveness.

You can also use a therapist to establish clear ground rules for those times when the two of you have things to discuss. Conversations should stay focused on your children's needs, be based on the present (rather than bringing up the past), brief, respectful and polite.

NO MATTER WHAT, do not speak poorly about your children's mother within earshot of your kids, no matter how angry you feel toward her. Remember, your son and daughter are 50 precent of both of you. Anything negative that you say about their mom is, in effect, a negative comment about them, so exercise restraint! If you have a complaint about their mother's parenting, make every effort to resolve it without involving your children in the drama.

I know it must be enormously frustrating to have so little influence over your children in this scenario. Believe me, I understand that it sometimes seems impossible to act maturely when you feel so worried and helpless. But if you can rise to the challenge and conduct yourself with integrity and honor -- regardless of how your children's mother behaves -- you and your children will benefit enormously.

Best of luck!

Yours in parenting support,

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.