My Ex-Husband Has Turned My Children Against Me—What Should I Do?

Dear Newsweek,

I have an ongoing dilemma with my eldest child. I didn’t take care of my kids. Trust me, if I had known that I had left my abusive husband that he would get custody of my children, I would have let him go ahead and kill me. It’s hard to say. But this man told me that if I left I would never be able to see my kids.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where he had money and I didn’t. I ended up homeless for 6 years living in and out of shelters. I had to visit every other weekend. Well, it didn’t happen. Long story short my eldest child was always manipulating the situation during the divorce, despite being only 10 years old. She was very abusive, and always seems to get her way. Whenever I have tried to reach this child of mine, I am ridiculed and talked about. Once upon a time, I was referred to as just an egg donor. This kid and his best friend have constantly trolled me on Facebook, and I’ve had to block my own kid on social media.

However, I haven’t blocked my other two kids on Facebook in the hope that they’ll arrive someday. I wish I had a positive mother and daughter relationship with my eldest but I don’t believe it will ever happen. He has adopted his father’s narcissistic ways and I truly believe he has bipolar tendencies.

difficult teen
Difficult teen. stock image. A woman has sought help managing the behavior of her teenage daughter who lives with her ex-husband.
Getty Images

I work in behavioral health by the way, so I can see patterns in his behavior. She thinks she can walk all over everyone. The most recent incident happened when she found out I was friends with someone at a bar, and she grabbed her phone and wouldn’t give it back. He found my phone number on his phone and called and started calling me by names like fat a*s.

I am constantly being accused of things I haven’t done and my daughter has been insulted with the same humiliation that my ex-husband used to do. Meanwhile, this kid tells the guys that there are warrants for my arrest and that I want to release his siblings into the woods so the coyotes can eat them.

She will go to great lengths to follow me on Facebook, and I believe she has called my work a couple of times. At this time, I don’t know what to do.

I have been told by many people that if they knew me, they would have nothing to do with them. I have tried to reach out to my other kids several times, but she interferes every time.

I only wanted a family, and my life was nothing but a nightmare. I am at my wit’s end with this kid and I have no one but to turn away from him completely. If she came to me now, I don’t think I would be able to trust her, nothing is. I can’t believe we can ever have a relationship. I can only hope that my other two kids will one day come around.

Kate, Indiana

Your daughters’ abusive behavior is an attempt at communication

Wesley Do is a marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles.

hello kate,

This is a really difficult situation and I am deeply sorry. The topic of divorce and how it affects both children and parents is a very sensitive issue as everyone has their own individual point of view. Also, I want to talk to you sensitively, honestly and directly. Additionally, I can only speak what I know very little about you and your family so please take this with a grain of salt.

You are right that children tend to inherit (for better or worse) the instincts of their parents. That being said, one of the hardest things about being a parent is looking at yourself in the mirror to see how they might be responsible for the issues at hand. Children act out when they are not being heard or seen, or because they do not have the ability or safe space to truly express their pain or frustration.

Your child is communicating with you in the same way he knows how at this time. I’m sorry to hurt you by her actions, but beneath her rude behavior is so much pain that she doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you. Beneath his abusive tendencies, there is a very wounded child who probably feels like he has lost his mother somehow.

Children are honest. And if you want to hear your child talk about their grievances, there’s a good chance the relationship can be saved. Your child is only reacting to the pain he is suffering and as a parent, it is important to realize this and lead with your own vulnerability. I feel that you are hurting too and I hope you can express this to your child as well.

I hope this helps and again …. I can only speak what I know very little about the situation with you and your family. Best wishes to you only. I can see how much you want to be a good mother to your kids.

You may be able to keep your daughter in your life if you take steps now

Peter Loble is a clinical psychologist specializing in relationship issues with adults and couples with a private practice in New York City.

hello kate,

I read your piece, and as you wrote, what a nightmare! However, presenting your story in this column does reflect some hope, no matter how small, that things can get better. For my part, I hope you get what I wrote below.

Children do not always understand why adults do what they do, and struggle with expressing sadness and recognizing their own emotional pain. So instead, they sometimes use anger to confront difficult feelings.

This might be what’s happening to your daughter: ridiculing and insulting her may express her anger about your departure. This could be his way of feeling abandoned and rejected. She doesn’t understand what you have to do to survive. She just knows that you are gone, and she is very angry about it.

By “walking away” I believe you mean to walk away emotionally and cut off contact with him. I will delay such a final decision for now. I suggest you look into what you can control in your interactions with him.

passionate woman
an emotional state. stock image. The reader thinks that he may have to “walk away” from his children.
Getty Images

When she says or does something that excites you emotionally, don’t say or do anything until the emotional pain within you subsides. I suggest you adopt this as your default response. But what if you choose to do or say something in response?

Think carefully about what you are going to do or say. Keep it short, sweet and true to who you are. Avoid lengthy explanations and comments. It’s just confusing for kids, and then they often miss the main point. Avoid blaming your ex-spouse, even if he is guilty. Your daughter will not hear the truth in this; She will hear it as an attempt to divert attention from the responsibility. Your peace offering should make you feel good about yourself and should make your daughter wonder if there is more to you than she felt. To do this, your peace offering must include empathy.

With your daughter, this peace-sacrifice might go something like this: “When I heard that you thought I wanted to leave you in the woods so the coyotes could eat, I heard you think I abandoned you, rejected you and left you defenseless. I’m sorry you feel that way. I didn’t mean to hurt you. You’re my daughter, and I love you, and I hope one day you’ll explain to me Why I did what I did.” something like that.

Finally, remember that no one can predict the future. And if that’s true, then who can say that one day you won’t have the kind of relationship you want with your kids?

Newsweek’s “What Should I Do?” Gathers experts to advise a reader on an issue occurring in his personal life. If you have a WSID dilemma, let us know via [email protected] We can seek advice from experts and have your story featured on Newsweek.

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