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Ex-Husband Mean to Kids

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: Can you help?

I have 2 children from a marriage that didn't work out. Oh, I tried for four or five years to make it work, but to no avail.

Here's the problem. I've been divorced for four years plus now. The following is what my ex tells the children or does:
1) that we will get back together
2) that I am not a good mother, wife or person and that they shouldn't trust women.
3) He tells them that if they don't live with him when they turn twelve, that they will never see him again
4) That he wants them to live with him so he won't have to pay child support and so he can claim them on his income taxes.
5) When he doesn't come to get them, he tells them that I wouldn't let them go.
6) He screams at the kids when they call my new husband, Dad.
7) He tells the kids that the two kids I've had with my new husband aren't their brother or sister, and tries to make them jealous of them.
8) He tells them that they don't have to listen to me or my new husband.
9) He tells them that they don't have to do any chores here, that's mom's job.
10) He tells them that I get the child support checks every week (which I don't) and I just don't tell the kids.

There is a lot more, but you would be here for hours just reading it.

Yes, I also have problems with the Friend of the Court too. But, I am seeking help today for my children's emotional status.

Because of all my ex says to the kids, they do not trust adults. They will not discuss these matters with outside adults--counselors, psychologists, etc...They don't always tell me anything either. When and if they do, it's weeks after the fact, and only because they're angry with their father. They do however "tell all" to my aunt's two adoptive children. This, I feel, is because they feel safer talking to kids rather than to adults. They will talk with my aunt also regarding these issues.

They will not speak out to their father because of fear. As far as I know, the only type of physical abuse that occurs in their father's care is hair pulling. The kids have told me this, but will not tell anyone else. For some reason they are too scared to tell any other adult what their father says or does to them.

My new husband is great with the kids. Sometimes, (I feel) maybe a little too stern, but he loves them as his own. Would love to adopt them, but my ex will not allow this. I have spoken with my ex about this, I figured he would love the idea, since he's so worried about paying out child support and other money for the kids. I told my ex that he would still have visitations with the kids. I don't want to isolate my kids from their father. He is their father, regardless of how he treats them. But, I could also control the visits so the kids wouldn't be in such emotional chaos.

I've tried all I could think of, but haven't yet gone to court. This is due to the fact that the children will not speak out against their father in fear of losing him altogether.

Any suggestions as to what I could do to help my children?

A: You have been attempting to make the best of a situation that should not be perpetuated. If you told me just a few of the 10 things your ex says or does to your kids, I would say you need to initiate a major intervention in order to protect your children's mental health. Your ex is obsessively involved in emotionally abusing and blackmailing your kids. And by the way, pulling a kid's hair is physical child abuse in my book. He has made it his mission to undermine your role as a parent and to enlist them in as soldiers in his ongoing war against you. I have seen too many kids go through this, paralyzed by fear and the threatened abandonment of one or both parents.

You say "He is their father, regardless of how he treats them." I am very disturbed by this statement; it is this reasoning that has allowed you to witness his irresponsible and harmful relationship with them and let it continue. They have become frightened, mistrusting exploited kids. This man will not stop his destructive manipulation of your kids. You have to stop him. Given your description of him and his behavior I believe legal action is absolutely necessary. You need to enlist lawyers who are familiar with these types of custody cases so the issue of your kids not sharing these things with therapists, counselors, etc. is not a roadblock to your forbidding your ex access to the kids unsupervised. Your aunt can play a key role in this process.

Your kids are fortunate to have their cousins to talk with; you might also consider getting them into a "kids of divorce" support group; many of my clients have benefited from these "kids only" ongoing groups. To sum up, despite this being very difficult to do and knowing that your kids are now trained to condemn you if you do as I suggest, you must be the champion of your children and stop your ex's child abuse. They are being harmed in profoundly disturbing ways and you must put a stop to it, even though you may receive a hard time from the very kids you are saving. Step back, plan your strategy, assemble your team of professionals and rescue your children. I wish you strength, courage, and patience.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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