Help! I’m Worried My Ex Is Turning Our Kids Against Me

My partner and I separated several months ago, and now my two young children don't want to see me. Even though the separation was rough on our entire family, I thought my ex and I had both been trying to make things as smooth as possible for the kids. My ex insists he has said nothing bad about me in front of our kids, but I can't help but think he might be poisoning them against me! I had a great relationship with my kids before all this, and I miss them desperately. What's going on here? How do I repair my relationship with my kids? —A Mother Spurned
Dear Mother Spurned,

There is no question that this is a painful situation for everyone—particularly your kids. The way they are responding to you and this new situation is definitely impacted by how young they are and what they are able to understand about what is happening.

It is not unusual for kids to harbor significant anger at one or both parents when a separation or divorce occurs. The parent with whom they were most comfortable prior to the separation is often the one who can bear the brunt of their anger afterward. I don’t know if that is part of what is happening here, but it may be contributing.

Also, you don’t know for certain what they have been told and what they have heard (from your ex, from you, or from other people), or what they have understood about why the two of you chose to separate. Even in situations in which neither parent has made negative comments, children may extrapolate and assign blame to one parent more than the other for reasons only they can understand.

It is not unusual for kids to harbor significant anger at one or both parents when a separation or divorce occurs.

I strongly recommend that you and your partner get your kids connected with a therapist who is experienced in issues surrounding family transitions. Working with a therapist will allow your kids to process what is happening and express all their feelings, fears, and concerns. Their therapist can also be attuned to messages that the children are receiving from each parent and offer support to the two of you on how best to help your kids through this transition.

Additionally, I would recommend that the two of you work with a professional on how to co-parent effectively. Doing the work now and being intentional about how you separate, what messages you are giving your children, and how to create healthy relationship patterns now and for the future will help all of you as you redefine your family boundaries.

Good luck!

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • Loni


    November 27th, 2015 at 12:52 PM

    I would be very concerned that this was happening and i would definitely recommend that the two of you work together to get a counselor involved so that the children will have a safer outlet in which to express their anger.

    Many times this stems from them not having any real idea as to how to process that anger and what to do with it, so they turn it outwards on the people that they love and miss the most.

  • Laura S

    Laura S

    November 28th, 2015 at 10:59 AM

    If you are a good parent and you know that then there is nothing that anyone can say or do that will forever turn your children against you. They do not want to have to take sides nor should they be made to. No matter what he does you just keep on doing the right thing, and just like with everything else, eventually karma will come back and bite those who have tried to do you wrong.

  • Jazzy


    November 29th, 2015 at 7:12 AM

    Now might be the time for a very good custody lawyer

  • natalie


    November 29th, 2015 at 1:30 PM

    tHere has to be something going on here like what you suspect because with young kids they especially usually have very strong ties with their mother and don’t wish to be away from her. How about mediation? Could that help out in any way?

  • Daphne


    November 30th, 2015 at 10:19 AM

    Any time I see this it always makes me wonder how you go from loving someone enough to have children with them to then go to hating them so much that you would turn your kids against them.

  • Ray W

    Ray W

    December 2nd, 2015 at 2:39 PM

    The two of you need to have a heart to heart talk, and while this might not be the most pleasant experience for with of you, I think that it could be beneficial for the whole family. You can’t just go around wondering what went wrong as things progressively get worse and worse. There is a time for action and it sounds like it is now. If he is saying things against you you need to make sure that it ends so that your children do not turn against you permanently.

  • gwen


    December 14th, 2015 at 3:50 PM

    There is no way that you can allow this to happen.
    Kick, scream, cry, whatever you have to do to get his attention and keep it , it is not fair to anyone for him to feel like he can just take your kids away from you.

  • Paulina


    December 30th, 2015 at 12:45 PM

    This is sort of like that actress who just lost custody to her ex husband from overseas.

  • Peter


    April 12th, 2016 at 4:35 PM

    Kids don’t just turn against you. They have help. Look up Craig Childress,Psy.D. Forget about what he might be saying, that will take up all kinds of time and you have to prove it. Focus on how the children are acting. Take the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting: Stop crying and get tough ! Good luck

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