Communication, conflict management, and family separation is my field. Today on my drive to work I was pondering the power of words. How easy it is for words to influence our feelings and interpretation of situations and things.
With separated families we will often use the words “the other parent” or “the child’s mother/father”, or perhaps “Jimmy’s dad”. This may not seem like a big deal, however many parents in a separated family situation often refer to the other parent as “their ex” or many other not-so-pleasant names. You know the type of things I mean.
When someone is “your ex” it is all about the intimate personal relationship you shared but no longer have… and often this connection brings up feelings such as anger, resentment, guilt, grief, disappointment, and so on. Why would you have anything to do with “your ex” after you’ve separated? Usually it is only because there are children involved. Therefore your relationship is no longer about that intimate personal relationship which hasn’t worked out for whatever reason—it is about you both being parents to your children.
One mother I was working with referred to her son’s father by some pretty strong names, even more when she was talking to her current partner. Although she did not do this in front of the child, I decided to discuss the power of words. I explained basically similar to what I have above. She’d always spoken with so much anger and hatred about her son’s father in our sessions.
It was some time before speaking with her again. She seemed different when she came in and when I asked how she was, she surprised me with what she proceeded to tell me. She had taken on the wording I had spoken to her about and only referred to her son’s father as the child’s dad or by dad’s proper name or child’s father. She said she felt a difference in how she felt, she didn’t feel as consistently angry towards him anymore. She explained that the teachers had even mentioned a positive change in the child – “he seems more settled” they told her. She had even noticed that when she went to the children’s contact center for changeover she asked if child’s father was here yet and noticed her son was happier and more relaxed. It was then she had realised that previously she always had this anger when she thought about “him” and when going to changeovers she would ask in a harsh tone “is HE here yet.”
It was such a positive story and outcome.
Now over to you. How do you communicate with your children and others about your children’s parent? Do your words reflect your feelings and/or do they tell your child that their other parent is someone you hate? What consequences are there for you and your child to the words you use?
Everyone would remember the little taunt at school, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” When my sons attended school the school changed this saying to respond to the recognized potentially damaging power words have.
We have a little poster at work which says, “Every arrow you shoot at the other parent goes straight through your child’s heart.” How many arrows have you shot?