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A story to share -

DH's parents divorced when he was 7, after several years of verbal and physical abuse from his father to his mother. His father has gone on to lead a singularly downhill life. He's been married so many times DH has lost count, he's a raging alcoholic, he has financial problems and has just in the past 2 weeks thrown his latest wife out of the house (literally "thrown"). Not exactly role model material.

During the years following the divorce (and continuing today), DH's mother 'badmouthed' his father to both her children. Nothing direct, no "Your father is a terrible man." It was all conveyed to the kids in language tone, body language, disapproving looks and conversations that took place with other people in her kid's presence. DH and SIL both know in great depth what their mother thought/thinks of their father. He was a loser, he was unreliable and he would eventually hurt them emotionally. DH feels she did it to protect him, I feel she did it to ensure that she was the only parent the kids cared about. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

This week DH ran into a ghost from the past. He made a huge mistake in his early 20's that can't be redeemed. I won't tell details because even online his story is not mine to share. But the sad fact is that he considers himself to be a "lesser" person than his father because the mistake he made was one that his dad "did right". DH has a terrible time seeing himself as anything other than a failure because (direct quote) "I couldn't even do the one thing that Dad did right." No matter that he went on to educate himself, get a good job, support his family before and after his divorce, marry happily (the 2nd time ) and live a pretty damn good life. He thinks of himself as a failure because he can't be anything else as the son of a failure. DH is 34 years old.

The experts are right. When you "bash" a child's parent in any way, shape or form, you are also bashing that child. And it can last for a lifetime. Our kids/skids pick up so much more than words. They read our body language, they read our tone of voice and they watch our expressions. I'm guilty. I've always said that we never badmouth BM. But it's not true. I have made sarcastic remarks assuming that the kids wouldn't understand the sarcasm. I've even let fly with the occasional (and I hope rare) "What was she thinking?" type of comment. I've never directly bashed her, but I know now that I have been conveying my attitude to the boys without words.

The "real price" of engaging in this type of behavior (even minimally I think) is a 34 year old man who has a hard time seeing the good in himself because he's his father's son. After this last week with DH, I have promised myself that anything spoken of BM in my house while the kids are present will be spoken with respect and courtesy. Anything else can wait until they are not at home.

This essay was written by Allison. She leads the Denver chapter of SAA and is a regular contributor to the StepTogether Message Board.