This is triangulation, the purpose being to vent anxiety, not to gain insight. The worst kind involves a parent who complains to a child about the other parent, creating a lot of insecurity and anxiety in the child.
Children generally want connection with their parents, even if that entails becoming a confidant in this way. But they pay for a parent’s emotional venting with a growing disrespect for the complaining parent and feelings of guilt for betraying the other parent.
If I were the other parent, I would respond to the child with something like the following: “When people are hurt or disappointed, they sometimes lash out at the person they are hurt by. They tend to focus on and exaggerate the negative qualities of that person. You can tell your mom/dad that it’s painful to hear those complaints, but remember that no one is perfect. Here are a few things to be clear about though: This is not your fault. It is not your job to fix the problem or to console anyone. This will get easier. And most of all, we will both always love you.”
One of the greatest things we can teach our children is the ability to withstand anxiety. We can best do this by practicing it ourselves—feeling difficult emotions and yet hanging on to both our compassion and our reason, by understanding why the ex-spouse is lashing out and speaking openly without blame and attack.
by Alison Poulsen