Co-Parenting: When Kids Believe a Lie

“Mom said if you would pay your child support we would have enough money to pay our bills and go on vacation,” 12 year old, Kaitlin expressed.

“Grrrrr,” groaned stepfamilies everywhere.

My own parents divorced when I was eight. As the oldest, I was placed smack dab in the middle of their raging financial battles. Then I married a man with 2 sons. I’ve also worked in divorce recovery ministry for 25 years watching ex-spouses “duke it out” over visitation, child support and financial issues.

Former spouses sometimes lie. I get it.

Constructive co-parenting requires learning how to respond when kids are told something that isn’t true. Money, visitation and the stepparent are typical targets.

With few exceptions, it’s important to understand that the following conversations need to be between parent and child, NOT the stepparent and child. That goes triple for the stepmom.

I know many readers are getting ready to send me a nasty e-mail. First, hear me out.

If a stepparent is present during the discussion, (the child may not share as openly if he/she is there), the parent should do the talking. Stepmoms, I can already feel your disagreement and discomfort. I understand that keeping silent when you know you could add so much to the conversation, is torture. However, in a stepfamily there is an essential reason why the parent must do the talking.

The child needs to know this information is coming from the biological parent, the one they are bonded to and trust. In addition, often the child has often been told that the stepparent is the reason why the problem is occurring, (such as no child support).

Hear this clearly,

If the stepmom does the talking it will solidify the child’s and former spouse’s conviction that dad is just a puppet on a string dancing to his wife’s demands.

It makes stepmom/stepparent the villain.

Here are a few “do’s and don’ts” that may be helpful. In an age appropriate manner with compassion, patience, and without anger, the parent should:

  • Help the child understand that this is an adult issue. “Kaitlin, I’m sorry that you have been drawn into the discussion about money between your mom and me. That’s an adult issue, not something a 12 year old should worry about.”
  • Present the root problem. “You know your mom and I have differing views about certain things. We don’t always agree. Unfortunately, that comes with a divorce sometimes.”
  • Identify with the pain. “I know that must be confusing and frustrating for you. It must be hard to know which parent is telling the truth when we say things that contradict each other. I know you didn’t ask to be from a divorced home, and I’m so sorry you are hurting.”
  • Speak truth “Kaitlin I want you to know that as your dad I love you and I will tell you the truth. I know your mom shares with you that I don’t pay the child support, but that just isn’t true. I’m not saying your mom is a bad person, I know she loves you. I don’t know why she is saying that, and I know you think your stepmom is the reason behind all of this. I need you to understand none of that is true.”
  • Offer proof “If you would like to look at my bank statements which reveal how much I’m paying your mom, I am willing to show them to you. If that makes you uncomfortable, you don’t need to look at them. But I want to offer a way to show you that I’m telling the truth. ”
  • Move on. “Kaitlin, I want you to know that as your dad I am paying my child support, and even more important that I will never abandon or leave you. I will always take care of your needs. Try not to worry about adult issues. If your mom brings them up, it’s okay to tell her you don’t want to talk about it.”
  • Offer affirmation. “Even though I’m remarried I’m always here if you want to talk about anything. Don’t be afraid to ask me, even if it’s uncomfortable. ”

Some children will want the proof, others will not. Sometimes merely offering is enough.

What if the spouse refuses to have a talk with his/her child? That changes the situation from a lying issue to a marriage issue. Getting to the root of why the spouse refuses to tell his/her child the truth is a necessary conversation.

There are unique circumstances where it’s advisable for the stepparent to comment. Situations such as a parent traveling or in the military might require a quicker reply.

Another time might be when the lie pops up during casual conversation. “My dad says you are the reason my parents got a divorced. You dated my mom when they were married,” Jeremy stated.

It’s advisable for the stepdad to calmly reply, “Jeremy, I’m sorry your dad said that to you because it isn’t true. Your mom and I didn’t know each other until a year after they divorced. When your mom gets home tonight let’s sit down and discuss it. In the meantime I’m glad you told me. Now I understand why you are so angry.”

You’ll never be able to restrain the words or actions of an ex-spouse. The wise co-parenting choice is to remain calm, pray often, speak truth, stand by your spouse, and let go of the things you cannot control.

Trust God. He frequently reveals the truth.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.

Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on stepfamilies, relationships, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with Ron Deal, 101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom and Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. Her website is