Your ex but still their dad after divorce

Kristi (@divorcetohappy) truly believes that growing up is harder for children of divorce. She and I both agree that having two sets of rules , one set for your home and one set for your ex’s home, is just one thing that makes their lives more challenging. I’m not sure there’s anyway to avoid to this – my ex and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on all the parenting rules when we were married! But there is one very small thing you can do that Kristi thinks makes it easier for kids. Here’s Kristi:


A lot of people, when they get divorced, they call their ex-spouse by his name. When they talk to their children, they say, “You need to tell Tom this.” I never refer to my ex by his name. He is their dad and I call him their dad all the time. I think that says to my kids that I respect that he is their dad. He always will be their dad and they know then he’s never going to be replaced, even if my fiancé moves in here. I’ve done that since the day we moved out, even on the days when I didn’t like him at all. He’s still dad.

Your children pick up on things like that. Any kid that’s been through divorce, they either come out of it and they’re OK or they implode. I’ve seen the kids that make it and I’ve seen the kids that just struggle every single day with it and a lot of it has to do with the moms.

When I was a child, I’ll be honest, mom was the person that is the emotional link to life. Dads are strong, dads are cool but moms are the ones that keep everything together. We’re the glue and if the glue unravels and becomes a tormented, angry bitch from divorce, what’s happening to the kids is probably a direct mimic of what’s happening to her.


I like Kristi’s decision to refer to her ex as “dad” – it seems such a small concession and yet I bet it speaks volumes to the kids. I think I usually refer to my ex as “dad” to my kids but I know sometimes it’s “your dad.” I’m going to work on dropping the “your.” How do you refer to your ex when you’re talking to your children about him?

I think in many cases, ex’s turn out to be better dads after divorce than during the marriage. I’m reminded of Carolyn’s story and in particular that she said her ex was “a lousy husband but a great dad.” I do believe a key factor in successful parenting is looking for your ex’s strengths and that may mean letting go of a lot of history. Something that’s not always easy to do especially when you’re the one enforcing homework and time at Dad’s is fun activities.

Something else to think about is Parental Alienation SyndromeThe Divorce Encouragist (one of my favorite divorce bloggers)  has an informative post about this.

Kristi has a very active Facebook page – I recommend you check it out and fan it or we suppose to say “like” it now with the latest Facebook changes?

  • debra

    Beyond calling my son's Dad 'Dad', I also never call him 'my ex'. I always refer to him as my son's Dad, even when talking with others. I always thought that 'ex' was such a negative term, and I didn't want my son to hear his father being referred to negatively from anyone.

    • SinceMyDivorce

      We're going to put "ex" over with all those other negative words about divorce – like broken home and broken family. Anyone got a good suggestion for an alternative? Former spouse or former husband just sounds too formal and long.

  • Glad Doggett

    I love this post. Parents of divorce often put down or insult their ex in from of the kids, which leads to suffering, low self-esteem and loyalty binds that twist the kids into knots. I was a child of divorce who often heard negativity about my father. I absorbed it like a sponge, turned it inward and hated him and myself for a long time.

    As a new divorced mom, I was not careful of my language. I was confused, afraid, angry and new at divorce culture. Then, he remarried, and I was faced with a whole new set of things to learn and get used to. My kids tell me now (they are in their late teens) that I was not the only bad guy. They heard from their dad and his wife what a jerk I was too.

    Ultimately, our comments about one another split my kids up inside emotionally.They suffered because we "adults" couldn't handle our bitterness. I learned that it is not my kids' business or concern to know or fix my problems with my ex. They didn't cause the issues and they surely can't fix them. I regret I was emotionally struggling and immature back then. We all were.

    Thank goodness we've all grown up a lot since then.

    • SinceMyDivorce

      I can totally see where a child could feel torn by a parent's negative negative comments – if they've had a great day with their dad and had fun and then come to hear mom moaning about him being late or not paying child support, that child may feel guilty about having enjoyed themselves or may feeling that you think they're bad because they enjoyed being with their dad.

  • Ericka

    I really like your article. I was married but now I am a single mom and I did not want this at all. I grew up traveling to two homes and having the two rule process. That wasn't fun. I indeed did not want that for my child but here I am. I like the whole "dad" thing. I do that but I never knew the importance and impact of it for my child. I will have to check out the other blogs. Thank you this was very helpful and encouraging.

    • SinceMyDivorce

      Hi Ericka – I'm curious – would you ask your child how he or she feels about you calling your ex "dad" or "ex" and let us know what the answer is? I'm going to ask my kids what they think…

  • @aprilabtbalance

    It wouldn't occur to me to stop referring to him as their dad! But I have to keep the "your" in front of it, because we spend so much time with my parents that they're used to me talking about my own dad!

    • SinceMyDivorce

      Oh … now that would get confusing :)

  • tsquest

    I have always called my ex "Daddy" to my daughters. Heck, I even call him "Daddy" when we're around each other! I never thought about it before though.

    Great post, as always.

  • amber

    We call my son's dad by his name because he refers to my husband as his dad. His dad is not around and my son wants to call him by his name. When my son is with his dad he calls him dad. But when my son is with us he calls his dad by his name. When my son's friends are around he tells them my husband is his dad, but he calls him by his first name. And that is fine with us. We know who raises him and who he considers his dad! Sometimes my son will call my husband dad when he wants to but he says he forgets and calls him by his name. I now have a new child and we call my husband daddy for her and by his name for my son. I do not talk bad about my ex my son has figured that out on his own.

    • SinceMyDivorce

      Great perspective Amber. I can see where having a step father would make "dad" confusing. It sounds like you've worked out a solution that works. I also agree that children do figure out their parents' bad character traits themselves. Wonder what my children would say if asked them about me??

    • SinceMyDivorce

      Great perspective Amber. I can see where having a step father would make "dad" confusing. It sounds like you've worked out a solution that works. I also agree that children do figure out their parents' bad character traits themselves. Wonder what my children would say if asked them about me??

  • amber

    My mother never said bad things about my dad either and I figured out what a bad person he was on my own! So I do the same for my son. Sometimes my son will ask questions about why he doesn't call or send him presents. I tell him to ask him so he called him and did. His dad told him he was a bad dad and would try harder.. Things haven't changed no birthday present (he said he sent one but it never got here) no phone calls. So my son knows the truth. My son is lucky he has a man like my husband to treat him as his own and love him and teach him things. I never had that growing up. My mom's husband treated me like an outcast because I was the only child that was not his. I would never allow this with my son. I think it is pretty sad when my 10 year old son has to ask a 31 yr old man why he doesn't call or know anything about him or send him presents. He does not expect a lot a small gift would do. He is not stingy!

  • amber

    His dad actually told him he forgot to call him at christmas. Who forgets their kids at christmas?? He has two other children so you would think seeing his other kids would make him remember his son. Oh well. I do the best I can do at raising him and trying not to speek badly of his dad. I wish he had a better relationship with him. I tried to be nice to him and his wife and asked if we could do joint parties for my child's sake and he said no, I hate you and will never be your friend. So there you have it! Done trying!

    • SinceMyDivorce

      It is sad when a parent treats their child badly and it's hurtful to watch. There's also comes a point when trying to change that, is fruitless and causes more pain. Your son is lucky to have you watching out for him. Sounds like he's in a great place with you and your husband. Thanks for sharing.

  • Loris_LOLz

    Kristi, I commend you for giving your husband that respect and I commend your husband for being that great dad that all children deserve. It's hard in my situation because unfortunately my husband was not a great dad. You have me thinking here and I'm realizing that I call their father, 'Your father'. Hmmm…it isn't warm and cozy as dad, but it is what it is.

    That last sentence is so totally true and well put. Moms are the glue. I am angry, and even though my situation is different than yours, I still need to be mindful. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Sonia

    I go with the classic "Your Father" when I have to refer to him. It's so much better than "That Lying, Cheating Bastard," don't you think? My policy is that I avoid all mention of my stbx unless the kids bring him up.

    • SinceMyDivorce

      Yes … much better … I can just picture a young child talking in class telling everyone he/she is going to the lying, cheating, bastard for the weekend … mmh, wonder what the teacher would say to that? LOL

      You're going to have to clue me in on what "stbx" stands for.

      • Sonia

        Sorry! stbx = Soon-To-Be Ex

        We're still married although I no longer see or speak to him due to the aforementioned lying and cheating.

        It's hard to imagine how we would EVER be on civil terms after all the revelations of this year. Luckily the children are old enough to know the score and they know exactly who they are visiting when they go see their faithless father and his amoral doxy.

        • SinceMyDivorce

          Should have got stbx! I think it does makes it easier when your children have an understanding of the reality of the situation.

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  • mightbeatranny

    i refer to him as little as possible.  i want to call him “asshole”, but refer to him as “your dad”.  He still refers to me as “mommy”, which drives me nuts.  i’m not his mommy, i’m not his anything anymore.

    i don’t understand why so many women think they have to create a fictional character of the “dad’ person.  if the dad is a poor father all you’ve done is point out what is missing in the childs life.  think about it like this.  if you knew your child REALLY wanted a bike, and you couldn’t afford one, would you go around saying things to your child like, “did you see that kids bike!?  wow, what an awesome bike!”  or “you know, a kid and their bike have a really important relationship.  there’s nothing more special than having a bike”. or how about, “i would get you a bike if i could.  i really, really want you to have one.  maybe something will work out and you can ride a bike for a day or 2 next month.  or next summer maybe…”  its cruel.  “dad” is what he is.  if he sucks; mom needs to admit that and let the kid know that DAD sucks; not the kid.  dad is not an example of loving you.

    when my ex calls (maybe once a month) no one wants to take his calls.  and i’m glad.  i hope i don’t raise my daughters to jump to answer a call from someone who abuses them physically and emotionally, ignores them for weeks at a time and puts business, fitness and his personal life above them on the priority scale.  only 1 of my 3 daughters still calls their father “dad”.  yes they feel ripped off in the dad department.  but they know that it’s his loss because they are awesome and he is out of wack.

    this weekend was his visitation. he bought them iPhones.  no food in the house.  NONE.  but they have iPhones.  the daughter that still calls him “dad” is his favorite,  she has learned that because he’s a poor father (and he knows this) she can manipulate him into buying her things. she’s 10, and thats what she’s learned from her father.  lots of lots of therapy ahead…

    • Anonymous

      I absolutely agree that you shouldn’t make your ex out to be something he’s not (and that cuts both ways) but I do believe that statements should be age-appropriate and factual and not editorializing, no name calling. You can empathize with how a child feels. In time, children will see the shortcomings for themselves. They will also see strengths and probably better than you can. BTW – these comments are not directly to you specifically but if he doesn’t see what your 10-year-old is doing, then he’s the fool but you already knew that.

      • mightbeatranny

        i had to pick the 10 year up from school today because she threw up 7 times.  the reason, the nurse told me, is that she had no snack (dad forgot), no breakfast (no food in the house), no dinner last night (ditto), and was so hungry that she wolfed down her hot lunch (i had put money in her account, he sent no lunch and no $) fast enough to make her sick. 

        and yes he is a fool. 

        the good news is that my middle daughter has learned great coping skills from her new therapist and is doing really well.  we have cut down her therapy sessions from 1 a week to 1 a month (more if she needs it). but i’m really happy with her progress.

        • Anonymous

          I feel like I should know this but are you going for full custody? What does your daughter say? Does she still want to go stay with her father?

          I’m glad to hear your middle daughter is progressing – therapy is really worth it when you can find a good therapist that your child can relate to.

  • Anonymous

    I was a great dad, and loved my family and my wife and child. It was the most important thing to me. After finding my wife having had an affair with a high school friend on facebook, she hit the divorce button immediately, and was intent on getting away as soon as possible. No therapy, no counseling, nothing. She, being of little affectionate nature, and a huge spender, left me with huge credit debts, as well as having to find a place to live, and hopefully see my wonderful daughter more than that of an inmate at a state prison. Having had my family life destroyed by a cheating woman, with no clue, no indication that anything was wrong, aside from a hundred phone calls on the cell phone bill every month to ONE number in particular, i suddenly found myself in the position of part time dad. Three months later, shes involved with a completely different man, and has told my daughter about him, because apparently, its that serious of a relationship. (I wonder if he knows that).
    If you were recently divorced from a cheating lousy wife, then would you seek to explain to your kid what happened? Or would you absorb some of the fault the kid will look to find, simply to maintain the standing of your ex-spouse in your kids eyes? I didnt deserve any of this, had no idea it was about to happen, and suddenly everything I held dearest to my heart is stripped away, because of the actions of my most trusted wife. Now I am a shell of a man. The most important thing to me is gone. I am a part time Dad, awaiting the day that my ex-wife finds some other man to slip into the role for the other part of the time.
    Meanwhile, she is right across the street from my new house, parked in the neighbors driveway, sleeping with the newest mr. right.
    And some people wonder why dads go crazy sometimes…

    • Mandy Walker

      @mastedon2 – I do absolutely understand why you’re upset. Although you don’t mention how old your child is, I would urge you to explain what has happened in an age-appropriate manner. Your child doesn’t need to know all the details and he/she doesn’t need you venting. This is about what is in the best interests of your child. Venting to her serves has no value.

      You say you are “a shell of a man” – this is a time to grieve for what you have lost, and a time for introspection to understand the choices you made but it is also a time for growth, taking what you’ve learned and finding happiness and fulfillment again. You owe it to yourself to be the best you can be. You don’t say how long it’s been since your divorce but this does take time and “letting go” and it’s not easy.

      You may share custody of your child with your ex but please, you are NOT a part-time Dad – being a parent is a constant and it doesn’t stop when your child spends time with your ex. Being there for her may be the constant that helps your daughter through this.

      BTW – I do think it’s unkind/inconsiderate of your ex to date your neighbor.

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