Protecting your kids: The importance of keeping parental conflicts private

By , | Published On: May 21, 2024

Many of you may have recently watched or heard about The Roast of Tom Brady on Netflix. In the special, Brady’s divorces from Gisele Bündchen, with whom he shares two kids, Benjamin (14) and Vivian (11), and Bridget Moynahan, the mother of his oldest child, Jack (16) were part of the storyline.

Several days later, on “The Pivot Podcast,” Brady revealed that while he enjoyed the jokes about him, he didn’t like how they affected his children. The jokes targeted the mothers of his children, which presumably had a negative impact. Brady went on to say that he learned lessons from this experience, which he believes will make him a better parent.

Certainly, a more considerate approach would have been to ensure certain topics were off-limits, especially those belittling the mothers of his children.

Whether you’re going to say something privately or in the public domain, think about how your words will affect your children and your relationship with them. Consider the long-lasting impact on the people they love — in Brady’s case, the mothers of his children — and refrain from sharing hurtful, embarrassing and non-humorous comments.

This is sometimes easier said than done, and you may need to be intentional about changing your behaviors.

In the legal context of divorce or custody, speaking negatively about the other parent or including your children in adult conversations can be a game changer — especially in custody matters. There’s almost nothing more harmful to a child custody case than the court learning that one parent has disparaged the other parent or involved the children in their disputes. Kids don’t want to hear bad things about their parents and certainly don’t want to be pulled into their parents’ battles. They will resent you for it. Making these mistakes can result in losing ground in a legal tug-of-war.

To help you navigate these challenges when involved in a divorce or custody matter, here are five things to always keep in mind to help you protect your kids.

5 ways to keep parental conflicts private

1.     Watch your words

Avoid saying or writing things in text or email you wouldn’t want to appear on the front page of the Washington Post. 

2.     Fake it until you make it

Say only nice things or nothing at all. If you think something will upset someone, keep it to yourself. There’s no need to express it out loud.

3.     Be emotionally generous

Keep your children out of conflicts between parents. Don’t try to get them to align with you. It will backfire, and they will resent you – if not now, then in the future. (We’ve seen this way too many times).

4.     Don’t enlist your kids to keep secrets

Don’t ask your kids to keep secrets from the other parent, no matter how small it seems.  Doing so is stressful and upsetting for the kids, and when the other parent finds out (which inevitably happens) it breaks trust. If you feel the need to keep a secret, reconsider your actions and behaviors. Why are you asking a child to keep a secret, and how can you address the situation rather than compound the problem by involving your children?

5. Remember that your kids are always listening.

Kids pick up on much more than we think. Even if you believe that you’re engaged in a private conversation, kids often (inadvertently or intentionally) overhear conversations, pick up on body language/social cues or read your text messages. Be mindful of what you say about your co-parent.

There’s a saying in family law: “Love your children more than you hate your spouse.” It may be simplistic but the message is a good reminder in difficult moments. Be kind, thoughtful and empathetic toward your children. This includes being kind to, or at a minimum neutral towards, their other parent. Your children will respect you and feel secure with you, knowing that you care enough about them to leave them out of your battles with their other parent.

Jonathan Dana and Jennifer Davison are family law attorneys and partners of Tucker PLLC. For more information about navigating relationship dynamics, email, or schedule a consultation here.