My Ex-Husband Has Turned My Children Against Me—What Should I Do?

Dear Newsweek,

I have an ongoing dilemma with my oldest child. I did not raise my kids. Believe me, if I knew when I left my abusive husband that he would get custody of my kids I would have let him go ahead and kill me. It's hard to say that. But this man told me I would never see our children if I left.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where he had money and I didn't. I ended up homeless for 6 years living in and out of shelters. I was supposed to have visitations every other weekend. Well, that didn't happen. Long story short my oldest child was always manipulating the situation during the divorce, despite only being 10 years old. She was very disrespectful, and always seems to get her way. Anytime I have tried to reach out to this child of mine, I get ridiculed and talk down to. Once, I was referred to as just an egg donor. This child and her best friend have constantly trolled me on Facebook, and I've had to block my own child on social media.

I haven't, however, blocked my other two children on Facebook, in hopes that they'll reach out someday. I wish I could have a positive mother and daughter relationship with my eldest but I don't believe it will ever happen. She has picked up her dad's narcissistic ways and I really believe she has bipolar tendencies.

difficult teenager
Difficult teenager. Stock Image. A woman has asked for help managing the behavior of her teenage daughter who lives with her ex-husband. Getty Images

I work in behavioral health by the way, so I can see the patterns in her behavior. She thinks she can walk all over everybody. The most recent incident happened when she found out I was friends with somebody in a bar, and she grabbed his phone and would not give it back. She found my phone number on his phone and called and started calling me names like fat a*s.

I am constantly being accused of things I haven't done and insulted by my daughter with the same insults my ex-husband used to use. Meanwhile, this child goes around telling people that there are warrants out for my arrest and that I wanted to leave her siblings out in the woods so the coyotes would eat them.

She will go to every length to stalk me on Facebook, and I believe she's called my work a couple of times. At this point, I'm not sure what to do.

I have been told by several people that if they know me, she will not have anything to do with them. I have tried to reach out to my other children so many times, but she intervenes each time.

All I ever wanted was to have a family, and my life has been nothing but a nightmare. I'm at my wit's end with this child and I have no other but to walk away from her completely. If she came to me now, I don't think I would be able to trust her, there's nothing to build on. I don't believe we can ever have a relationship. I can only hope that my other two children will come around one day.

Kate, Indiana

Your Daughters Abusive Behavior Is An Attempt At Communication

Wesley Du is a marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles.

Hello Kate,

This is a really tough situation and I am deeply sorry. The topic of divorce and how that affects both children and parents is a very sensitive issue as everyone has their own outlook based on their very personal point of view. With that said, I want to speak to you sensitively, honestly, and directly. Additionally, I can only speak to what little I know about you and your family so please take it with a grain of salt.

You are right that children pick up the tendencies of their parents (for better or worse). With that being said, one of the hardest things about being a parent is looking at one's self in the mirror to see how they could have been responsible for the issues at hand. Children act out when they are not being heard or seen, or because they do not have the ability or a safe space to truly express their pain or frustration.

Your child is communicating with you in the only way she knows how at the moment. I am so sorry that you are being hurt by her actions, but underneath her rude behavior is a lot of pain that she doesn't feel comfortable talking to you about. Underneath her disrespectful tendencies, is a very wounded child who probably feels like she has lost her mother in some way.

Children are honest. And if you're willing to hear your child speak about her grievances, there could be a possibility that the relationship could be salvaged. Your child is only reacting to the pain she is suffering from and as a parent, it's important to realize that and lead with your own vulnerability. I imagine you're hurting as well and I hope you can express that to your child too.

I hope this helps and again.... I can only speak to what little I know of you and your family situation. Wishing you only the best. I can see how much you want to be a good mother to your kids.

If You Take Steps Now You May Be Able To Keep Your Daughter In Your Life

Peter Lobl is a Clinical Psychologist specializing in relationship issues with adults and couples, with a private practice in New York City.

Hello Kate,

I read your piece, and as you wrote, what a nightmare! Perhaps however, submitting your story to this column reflects some hope, however small, that things could get better. For my part, I hope you'll find what I write below helpful.

Children can't always understand why adults do what they do, and struggle with expressing sadness and with recognizing their own emotional pain. So instead, they sometimes use anger to cope with difficult feelings.

That may be happening with your daughter: her mocking and insulting may express the anger she feels about your leaving. It may be her way of coping with feeling abandoned and rejected. She doesn't understand what you had to do to survive. She just knows that you left, and she is very angry about that.

By "walking away" I assume you mean emotionally walking away and cutting off contact with her. I would delay such a final decision right now. I suggest you focus instead on what you can control in your contacts with her.

emotional woman
An emotional situation. Stock Image. The reader thinks she may have to "walk away" from her children. Getty Images

When she says or does something that emotionally triggers you, don't say or do anything until the emotional pain within you subsides. I suggest you adopt this as your default response. But what if you choose to do or say something in response?

Think through carefully what you are going to do or say. Keep it short, sweet and true to who you are. Avoid lengthy explanations and commentary. That's just confusing to children, and they then often miss the main point. Avoid blaming your ex-husband even if he is to blame. Your daughter won't be able to hear the truth in it; she will just hear it as an effort to deflect responsibility. Your peace offering should also leave you feeling good about yourself and it should leave your daughter wondering if there's more to you than she realized. To do that, your peace offering needs to include empathy.

With your daughter, this peace offering might go something like this: "when I heard you thought I wanted to leave you out in the woods to be eaten by coyotes, I heard that you feel I abandoned you, rejected you and left you defenseless. I'm so sorry you feel that way. I never meant to hurt you. You're my daughter, and I love you, and I hope that one day you'll let me explain why I did what I did." Something like that.

Lastly, remember that no one can predict the future. And if that's true, then who can say that you won't one day have the kind of relationship you want with your children?

Newsweek's "What Should I Do?" gathers experts to advise a reader on an issue they're having in their personal life. If you have a WSID dilemma, let us know via We can ask experts for advice and your story could be featured on Newsweek.