War of the Gosselins: What We Can Learn From Public Divorce Battles

As I clicked on CNN.com this morning, I saw this startling headline: Jon Gosselin: ‘I despise’ Kate

Enough is Enough is right.

Enough is Enough is right.

In the article and short video clip, Jon claims that he was a victim of Kate’s emotional and verbal abuse and that he was “beaten down” by Kate. She also forced him to disconnect from his family. In the longer interview, which airs tonight, Jon states that he despises Kate. I won’t be watching the rest of it.

Like a lot of people, I can’t help but follow the demise of Kate and Jon Gosselin’s marriage. Perhaps it’s because their family drama continues to make headline news and front page covers, even months after they broke the news that they had separated. Now it seems like the war of words between the two have escalated to full-blown attacks. Whether or not Jon was a victim of emotional abuse is not for any of us to judge. Jon and Kate may have brought us into their home every week, but no one will ever know the full truth except for the two of them. What we do know is this – disparaging comments have been made about each other by both parties.

Jon and Kate are certainly not the only celebrities to publicly display their disaffection for the mother or father of their children. The divorce battle between Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin or Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen are somewhat notorious in the “what-not-to-do” category. Most recently, Anne Heche called her ex-husband a “lazy ass” on The Late Show with David Letterman while Travis Barker tweeted “my Babies (sic) mama is a piece of sh*t.”

Is all this public airing of dirty divorce laundry merely an attempt to boost ratings for their shows? Is it a transparent attempt to secure public sympathy? Or is it simply because the famous parents involved don’t quite understand the ramifications of their loose lips. I have a feeling that there is always a PR person in the background smirking with glee when a famous client unleashes private issues to the press. After all, for people who rely on publicity, bad press is better than no press. Whatever the motives are, there is a fundamental problem with all this bashing and trashing and it affects no one more than their children.

One of the biggest issues with divorce is how you handle the break-up with your children. It’s fairly simple, really. Don’t trash-talk the mother or father of your children. During a bitter separation or divorce, one might understandably need to vent. In some cases, parents vent to their children as a motive for them to take sides or to understand their reasons for the divorce. However, talking negatively about another parent isn’t hurting the other parent. It’s really only hurting the children.

When children hear something negative about a parent, they will often interpret it as something about themselves. Children are creations of their parents and they are a reflection of them. When a child hears that their father is a deadbeat loser or their mother is a controlling bitch, a child may wonder if they are as well. Hurtful words about parents are internalized and the children caught in a tug-of-words between parents will often become sad, angry, anxious, or depressed. They may act out. They may join forces with one parent and turn against the other. It is often devastating for a child to hear words that shatter their perception of mom or dad. And a shattered perception is not always capable of being repaired.

When Jon and Kate announced their plans to divorce, they both stated that their priority is the well-being of their children. It’s hard for viewers to take those words seriously when recent articles and interviews are filled with scathing attacks about one another.  Of course, most families going through a divorce aren’t headlined on CNN or People Magazine and they certainly aren’t sitting down for a nationwide television interview. Famous or not, it’s important to keep in mind that our words are powerful to the people we love. In the long run, it doesn’t really matter to us what happened between Jon and Kate and it certainly doesn’t affect us. But it does matter in the lives of their children.

Whether you’re going through a tough time in your partnership or have been divorced for years, just remember to keep things respectful. It’s tough for people to remember the good stuff when there doesn’t seem to be anything good left within a relationship. However difficult, it’s important to highlight the positive things about your partner or former partner to your children. Keep the negative stuff out of those discussions with your children. The children of divorce have enough tough stuff to deal with as it is. It is a confusing, painful, anxious, and sad time for most kids and those feelings can linger for years.  In some cases, they never go away. It’s also, obviously, an extremely tough time for the parents. However, it’s up to the parents to keep things civilized and respectable. And if one needs to vent, well, that’s why we have good friends and therapists.