As children get older, they often increasingly start to resemble their parent of the same gender (or even the opposite gender). Beyond the physical resemblance, they may begin to use phrases or develop habits of one or both parents – often without realizing it.
This can be particularly annoying and even triggering when your child reminds you of the spouse you’ve divorced. Your child likely isn’t doing this intentionally. It may be out of habit or something they picked up during their custody time with their mom or dad. It may be their unconscious way of being close to that parent when they’re living away from them.
You may know all of this intellectually. However, you may still respond negatively in the moment when your child says or does something that reminds you of your ex.
What should — and shouldn’t — you do?
The key is to resist that immediate negative response. Think about why it bothers you. Remind yourself that this isn’t your ex. It’s your child.
If your child is displaying behavior that needs to be curbed (like refusing to take out the garbage or parroting an insult they’ve heard their other parent lob at you or someone else), deal with the behavior. However, there’s no need to mention your co-parent.
Comments like, “You’re just as lazy as your dad” or “If you keep eating like that, you’re going to look like your mother” can hurt your child doubly. You’re insulting them and their other parent.
Maybe your ex is encouraging your child to do or say something that they can no longer get away with. However, it’s important not to let that interfere with your relationship with your child.
How can you stop yourself from being triggered?
Chances are that your child isn’t trying to anger or annoy you by acting or speaking like your ex. However, if you find every reminder of them triggering, you’re not alone. This can happen long after a couple has gone their separate ways — especially if they still have to co-parent.
It may be beneficial to your own healing — and your child’s — to talk with a therapist. Your family law attorney can likely recommend someone with experience helping people cope with the aftermath of divorce.