My hubs said the most profound thing to me.
When he was a kiddo, he had a Youth Pastor that was lecturing the kids on responsibilities of fatherhood. He told the boys the following:
The most important thing a father can do for his children is show them how much he loves their mother.
I actually stopped what I was doing and immediately pondered what just came out of his mouth. As far as I am concerned, he (and his Pastor) are BRILLIANT.
If born into a traditional family setting with one mother and one father, as children we come into this world loving both of our parents. Sure girls may tend to gravitate towards their fathers and boys tend to gravitate towards their mothers at different times in the growth cycle, but nonetheless children love BOTH of their parents. Even in documented cases where one or both parents are abusive to their children either physically, emotionally or god forbid sexually ~ children will still love their parents. They are biologically designed to do so.
When a parent is cruel to the other parent, particularly in front of their children, a child has no other option but to defend the person they love. It's no different with your siblings quite frankly - I have often said to others "It's okay for ME to be mad at my brother but no WAY anyone else can!" It's a protective gene we have for those that we love. We never want to see them harmed in any way unless of course they have hurt us themselves (which is an entirely different blog).
I reflected back on this and my own life and hubs is so right. My parents divorced when I was 16 and my mother never said a single, solitary bad thing about my father to me. In fact she did quite the opposite - if I expressed anger towards my dad around her she would plead with me to patient, to be understanding, to try to work it out with him. She loved him until the day that she died with every fiber of her being. Maybe because she just did, or maybe it was because he was the father of her children. I won't know the answer to that.
I have said a zillion times on here and to anyone that will listen that I absolutely DESPISE my ex. I wish I would have never married that man. It was such a huge mistake. I was to young to understand that I already had Bubba, I didn't need to marry him just to make it look better. But I will say this ~ as much as I hated him, as much anger as I had for his lackadaisical way of being a father to my son, I always, always defended him to my son when he didn't show up. I made excuse after excuse trying to protect him in the eyes of my son. I could see how desperately my son wanted his father's love and attention and it tore me up when he disappointed him time and time again. But I just sat back and let be what was going to be. I will never, ever forgive my ex for the long list of crap he has done to my son but I am still saddened for my son. As an adult now, my son does not speak to his father. He severed his relationship with him on his own accord to protect his emotional and physical safety. But it wasn't because of me.
Well, wait - I'll take that back. Maybe it was partially because of me. His father repeatedly thrashed me. 4th wife has even addressed me as "that whore" to my son. Big mistake. Because my son loves ME, too. And you can't make kids choose. If you do, you won't like the consequences that come your way.
Both of my sons are so incredibly lucky. My hubs and I are certainly not without faults. We have made marital mistakes. We have argued in front of our children a time or two. But my boys know all the way down to their core that my hubs loves me unconditionally. And by extension, they will learn to become wonderful fathers and husbands. Bubba is already the most amazing father and will never, ever be hurtful to nugget. He respects my daughter in law so much and loves her unconditionally - something little nugget will no doubt see and understand clearly. And thus the cycle will continue.
To all my friends going through divorce or coparenting afterwards, try to take in those words above. It doesn't really matter if you are a mom or a dad - just remember that the other person is incredibly important to your children. Remember that your children unconditioanlly love their other parent. Be kind in your words about them. Overkill with kindness. Let them see that without their other parent, they wouldn't have become the little ones that they are, even if you don't like your ex. Show them the best example you can despite your circumstances. Your children will appreciate it later in life, I promise. And if their parent is a jackass, they will figure that out as well. In the end, they will respect you for being the bigger person and always being there for them.
And to the step moms and dads that may be reading, one final piece of advice. Tread very, very lightly with your stepkids about their other parent. If you trash their mom or dad (your spouse's ex), they will grow to despise you. Remember, they love their parents. They are designed to protect them. If you try to interrupt the general flow of the biological p's it will eventually bite you in the ass. Oh you may win little battles, but when the kids get old enough to figure out your antics you won't be on their Top 10 Favorite People list. In fact, you'll be on the People to Avoid list for the rest of your life.