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From The Globe and Mail:

On one of his weekend visits with his father, Duane tells him: “Hey Dad, Mom says you and her got a divorce because you used to get real mad all the time, and that you were really mean to her. She says if it weren’t for the way that you treated her, you’d still be married.”

Anyone who is divorced knows there’s nothing that creates such passion as when your ex twists the story and casts you as the villain. They are telling the history. But to you it is a history built of lies.

Duane’s father fumes to himself, “I can’t believe she’s feeding him this poison. She’s so insecure, she takes every chance to put me down. The truth is it was exactly the opposite. She was impossible. She was the one who had these constant tantrums. I can’t let Duane have this totally distorted view of what went on. I have to set the record straight.”

Why do we care so much? Because it’s intolerable that our kids would think badly of us, especially in comparison to this other person – our ex-partner – with whom we split because, at best, we hated them.

“Mom and Dad got a divorce because Dad was an immature jerk.”

How can you not worry that your son is judging you? It is your nightmare. “He is taking sides – her side. And it was not the way she says at all. I can’t just let it stand this way. It is so unfair. I must set the record straight.”

This reaction is 100 per cent normal, but if you act on this very powerful urge and explain your version of events, it will only cause more hurt. Teenagers caught in the middle of this blame game always lose. Telling them your side of the divorce is simply an extension of the fight between you and your ex-spouse. It is never about your child’s best interest. All they want is the freedom to choose to like both parents.

We ask Duane, “How do you feel when your Mom tells you this stuff?”

“I feel bad. Mad at Dad from what Mom is telling me. But I never like hearing about it. It always upsets me. I don’t like hearing bad stuff about Dad. I don’t like feeling that I have to take sides. I have enough to worry about.”

As hard as it may be, don’t try to defend yourself. Don’t get into get into the particulars of the marriage. Don’t counterattack. The best strategy? Stay neutral.

“Your mother and I got a divorce because we did not get along.”

“But what about what Mom said?”

“Your mother and I got a divorce because we did not get along.”

This is where any parent reading my advice who has been in this situation will go berserk: “But you have to say something. You can’t let Duane go forward with this totally wrong opinion.”

Actually, your teen will be happy that you’re not getting into it. It will be a relief.

“The truth is I don’t want to hear anybody’s side. It just make me crazy.”

There is a distinct advantage to staying above the fray, but this benefit will only become apparent over time. The thing is, as kids get older, they get more distance and perspective from what went on. They come to see the world through more sophisticated eyes. What transpired when they were kids often looks very different in hindsight.

For example, if we were to ask Duane six years from now whether he thought that it was important that he knew the true story of his parents’ divorce we might well get the following response:

“Not really. I didn’t care whose fault it was. And I don’t care now. What I wanted was not to hear about it. What I wanted was to have as good a relationship with each of them as I could. I certainly didn’t want to have to take sides about whose fault the divorce was. Mom always said how Dad would lose his temper about everything and that he was impossible to live with. But when I would say anything to him about it, he really didn’t say anything or defend himself. I always felt that with Mom it was always that she wanted something from me. Thinking back, I definitely liked Dad’s approach better. He was way more mature about it. I still love Mom and all. But I do think that her telling me all that stuff was more about her needs, rather than anything that was best for me. Because it wasn’t. It just messed with my head.”

This is how the great majority of children of divorce think.

My advice: Don’t get into it. Don’t set the record straight. But I recognize that this is really, really hard advice to follow.

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books and runs www.anthonywolf.com.