Stop Feeling Guilty for Your Ex’s Bad Behavior

“But, I chose him as their father, so it’s kind of my fault.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth I realized I was dealing with a serious problem.

When you’re in a marriage, long-term relationship, or share a child with someone, you connect in ways that you simply don’t with other people in your life. When you end a relationship with your child’s father, there are several things that are hard to let go of: The companionship, the joint effort that comes with raising a child, maybe even the love that once existed. But, there’s one thing I’ve noticed about single moms—myself the worst culprit—that we struggle with letting go of the most: false guilt.

When we take on the load of raising our children on our own (or even with shared custody) we tend to accept guilt for behavior that should lay squarely on our ex’s shoulders. Over my time as a single mom I began to notice this about myself. If my ex behaved badly, I wouldn’t excuse his behavior, but more often than not I found myself apologizing to others for it, and going home filled with guilt because of what he’d done.

I didn’t want this to be my story. I didn’t want this to be my children’s story. And so I felt the need to compensate for the things I didn’t feel were right on his side. Even when I clearly had no part in the behavior. Guilt was the one emotion I couldn’t let go of.

Guilt when they didn’t do what they said they were going to.

Guilt when they chose not to support their child financially.

Guilt when they chose to badmouth me undeservedly.

Guilt when they ignored, berated, or harassed my children and I couldn’t do anything to change it.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14

Living that way not only hurts us, but our kids. Because carrying guilt around like that—especially guilt that is not ours to carry—weighs us down and holds us back from being the best mother we can be to our children. The truth is we only have control over one person’s behavior in this world: our own. And, fretting about what others are doing is not an effective way to handle it.

What is effective?

Laying that guilt down. Moving forward in life. Beginning to see that person’s behavior for what it is and simply choose to either ignore it, or remove ourselves and our children from it as much as possible.

Take the focus off of the problem-maker, and direct it to other positive areas that you do have control over:

  • Set up healthy boundaries and rules ahead of time for what you are not willing to accept.
  • Establish consequences (whether you vocalize these to the other parent or not) and then be consistent with them.
  • Begin to build a healthy family. Show your kids that while the family has changed, the one that you and they are a part of is going to thrive, have fun together, and be there for each other.

Do what you can to make the situation a good one, as far as it depends on you. And, sweet girl, let go of the guilt. Your child deserves a healthy mom who lives with a clean conscious and can focus her efforts on them, not someone who doesn’t deserve it.


Laura Polk is a single mom, author, writer, speaker, and friend. She has written for magazines, such as Focus on the Family, Christian Parenting Today, and Crosswalk. She is author of the upcoming release The Single Mom Challenge. She is a graduate of She Speaks and Christian Communicators. For more information, visit

TLSMFinalThe Life of a Single Mom is a national, faith-based, nonprofit that exists to see that no single mom walks alone. Our primary focus is in helping churches and communities launch single mom’s ministries and have done so more than 1,500 times! Our support groups connect 71,000 single mothers each year to a local church.   We are a one-stop shop for all things single mom ministry related. For more information, visit