Most everyone would agree that it is a good idea to shield children from most parental conflict. Nevertheless, there are many times during and after divorces when children get drawn into family disputes and end up in the middle, with both sides pulling on them. The following is a brief list of 5 “Don’ts” and a “Do” that may help avoid such situations.
1. Don’t ask the children to decide. In the heat of family disagreements, it may seem simple or fair to just let the children decide where they want to live, or what visitation schedule they want to follow, etc.; parents may feel that’s like having a neutral person make the decision. Unfortunately, that puts a lot of pressure on the children and sets them up for guilt feelings and/or angry parents.
2. Don’t disparage the other parent or his/her family. This can be by direct comments made to a child or it can be done indirectly, such as comments made to others, but overheard by a child. It can also include body language and gestures that indicate disapproval or other bad opinions of the other parent. A child will likely take such actions or words as an attack on him or her.
3. Don’t argue around the kids. Disagreements are normal, even in well-functioning, intact families. Discussions and arguments between adults should take place just between adults, if at all possible. The kids don’t need to be drawn in or manipulated by the situations.
4. Don’t ask the children about the other parent. It’s not necessary for you to know everything that goes on when your children are with the other parent. Children will often tell about things they enjoyed or about big events, good or bad. Children don’t like being grilled about what happens when they visit their other parent.
5. Don’t use the children as messengers. If you want to send a message to the other parent, talk directly by phone or in person, send a letter or send an email. Kids aren’t always dependable anyway. And if you send a message by the children and then the other parent reacts badly when the message is delivered, the children are likely going to feel that they caused the problem.
Finally, something you can Do:
Do take a co-parenting class, preferably with the other parent. There are several good classes available in this area in person and even on line. I recommend the “in-person” class because you can learn more and get specific questions answered.
If you can avoid the temptation to put your children in the middle of adult disputes, your children will be happier and you should have better relationships with them (and maybe the other parent as well). If both parents will take a co-parenting class, all of this advice may be unnecessary!