Every divorcing parent should make it their top priority to keep their children from getting caught in the middle of the conflict of their divorce. The following tips and thoughts are from James Roberts, RSW, a licensed social worker in Missouri and Kansas and family therapist in Kansas. Mr. Roberts practices with Madison Avenue Psychological Services in Kansas City Missouri.
Parents who are either in the middle of a divorce, thinking about divorce, or already divorced should pay careful attention to the following ways that parents put their children directly in the middle of the conflict, and do their best to avoid them!
1. Bad Mouthing
One of the most hurtful things a divorce parent can do to a child is to criticize the child's other parent in the child's presence. Statements such as "Your father caused our divorce", or "if it weren't for your mother, we'd still be a family," are common examples of "bad-mouthing".
2. Forcing a Child To Choose
It is harmful to pressure a child to "take sides" in a dispute between the divorced parents. Children have a right to their own thoughts and feelings about the divorce and deserve to know they will be loved by both parents regardless of the opinions and feelings they have. If parents are in conflict over custody and children are facing a decision about which home to live in outside professionals should be called upon for help.
A parent who asks a child questions about the other parent's personal life is asking that child to become involved in the parents' conflicts. Children in this situation may end up feeling they have betrayed a parent they love.
4. Making the Child the Messenger
Parents make their children do a parent's job when they ask their children to carry messages to the other parent. Children learn indirect ways to communicate when asked to be messengers and may feel guilt over having to assume adult responsibilities for their parents' communication.
5. Sabotaging the Child's Routine
When parents fail to give a child medication, fail to follow through on discipline imposed by the other parent, or bend rules on bed-time, diet, or curfews out of anger for the other parent, they are involving the child in parental conflicts. conflicted parents frequently take their children to medical professionals without consulting the other parents as a way of acting out unresolved divorce disputes. This practice places parental conflict above the child's medical well-being.
6. Compensating for the Other Parent's Failures
One divorced parent may view the other parent as a poor parent for being "too lenient", "too strict", "too involved", or "not involved enough". Such parents often try to compensate for the other parent's "failures' by being the opposite kind of parent. Children in such situations suffer by not having parents who are using a balanced approach to rearing children.
7. Making a Popularity Contest of Parenthood
A parent may try to win the affection of a child out of fear that the child favors the other parent. such parents go overboard to "be nice" or refrain from being firm with their children. Children suffer in these situations by not having the advantage of a parent who is acting in the proper role of authority figure.
8. Being an Accomplice to Whining
A parent may allow a child to complain about the other parents without helping the child see a more balanced view of the other parent. If the parents either passively accepts the complaint or fails to urge the children to take up these grievances with the other parent they subtly encourage children to use indirect communication as a way of managing conflict.
9. Child Abuse Allegations
It is becoming common for conflicting parents to express their hostilities by making unfounded allegations of child abuse. For children the consequences of these allegations are negative and far-reaching. Children are drawn into evaluations, investigations, and court testimony which greatly increase the risk of prolonged confusion, hurt, and anger.
10. Custody Fights
Some parents pursue custody fights when they know perfectly well that the real reason for the custody action is to be vindictive. Children experience custody battles between their parents as extremely stressful.
11. Child Support
Parents too often use child support by withholding it, demanding more, or making payments late when the real motivation is to perpetuate a dispute with the former spouse. In many homes children suffer directly when child support payments are not made regularly or when conflict is expressed indirectly in this way.
12. Using Noble Ideas to Hide Double Standards
A custodial parent might say "i want her to make her own decisions" when a child refused to visit the non-custodial parent but strictly enforce curfews when the same child wants to stay out late. A custodial parent might say "He has the right to his own feelings" if a child says critical things about his non-custodial parent but lecture and browbeat the same child for "talking back" at home. Children are sensitive to inconsistencies. They react to them with mistrust and cynicism.
This post is listed on the Georgia Family Law Blog (link in our lawyer's blog list to the right). Credit should also be given to Sam Hasler's Indiana Divorce and Family Law Blog (http://haslerlaw2.blogspot.com/) and the Missouri Divorce and Family Law Blog (http://familylaw.mwortmanlaw.com/).