Divorce with children always make the process more painful, and often more difficult. Too often, parents will put their children in the middle, sometimes without even realizing that they have done so, or without thinking of the consequences to the children. This then makes the divorce not only painful for the adults involved, but excruciating for the children, not to mention the long-term psychological damage they can suffer from having been forced to act as referees between their parents.
- Do not use them to deliver messages to you ex. Asking your children to say to your ex, for example, “tell your father (or mother) to not bring his girlfriend (or boyfriend) to your birthday party” puts them in an awkward position. They might have a relationship with that boyfriend or girlfriend and will feel confused and guilty about having to relay such a request.
- Don’t tell your child to ask his other parent for the money needed for a school project, allowance, or the pair of shoes you would have given him or her without discussion before the divorce. Your child can’t comprehend the money issues of adults going through a divorce and will only feel guilty about asking. They might even stop asking all together for things that are even urgently needed, like school supplies. Some kids have been known to start stealing them rather than have to ask for them.
- Do you have a new significant other in your life? Don’t ask your child to keep this information from your ex-spouse. And don’t ask your child to not tell your ex about your new relationship. This will put undue stress on your child and possibly put them in a position of having to lie. If your wife asks your child whether or not you have a girlfriend, your child shouldn’t have to debate whether or not to tell the truth.
- Don’t use your children as a sounding board for problems you are having with your ex. They don’t need to hear how your ex refuses to communicate about school issue and how her being late for every pick up or drop off is creating turmoil in your own life. This will make them feel like they have to take your side and make them feel disloyal to their other parent. They should be able to feel equally loyal to both of you , and not have to worry about getting their mother to pick them up or drop them off on time.
- Find a way to attend school functions even if you have a difficult time being with your ex. And, yes, it’s hard, but don’t stand on the other side of the room and avoid all contact with him or her. This will make your children feel embarrassed and anxious in front of their peers. It will also make them feel disloyal to both of you as they hang out first with you, then with their other parent separately. You were once married to this person and created a beautiful child with him or her. Unless there is a physical danger to you (and/or your child), find it within yourself to be somewhat together in the same room with your ex and be civil to one another for the short duration of these events.
If you need help to accomplish the above, don’t be afraid to seek it professionally rather than put your children in the middle. A divorce is probably one of the hardest things you will go through in life, if not the hardest. There is no shame in needing help to make it through; just don’t get that help from your child. He or she will suffer emotional consequences from it. There are plenty of studies that demonstrate the emotional and psychological trauma endured by children put in middle by their divorced or divorcing parents.
Even if you are not required to do so, consider taking a parenting class for divorcing parents. In Nevada, where such a class is mandatory before a divorce will be granted, it can be taken online. Our office will direct you to a class that is approved by the court.