Whatever the specific reason for the breakup of your marriage, you are separating or divorcing because an intimate level of trust has been lost. With this loss of trust, hard feelings often arise. Even if you don’t experience hard feelings, there is often a breakdown, or further erosion, of communication between you and your spouse. You may be tempted to put the children in the middle. This is a mistake.
Here are some examples of how children can be put in the middle. Being aware or reminded of these pitfalls may help you to avoid them.
- It will be miserable for your children if you ask them about your spouse’s social life. They will want to please you, and then they will feel guilty for sharing private information about the other parent. No matter how important it is to have the information or how badly you want to know, you risk harming the emotional well-being of your children by putting them in the middle.
- It will be miserable for your children if you tell them that the other parent is irresponsible and selfish, or if they overhear extended family members saying the same types of things. Your children already know that neither of their parents is perfect. They will decide for themselves how they feel about their parents. It is confusing to them when a grown-up complains to them about another grown-up. Grown-ups need to handle their own problems without involving children.
- It will be miserable for your children if you say nothing bad about the other parent, and instead frown or scowl when the children describe having fun with your soon-to-be ex. Your children will wonder if you want them to love you best and not enjoy their time with the other parent. They will stop talking to you about what they are doing when they are away from you. You will damage your own relationship with the children.
- It will be miserable for your children if you tell them you won’t come to their school’s Open House if the other parent is going to be there. Your children will perceive that you are asking them to choose you over their other parent. You will invite them to lie to you and say the Open House isn’t important to them so that they’re not forced to have to choose one parent over the other.
- It will be miserable for your children if you give your spouse nasty looks, argue with your spouse, or give your spouse the silent treatment when your children are going from one house to the other. Your children will feel incredibly sad to see their parents behaving this way. Spare your children the emotional pain and use your best manners when interacting with your spouse.
Your children need certain things from their parents to get through the trauma of their parents’ divorce. One of the most important things they need is to be kept out of the middle—no requests to carry messages or tell on the other parent, no requests (subtle or not so subtle) to pick one parent over the other, and no exposure to disparaging things said about one of their parents. This will go a long way toward a healthy transition for them.