In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I have
worked with children of all ages for over twenty years.
Usually parents drag their kids into my office complaining
of a litany of bad behaviors, ranging from not cleaning up
their rooms, to getting bad grades, hitting their siblings,
or worse, stealing, fighting or doing drugs. I work with
parents to change their children's behavior. It is very
helpful for the parents to know their children's experiences,
especially after a divorce. This and the previous article
address what the child thinks about the divorce and how they
react, considering some fundamental needs.
Here's are the big "no-no's" for co-parents to consider.
When violated, these are really, really harmful to the child.
There are seven.
1) Carrying Messages Between Parents. (Detailed on page eight.)
2) Getting Involved With Money Issues. Avoid arguing and
discussing child support issues in front of the children. How
would you feel if you are a child hearing Mom and Dad arguing
about your financial support? Upon hearing these things, most
children feel they are a burden on their parents. Who will pay
for what and how available money should be spent are adult issues
that the parents must directly discuss between themselves. The
worst comment I have heard is from one parent who told the child
that the family could not go to Disneyland because Dad had to pay
extra money to Mom that month. Do not put your children in the
middle of your child support disputes.
3) Hearing Criticisms Of The Other Parent. It hurts a child
very much to hear one loved parent criticize the other loved parent.
Children sometimes see themselves as half of each parent. When this
is the case and then when children hear bad things about one parent,
they hear bad things about half of themselves. If they hear bad
things about both their parents, they feel that both halves of them
must be of little worth. The following is a list of destructive
remarks that you should not make to your child. All of these
remarks raise fear and anxiety in children. If you find yourself
saying words like these, stop and think about their impact on your
"You're lazy/stubborn/bad tempered, just like your mother/father."
"Your mother/father put you up to saying that."
"Your dad/mom doesn't love any of us or he/she wouldn't have left us."
"You can't trust her/him."
"He/she was just no good."
"If she/he loved you, she/he would send your support checks on time."
"Someday you'll leave me too, just like your father/mother."
4) Quizzing Children About The Other Parent. Do not make your
children a spy in the other parent's home. It is very difficult for a
child of divorced parents to cope with feeling caught in the middle.
If they want to tell you about time spent with their other parent
(and they usually don't), listen closely and politely, and then stop.
If they do not volunteer any information, try simply, "Have a good
time? Good." Encourage your children to love both parents. They must
not be burdened with having to align with one parent's anger against
the other. Following from this is...
5) Taking Sides. Your child wants to love both of his or her
parents. Asking your child to take your side in any situation
regarding your ex-spouse can create a tremendous amount of stress for
your child. Avoid putting children in the position of having to
take sides. Allow your children to continue to love both parents
without being made to feel guilty or disloyal. In their efforts to
make sense of the situation, kids will sometimes decide that one or
the other parent really is bad. Children will take sides in an effort
to have at least some control, even if they know their position isn't
entirely correct, even if choosing one parent over another results in
not meeting their needs to be with the now estranged parent. Sometimes
in a moment of temper, children will say things that sound like what
parents say about each parent (see number three, above). Recently I
heard one teen say to her dad, "You're such a ____, and it's no wonder
my mother left you!" In my office, while talking to her dad, one child
said, "My mom must have an awful secret or you wouldn't have left!"
Parents will need to explain many, many times that the other parent is
a perfectly good person-he or she just wasn't a good partner.
6) Dealing With Parent's Feeling. (Review page 8.) Threatening To
Cut Off Contact With The Children If The Other Parent Does not Do Or
Stop Doing Something. (See below discussion of Blended Families for
a common and specific example.) When kids hear these threats, they
fear more loss is coming. Such conduct hurts your kids. Recognize
that for your child to have the best chance of growing up to be a
functional human male or female, he or she will need both parents to
be good role models and nurturers.