“Where does a child lay their loyalty when it comes to mum and dad? They shouldn’t have to choose which parent to side with, but they can sometimes find themselves having to because of what one parent has said or done. For example, one parent may have been having an affair or one parent may have been repeatedly verbally abusive to the other. Trying to make your children take sides or turn them against the other parent places them in the middle of an adult struggle and really that is not the place where they want to be. Children generally want to make both their parents happy and want to be loyal to both so don’t make them choose.
It is very tempting to say to your child, ‘You can’t wait for the divorce to be over so you don’t have to speak to their other parent again’ or moan about the other parent for not doing something. Don’t complain about the other parent as your child won’t want to hear – they just aren’t interested. It is also very tempting to question your child about what the other parent is doing in their life or who they like the best. If you feel like you are going to ask them a question like this, stop yourself! Focus on what you are doing in your own life and when your child is in your custody focus on the activity you are doing together and them.
Think about what you are saying to your child and consider, ‘Should I be telling them this? Should I be asking this question and am I being fair to them?’ You need to be neutral and non-judgmental about the other parent when your child asks you about them. Be strong and focus on what your child needs to hear that will enable them to continue to respect their other parent.
Another way you can put your child in the middle is to use them to convey messages between you both so you don’t actually have to speak directly to the other parent. A young child will be willing to do this because they want to please the parent giving the message and it can make them feel important. An older child will probably feel resentful that mum and dad cannot actually talk to each other. It is also a big responsibility for your child to remember the correct and whole message. The message can get distorted.
It is unfair to your child to carry messages to your ‘ex’ because you find it too awkward or aggravating to do so yourself. It can also imply to your child that the other parent is such a monster that you cannot speak to them. Wherever possible, communicate directly with the other parent about matters relevant to your children. If you cannot speak with them directly in the right tone then use email or instant messenger.”
Naomi Richards provides a space for children to talk confidentially about why they are unhappy and helps them resolve their problems in an interactive, creative and supportive way. She works with children on self-esteem, confidence, friendship, bullying, anxiety, parent separation, communication and any other home or school related problem. She is part of the Three Counties Radio parenting and families show and writes for parenting, teenage and women’s magazines. Her first book, ‘The Parents Toolkit’ was published February 2012 by Random House. For more information on Naomi visit www.thekidscoach.org.uk.
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