Children should never be placed in the middle of their parents’ problems. Doing so can have a devastating psychological impact on them. Children who are forced to take sides against one of their parents exhibit more behavioral problems and experience higher rates of depression and substance abuse.
Your children didn’t choose your marriage or your divorce. They didn’t choose their parents, so never ask them to choose sides.
If you are going through a divorce, avoid the following behaviors:
- Talking disparagingly about one another to the children;
- Using the children as messengers;
- Refusing to pay child support;
- Refusing to allow the other parent to have time with the children;
- Asking the children which parent they prefer to live with; and
- Asking the children to testify in court.
Unfortunately, though, this often happens when parents choose to litigate their divorces. Litigation seems to bring out the worst, even in the best people. Litigation breeds contempt.
Furthermore, attorneys, even if unwittingly, often encourage this type of behavior because they are looking for a win rather than considering the long-lasting consequences of this type of behavior.
Even when something as innocuous-seeming as a custodial evaluation is ordered, it is usually uncomfortable for the children.
So how should parents in a divorce act?
- Always foster the other parent’s relationships with the children.
- Always show up for your timesharing, on time.
- Maintain as much stability as possible for your children.
- Seek professional help for your children, if they need it.
- Remind your children often that you love them, and that the divorce is not their fault.
- Treat your ex as you would like to be treated.
- Remember that you are the adult, so act like it!
- Choose collaboration, not litigation.
In collaboration, the children are never placed in the middle or asked to take sides.
In fact, if children are having an especially difficult time with the divorce, a child specialist can be included on the team.
What is a child specialist? She is a neutral mental health professional who is expert in the developmental needs of the children. She meets with the parents and the children to determine the children’s needs and how they are adjusting to all the changes being wrought by the divorce. She assists in drafting the parenting plan so that it meets the parents’ most important goals and considers the children’s perspectives.
Don’t force your kids to grow up too quickly. It is your divorce, not theirs. Let them stay children as long as possible. Choose to collaborate for their sake.