A big problem many divorced couples run into is that their child is caught in the middle. Whether this is intentional, or unintentional— it is unhealthy for the child. Healthy co-parenting honors the needs of the child, versus using the child as a means of hashing out old grudges or self-interest. While the parent often unintentionally projects their feelings onto the child, that does not mean you cannot avoid it.
So, these are a few things to keep in mind, and to make a mental checklist of. That way, you know that you are giving your child, yourself, and the other parent— the best shot at making it out of this with each part of the family feeling as if they didn’t get the raw end of the deal.
Healthy Co-parenting: Keeping your Kids OUT of the Middle
Why is this so essential?
Your children are very receptive. A lot of factors very depending on their age range, but this does not. From the time they are very young, children are intuitive and understanding of your emotions. As they grow older, they become better at rationalizing and reacting to how they feel. But, no matter the age, they can get a sense for how things are going.
If things are not going so well, or the environment is hostile— children will begin to act out. We’ve previously discussed short-term and long-term side effects of divorce and they begin with instances such as these. Those moments where you speak ill of the other parent, or are arguing in front of them. Children, especially younger children, cannot entirely make sense of what is happening. In turn, they will often place blame on themselves or seek attention in a number of ways. Therefore, maintaining an environment that is stable, and as unchanging as possible— can be inherently positive for both you and the child.
Avoid treating your child as a messenger or a ‘spy’
Acting in this way, while it might seem innocent to you, relays the message to the child that they are responsible for how the two of you treat and view each other. Asking your child, “Is daddy bringing anyone over while you’re there?” or something along the lines of: “did mommy say anything about daddy while you were visiting?” Asking a child leading questions, or prompting the child to feed you information— takes advantage of the child. While this puts pressure on the child, it also disallows a genuine experience for the child and the parent they are visiting. In short, when a child or a parent knows they are walking on eggshells— it can put a strain on the relationships all around.
Do not ask a child to keep secrets from the other parent
On the flip side of our previous statement: do not ask a child to censor themselves. While there should not be anything going on that the child should have to keep from the other parent— posing the idea should still be against the guidelines you set for yourselves. Something as simple as giving the child candy before bed, should never be followed by “don’t tell mom/dad.”
Creating a united front is imperative to both parents, as well as to the child. Healthy co-parenting is all in treating each other, and the child, with a mutual respect, and honoring the bonds each of you have with your child.