The greatest harm to children following a marital separation is parental conflict. Children of divorcees should never be placed in the middle of their parents’ disputes. Whether you know it or not, your children are highly aware of your feelings about the other parent, and these negative feelings can harm your child.
How? The child feels that he or she must choose between their parents or make choices that would please a parent, instead of choosing what the child truly wants. Your child may even lie to you if he or she thinks the lie would make you happy. You can avoid hurting your child by supporting their relationship with the other parent.
Your child is “part mom” and “part dad,” and criticizing a part of them will harm your child’s self-esteem. This isn’t limited to direct criticisms, either: don’t speak poorly about the other parent’s family, significant other, employment, housing, or financial decisions. This isn’t just in front of the child; refrain from disparaging the other parent to third parties, such as the child’s teachers, doctors, coaches, and even other parents. Don’t allow your friends or family to speak ill of the other parent, either.
Likewise, avoid negative body language. Do not grimace or roll your eyes when the other parent’s name is mentioned, or when your child asks to call the other parent. Refrain from using sarcasm. Do not refuse to sit near the other parent at your child’s baseball game, and do not refuse to greet the other parent at your child’s dance recital. These actions reaffirm the message that you dislike your child’s other parent, which causes your child stress.
The less your children feel a part of the battle between their parents, the better. Do not ask your child to keep a secret from the other parent. Do not quiz your child about the other parent’s home, relationships, or finances. Do not send child support checks through your child.
Do not discuss adult matters, such as swapping holidays, in front of the child. Never allow your child to read anything filed in the divorce or any parent communication. Don’t place your child in the position to make adult decisions, such as asking the child directly or subtly, “which of us do you really want to live with?”
Don’t refuse to let your child take his or her toys to the other parent’s home. Do not punish your child to hurt your former spouse. Your child should enjoy his or her childhood. He or she should not be forced to act as your caregiver or provide you with emotional support during the divorce. Instead, reassure your child that they are loved and that the divorce is not their fault.
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