Unfortunately, many people do unintentionally place their children “in the middle”. This can easily happen. Some comments and questions that are seem harmless to an adult can make a child feel stressed and disloyal.
1. Watch what you say in front of the kids (even to your best friend, relative or lawyer). This includes what you say on the telephone when the kids can hear you. Be ready to tell others, “Not in front of the kids, we’ll talk later.”
2. Watch the non-verbal communication. Facial expressions and body language can radiate anger and disapproval of the other parent.
3. Don’t ask unnecessary questions about the other parent. (“Did you have fun at the zoo?” is fine. “So, what other new things did your dad buy for his apartment?” is not).
4. Decide how to approach delicate or emotionally-charged issues with the kids. If your ex has a substance abuse problem, makes unsafe decisions or hangs out with the wrong crowd, you may have to approach the issue with the kids to be sure they are safe. Don’t use it as a personal vendetta. You can get help in dealing with these issues from your family law attorney, therapist, or school counselor.
5. Avoid building yourself up to make the other parent look bad, even if you think you are being subtle (you aren’t). For instance, “I don’t know about your mother, but I always manage to get off work for your soccer games no matter how busy I am.”
6. Your kids are not your friends or counselors. Get emotional support if you need it, but don’t ever, ever, ask your kids to provide it for you. No matter how “mature” they are. Treating a child (even a teenager) as a “best friend”, “co-parent” , or “man of the house” is detrimental to the child and is selfish. And it can be used against you in court.
7. Be as honest as you can when you discuss things but be ready to tell them that you can’t discuss certain things with them.
8. Go slowly with new relationships, be careful with who the kids meet, even when the divorce is final Kids don’t need to meet various people that you date. If there is a special relationship, then wait to introduce the kids until they have time to adjust to the finality of the divorce.
9. Discuss the changes that are occurring and use supportive language. For instance. “I know a lot of things are changing right now. We’ll adjust to it together. Let’s talk about it.” is good. But “Everything is changing because of our divorce. You have a lot to get used to”. is scary even if it is said in an understanding voice.
10. Don’t ask kids to make major decisions themselves about living situations, schools, and visitation schedules. Listening to them, and taking their best interests into consideration is good, but don’t let them feel that they bear the responsibility for what happens in the divorce.
It may not be easy to put these tips into practice, but it will be worth it. In years to come you will be glad that you took the time and energy to put the kids first, even when it was very difficult to do so.