By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
Children whose parents are going through a divorce already have a lot with which they must deal. They are facing the loss of their family as they know it. Fear of the unknown is overwhelming. Change is guaranteed; the only question is how much will there be. The last thing these children need is one more worry or concern. The best that a parent can do is protect each child from as much as possible, including shielding them from adult issues that are part of the divorce process.
Involving the child in the details of the divorce, telling them about what the other parent is saying, or leaning on the child for support is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Adult issues are just that — adult issues. There is no place for children at the adult issue table. Children do not need to be aware of a parent’s concerns about money, parenting disputes, or legal proceedings. That is for the adults to handle. Children are not responsible for emotionally supporting their parent. Instead, the parent is to provide a sense of safety and security for the child. The child never needs to hear what one parent is alleging about the other, but instead needs to be kept out of the fray. Failing to abide by these parent/child boundaries can harm the child more than any other component of their parent’s divorce.
One parent might break these rules. If this happens, kids are pretty quick to share in order to work through the negative feelings this conjured up within him or her. Sometimes, the child will come right out and report what the parent said. Other times, the child’s behavior will speak volumes that something is off. Another version of response is that the child hurls the allegations inappropriately shared by the parent. The best the other parent can do is listen, empathize with the feelings the child is experiencing, and then reassure the child that he is loved too much to be put in the middle any further.
Some children will ask for more information. Some will argue that they are in the middle already, because it is their future that is being discussed. Some will ask questions based upon what the other parent has overshared. The receiving parent need only remember the magic words: “I love you too much to put you in the middle.” Then, that parent needs to act on that and continue loving the children too much.