You and/or your spouse have decided to end your marriage. This was a decision made by an adult or two adults. Your children did not make this decision. Your children did not decide to break up a family and change the family dynamics; your children did not decide that they probably will not be living with both parents anymore; your children did not decide that they may be sleeping in two different locations on a regular basis; your children did not decide that they may have to be involved in the court system; and your children surely did not decide that they may be forced to tell a stranger that they would rather live with one parent over the other.
As parents, it is imperative that both of you try to allow the children to remain just that, children. They did not ask for this and should not be involved in your divorce, your feelings, your emotions, and your new social life. Parents should be cognizant not to burden their children with their own changing “adult” world.
Parents should not allow their children to know their negative feelings about the other parent
It is all too common for one parent to speak negatively about the other during and after a divorce. Children should not hear one parent bad mouthing the other. Children love both parents and hearing this can upset children as they love and respect both. Obviously, a parent should not make disparaging remarks about the other parent to the children, but speaking to friends and family on the phone, complaining bitterly about the other one is also harmful. The old adage is true” little pitchers have big ears”. Children may have selective hearing when being told to go to sleep, clean their room or do their homework, but when you are speaking of issues that they should not hear, that they zero in on and unfortunately hear every word.
A child, seeing a parent that they love “hurting” and being told that the other parent, who they also love, has caused this hurt, confuses and distresses a child. Do not allow your children to see you upset with the other parent’ you are the parent and you need to be strong for the child.
A child is very often confused and feels that he or she should “side” with one parent and that it would be disloyal to the “upset” parent if they don’t. A child should not feel that way and should not be forced to “side” with either. Would any of us truly want to be forced into choosing which leg to lose, the right or the left? No, of course not, but is the child being asked to do just that. After all, before their parent’s separation, generally, the child’s world was the family unit. Having to “side” with one over the other is a choice that no one, especially a child should be forced into.
Seeing a parent upset by the other one can cause a child to feel that they must make it better, or perhaps it was their fault. Children should not be forced to feel that it is their obligation to protect one of the parents any more than a child feeling that they must defend the other parent. Let a child be a child and love both parents without this added stress.
Very often I hear a parent complain that the other parent was never there for the child before the divorce was commenced, and now they are being parent of the year. This statement may be 100% true, but so what? If it took a divorce to awaken the parent and now the parent is being a devoted and involved one, how is that bad for the child. So many people have a problem with that, but keep your eye on the ball, isn’t it better for the child that the parent is now an interested parent? Don’t criticize this, just be thankful, which is very hard to do. Let the child enjoy having two active parents instead of complaining that you had been the only one there for all the years. Let the child be the child and not get caught up in the parent tug of war.
Money should not be discussed with the child
Very often a parent complains that he/she has no money and that the other parent is at fault. “That bum of a father of yours didn’t send me a check.” “If you need new sneakers, ask your father when you are with him after all he has all the money.” “You can’t go to that activity because your mother/father refuses to pay.” “I am forced to live in a crappy apartment like a slob because your mother took all of my money.” Yes, I have heard each and every one of these comments repeated to me by parents.
How does any of this help a child? Children become resentful against the other parent listening to a parent complain. A child does not know the intricacies of the divorce, nor should they. They do not know (or at least should not know) how much the parent received, how much the parent is paying for support, or whose responsibility certain expenses are. Again, a child should be a child and while most of us cannot afford to pay for everything that a child wants, there are ways to explain this to a child without casting blame. Let the child be a child and not be bogged down with finances or lack thereof caused by the other parent.
New additions to your relationship
Starting new relationships and dating are expected occurrences once a marriage ends, but should a child be a party to the new relationships. A child is confused about their family being changed; mommy and daddy are no longer together and the family does not go out and do things together anymore. This is quite an adjustment and it takes time for a child to grow accustomed to not having mommy and daddy together.
When a new person is introduced to the children, such as a new boyfriend or girlfriend, the child is confused. Who is this person, is this going to be my new mommy or daddy? Why is the person here when I want to be with my parent alone? A child should be given time to adjust and the child’s adjustment schedule may differ greatly from the parent’s.
Additionally, if a person is introduced, is that person going to be permanent? Is it fair for a child to begin to like this person if this person is just temporary? Why should a child be forced to lose more relationships? The answer is one that most parents do not want to hear. It is far wiser to hold off on introducing your children to a new person, until you are confident that the relationship is a stable one (maybe 6 months of dating) rather than simply the date of the week. Sometimes, dating becomes like a revolving door; should the children be forced to watch this? Additionally, children may find it uncomfortable meeting a new person since that person could be looked at as taking their other parent’s place. Dating is very difficult when you have children and parents must remember to consider how these choices affect their children and remember, that dating is an adult activity, not a child’s. Let the child be a child and not involved in the dating process. There is plenty of time for that, so give the children the benefit of moving slowly and adjusting before thrusting them into a new relationship in their changing environment.
Some of this is quite obvious and many say “of course”, but I have actually been involved in a case where a mother allowed her young child to participate when she was on dating websites, helping the mother select men that looked interesting. Not only was this inappropriate and harmful on so many levels, but this was also taking place during a divorce proceeding, even before the parties were divorced. What does that say to the child? Surely, this child was not being allowed or taught to be a child.
I have also heard that parents discuss their dates with the children. “I went on three different dates this week and the women were hot”; “don’t tell [the girlfriend] that you met [another girlfriend]”; “mommy’s boyfriend fell asleep in mommy’s bed”. None of this is healthy for the children. There was one instance that a father broke up with his girlfriend that the children knew and when the children asked why, they were told that she was “too stupid” and said many other derogatory comments about her. A few weeks later, the father reconciled with the same girlfriend and the children refused to have anything to do with her, having heard terrible things about her. What is this teaching children. They should not be involved in their parent’s dating experiences, let them be children.
The overall theme here is put your animosity and distrust aside or at least keep it to yourself. Your children deserve to enjoy their childhood and a large part of their childhood has now been changed due to your divorce. Make sure that you both allow your children to be children and to not entangle them in the “adult web” as they have plenty of time to become adults later, but they can only be a child for a short time.