Many divorced parent can attest that their divorce was a difficult process. Even the most amicable situations still carry a level of stress and distrust between spouses, and often, the total upheaval of the life of their children. During a divorce, feelings of bitterness and betrayal are frequently most acute, and their effects may last for months and years. For divorcing parents, who now have to co-parent, it is extremely important to avoid projecting such emotions onto the children, regardless of intention.
Unfortunately, many parents do not realize the impact their actions can have on their children during and after a divorce. M. Gary Neuman, psychotherapist and bestselling author, spoke with WebMD about some of the common ways co-parents over-involve their children and how to avoid them.
Using the Child as a Messenger
Often, a parent will ask their child to communicate to the other parent regarding detailed, or even difficult subjects. Aside from the possibility that the message is never relayed to the other parent, this can lead to “undue emotional stress on [the children] and forces them to negotiate a situation their own parents could not handle.” If face to face or phone discussions are too difficult, Neuman suggests using email as a communication tool, as it is typically convenient and easily focused on the issues at hand. Due its admissibility in court, parents also tend to be more restrained and civil via email.
Sharing Too Much
Especially common for parents with adolescent children, Neuman also warns against oversharing details and emotions about the other parent. They are dealing with their own anxieties and pressures about the situation and are not equipped to handle the added burden of playing therapist to their parent. A parent is better served seeking professional counseling, and in doing so, establishing boundaries regarding what should be shared with the children.
Interrogating the Child
Once a shared custody or visitation arrangement is being followed, a child will most likely be spending time with both parents separately. It can be tempting for a parent to try to get unnecessary details from the child regarding the other parent. Neuman does not encourage ignoring a child’s visit to the other parent but definitively advises against “grilling the child.” This way, the child will not feel the need to keep experiences with each parent completely separate, nor is he or she likely to feel manipulated by either parent.
Not Owning Up to Mistakes
Divorced or not, no parent is perfect. Virtually all parents can think of a situation they wish had handled differently, and divorced parents are no exception. Fortunately, Neuman observes, “Children are remarkably forgiving, at least until they reach their later teen years.” He encourages parents to own their mistakes and communicate with their children regarding them. Parents need to have enough self-awareness to apologize to their children, explain in detail what was wrong with their actions, and ask for the children’s help to make better decisions in the future.
If you are a coparent living in Illinois and you have questions about your custody or visitation order, contact an experienced DuPage County family law attorney. We can provide the help you require in meeting your family’s needs throughout every step of the process.