Divorce hurts everyone. Not just Mommy and Daddy but also the kids. Especially the kids. It’s tough enough being a child of divorced parents; but it’s beyond distressing when the parents are engaged in battle.
Parents often unknowingly subject their children to painful games during and after a divorce without considering how their actions are affecting the kids. The grown-ups are so caught up in their own personal drama they lose sight of their children’s best interests.
Ideally, divorced parents will have a peaceful co-parenting plan that everyone follows. However, different households with different rules can create a battlefield with the kids caught in the crosshairs. For example:
Parental alienation is when one parent intentionally tries to poison a child’s relationship with the other parent so the child will reject the estranged parent. Some examples of alienation are painting the estranged parent as unstable, not encouraging the child to spend more time with the other parent, concealing information about the child’s well-being, or failing to consult with the other parent about important decisions.
Parental alienation is actually a form of emotional abuse that is frowned upon by the courts and could have an adverse impact by awarding more custody rights to the other parent – sometimes even sole custody.
Children have shared loyalties and find it very disturbing when one parent puts down the other parent. It’s also upsetting if one parent allows people to make disparaging comments about the other parent in the child’s presence. Not only does the child feel uncomfortable with the negative things that are being said but they may also take it personally. After all, they are half dad and half mom. They may also feel they have to take sides, and if you’re the one doing the badmouthing the child may not choose yours.
On the other hand, if your ex-spouse is putting you down, don’t retaliate by engaging in similar behavior. Instead, try to put the skids on this unpleasant activity by addressing it through a trusted relative, counselor, or mediator. It’s possible the other parent may not realize the damage they are inflicting.
When both households are inconsistent with guidelines and disciplinary issues, it’s very confusing for children when one parent enforces the rules and the other one doesn’t. Younger children have trouble understanding the discrepancies and older children will try to take advantage of them. A co-parenting plan can go a long way towards creating a united front.
Some of the ways one parent will try to undermine the other parent is by playing “good cop, bad cop” by being more lenient. Or they may try to be a friend to their child rather than a parent who sets boundaries. The “popular” parent may seem to be winning at first, but in the end he/she will lose their own parental authority, and maybe even their child’s respect.
Consider Professional Help
Children can have deep emotional scars that last well into adulthood caused by parents behaving badly. However, divorce doesn’t have to be a major debilitating factor in a child’s life. And, it won’t be if parents learn how to identify stress signals and effective ways to handle challenging situations.
That’s why it is helpful to consider therapy with a mental health professional who can provide children and parents with a healthier perspective. Talk to someone who is impartial and has the family’s best interests at heart, and can help to bring a sense of balance back into everyone’s lives as they go through this difficult transition.