Divorce: Smack-Dab in the Middle - Don't Put Your Kids There

Divorce: Smack-Dab in the Middle - Don’t Put Your Kids There


Even the best-intentioned parents occasionally put their kids in the middle of arguments and communication with each other during and after divorce.  Whether your divorce is amicable or bitterly contested, resist the urge to use these common tactics, which put your kids squarely in the middle of a battle they didn’t ask for.  Some of the most common ways parents use their kids to communicate with the other parent are:

  • Scheduling parenting time through the child:  Expecting your kids to let the other parent know if the schedule has changed or you won’t be there to pick your child up puts your kids in the middle and makes them the bearers of bad news, which may anger the other parent.  Jennifer Wolf, author of 5 Ways Divorce Parents Put Kids in the Middle for TheSpruce.com writes that even something as innocent-sounding as “Let your mom know I’ll pick you up at 5:30” forces your kids to be the recipient of your spouse’s response, which may be angry, or a swipe at you.
  • Probing about the other parent’s personal or dating life:  If you’re curious about the significant other, or have concerns about the kids spending time with this new person, ask the other parent directly.  Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. writes in her article, The Poison P’s:  How Bitterly Divorced Parents Put Kids in the Middle of Their Fight, kids are put into an awful bind when one parent pumps them for information about the other parent’s money or social life because they want to please the asker, but they feel like they’re tattling on the other parent. 
  • Casting aspersions on the other parent’s judgments:  No matter how you slice it, criticizing the ex is bashing your child’s other parent, and that hurts your kids.  Your kids will form their own opinions of BOTH of their parents on their own. 
  • Sabotaging your ex:  You may forget to send your child’s backpack with them, or you may “forget” to tell the other parent about a parent/teacher conference. It doesn’t hurt to have the other parent’s back -- it will come back around to you someday -- and it models civil behavior between your child’s parents, which will pay off in rich dividends in your relationships with your children and your ex for years to come. 

Carolyn Knarr, chief clinical officer for Kids In The Middle, a non-profit that helps children, parents and families thrive during and after divorce through counseling, education and support, says, “Parents need to keep their children out of the middle. . . children don't need to be the go-between between parents, they don't need to be the messenger of information that parents don't want to talk to the other parent themselves . . .” 

For the sake of their children’s emotional and psychological well-being, parents need to resolve their differences with each other without using the children as messengers, hopefully becoming allies, not enemies, in co-parenting.