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Keeping Children Out of the Middle

 Why Keep Your Children Out of the Middle?

One of the most important factors influencing kids’ adjustment to their parents’ separation or divorce is the level of parental hostility. It’s better for the kids to live in an amicable divorce situation than a hostile marriage. As a parent, you have control over your children’s adjustment – by controlling your own relationship with your children’s other parent. And even if you can’t keep it from being a hostile relationship, at least you can protect your children from that hostility.

Strategies for Keeping Your Kids Out of the Middle

Loyalty Binds: Your children are part of each parent, and generally want to please both of you. If you ask them to decide which parent they want to live with, or try to turn them against the other parent, they will have to reject part of themselves. Do your best not to badmouth the other parent in the child’s presence. Encourage your child to have a positive relationship with the other parent. Likewise, don’t ask your child to carry messages from you to the other parent, or ask them for information about the other parent – a child shouldn’t have to worry about the child support payment being late, or feel pressured to tell you about her other parent’s date.

Listening Skills: Become a good listener. Be aware of when your children are unhappy with a situation. Children might communicate with you verbally, or through their play or artwork.

Transition Times: One time when your kids are really in the middle is when they are moving from one parent’s care to the other's. Keep these times, called "transition times," predictable, regular and as neutral as possible. Don’t discuss parenting issues, or legal and financial matters relating to the divorce, during this time (or ever, in the children’s presence). Some families like to create a calendar showing when they are at which house – that way everybody knows what to expect, and conflict and distress can be kept to a minimum.

Support for Yourself: If you find yourself tempted to turn to your child for support, or overpowered by your negative feelings about your child’s other parent, get support for yourself. Ending an intimate relationship can take its toll on you, too.

Conflict Resolution Strategies for Reducing Parental Hostility

Communication Skills: Communication skills are fundamental to resolving conflicts – if you can’t understand what someone else wants, you can’t reach a solution. Kids' Turn teaches both parents and older children communication skills. Parents and children learn how to describe their own feelings, describe someone else’s behavior in a non-blaming way, and open up communication from others (listen for understanding). In addition, parents get a chance to reflect on the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own feelings and actions. When both parents attend Kids' Turn, it can be a powerful combination!

Thinking Differently: Many parents find it psychologically useful to mentally redefine their relationship with their child’s other parent. What was once an "intimate relationship" is now conceived of as a "business relationship," a sort of "limited partnership" formed for the business of raising children to adulthood. You are no longer spouses or partners; instead, you are co-parents. Shift to the codes of civility, which are used in the workplace. Although it is difficult, ask yourself, "Would I respond this way to a co-worker?"

If tensions are too high, switch to writing, voicemail, or e-mail communication until both of you are calm and rational enough to try again.

Parenting Plans: Many couples create written agreements about how they will raise their children. This can be an excellent basis for a "limited partnership" of raising children. Coming to understanding about everyday issues can significantly reduce further conflicts. These agreements can cover everything from day-to-day schedules and holidays to the educational and religious issues associated with parenting. If you’re both able to agree, there will be less conflict to keep away from your kids!


Content provided with permission from Kids’ Turn, San Francisco CA and Author Susanna Marshland, LCSW, (Former) Program Director, Kids’ Turn, San Francisco, CA.



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This content was last modified on: 08/26/2008

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