10 Ways Children are Misused in Divorce
Too often parents complain that their ex-spouse is using the children as ‘weapons’ in divorce. While a parent may think nothing of their choices or actions, the long-term ramifications of this can have life-long detrimental aftershocks for the child, the innocent party of divorce. There are too many ways in which parents can misuse their children and to the extreme, these tactics can be a form of child abuse. Listed below are just a few common ways parents are either intentionally or unintentionally misusing the child:
- Using a child as a counsellor. Parents use their children as counsellors. Oversharing or emotionally burdening the child with adult thoughts or conversations, be it about the separation or about their own personal thoughts or activities is not the role of a child.
Instead: Turn to a friend or employ the assistance of a therapist or counsellor if you need to ‘download’ or ‘vent.’
- Using the child as a messenger. Passing verbal or written messages via the child is inappropriate.
Instead: The parents can implement a communication book or email each other if they are not able to communicate directly and respectfully.
- Being outwardly negative about the other parent. Parents need to refrain from putting down or talking negatively about the other parent. Name calling, constantly criticising and complaining about the other parent in the presence of the child is unacceptable. Further, don’t let friends or family to talk poorly of the other parent in the presence or hearing of the child.
Instead: Create a rule with your friends and family that discussions around the other parent doesn’t take place when the children are awake or in your care.
- Coaching a child to report untruths. Some parents coach or counsel their child in what to say to family report writers, counsellors or the police about their time or interactions with the other parent.
Remember: The truth prevails. While the child may not understand what they are doing for you at their young age, they may harbour resentment towards you in the future, which could make matters worse for you later on.
- Putting your own needs ahead of the child’s needs. There are many reasons why parents may not want to be in the presence of each other and selfishly make self-serving choices. For instance, some parents make children walk several blocks to the other parent’s house so that they don’t have to see the other parent.
Instead: Recruit the assistance of a friend or family member. Alternatively, contact centres are able to facilitate change over for a small fee and you won’t have to see the child’s other parent.
- Avoid oversharing. Some parents tell the children too much detail about the parenting and/or financial settlements/agreements which may (or may not) be in court and their feelings towards the situation. Your separation and settlements are adult discussions and not for children. If you do need to share some information, make sure it is age-appropriate and limit how much you tell your child.
Try saying: Don’t lie to your child but tell the truth: “I will tell you one day, when you are bigger. It’s an adult concern, not a child’s concern. For now, know that we love you and are doing our best.”
- Don’t block or withhold children. Sometimes, parents stop the children from the other parent or makes false claims upon the other parent which stops access. Similarly, one parent blocks, limits or restricts communication with the other parent. Unless you have a serious concern about the other parent or unless your children are young, there is no need to listen in or get involved in the conversations between the other parent and child. When children are eight years old or younger, they may need assistance with conversing on the phone. Perhaps they require some prompting for topics to discuss or what news they can share.
Remember: The Family Law Courts do not look favourably upon blocking or withholding children from the other parent unless it is done with the sanction of the court or support of the police. If you have any serious concerns, please seek the advice of your family law professional or the police.
- Misplaced punishment. Punishing or taking your frustrations out on the child because of the other parent’s decisions, choices or actions is not fair on the child. Children don’t choose to be a part of your divorce and they are certainly not the person influencing the other parent.
Instead: Confide in a friend or a counsellor about your frustrations and ask for some strategy. When you are frustrated, use your preferred technique to diffuse your anger such as exercise, singing or dancing.
- Not parenting. Choosing not to parent your child because the other parent is too strict doesn’t benefit the child long term. Children need a parent, not a best friend. Saying ‘no’ to your child does not mean that you love them any less.
Try: If you aren’t sure what are appropriate boundaries between you and your child, seek the advice of a paediatric psychologist. Alternatively, there are many post-separation parenting courses available.
- Refrain from interrogating. After your child has been with the other parent, don’t cross-examine them for information and details. It can build resentment towards the question-filled parent. Children are not the conduit for information and they are not to play messenger between parents either.
Action: Instead of interrogating, create or implement a better communication tool between the parents for an understanding/briefing/update of your child’s recent activities.
Your child is half you and half of the other parent. By openly ‘hating-on’ the other parent, you are essentially ‘hating-on’ your child. By exposing children to destructive, aggressive and unfair separation tactics, you are potentially damaging your child’s self-worth and some children do not recover. It is often said that children “will eventually work it out for themselves” – they will make up their own mind about which parent tried to make the relationship between them and their other parent work and, in the end, the child won’t be able to blame you for the other parent’s short-comings.