When spouses separate there is inevitably conflict and it is extremely important that spouses understand the negative impact that this conflict has on their children. Children can survive their parents’ separation but if they are exposed directly or indirectly to conflict between their parents it can cause emotional harm.
Some of the behaviors that parents need to avoid are as follows:
- Speaking negatively about the other parent, and the other parent’s family/friends;
- Blaming the other parent for the separation;
- Arguing in the presence of the child (i.e. in person, telephone, e-mail or text);
- Sending messages through the child;
- Treating children like adults (even teenagers);
- Ignoring the other parent during the child’s events (i.e. school concerts, sporting events, extracurriculars, etc.);
- Not permitting the child to move between households with their belongings;
- Interrupting time with the other parent (i.e. calling often, planning activities of interest on the other parent’s time);
- Not permitting the child to attend family functions with the other parent (i.e. family reunions, weddings, etc.) outside the regular access schedule;
- Speaking about adult content to, or in proximity to, children (i.e. details of divorce, finances, court, conflict);
- Asking the child to keep secrets from the other parent;
- Making the child feel bad about enjoying time with the other parent, deterring child from talking about the other parent;
- Using guilt or pressure for children to choose between parents or have the same relationship with each parent;
- Allowing the child to refuse to see one parent with no clear reason as to why they do not want to;
- Questioning children about the other parent, or the other parent’s household. Asking children to spy;
- Asking children where they want to live.
It can be very challenging for parents to avoid these behaviors and if so parents need to seek help from counselors who can help them to communicate more respectfully with each other for the sake of the children.
Deborah A. Todd