Listening to children about how they feel as their parents go through divorce – and afterward – is very important. We need to hear them. Not only their words, but read their demeanor. And we have to remember how well they can hear us. How they can read between the lines to what’s really being said. And we need to be aware of how hurtful it can be.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a parent say something like “they’re entitled to the truth” when confronted about talking to the child unnecessarily about the divorce process or speaking negatively about the other parent. First question: Whose truth? Second question: Aren’t they even more entitled to just be a child than they are to either parent’s version of what the truth is?
Here are 5 things a divorced/separated parent should never say to their child:
1. “Don’t tell your mom/dad . . . ” Unfair, people! Do not put the child in a position of having to keep a secret from the other parent. It’s incredibly stressful. Whether the parent doesn’t want the other parent to know what’s going on at his/her house or whether they’re just trying to be the cool parent by allowing something the other parent wouldn’t, requiring the child keep mum or lie about things creates a tense situation for your child that will eventually take its toll.
2. “Ask your mom/dad when they’re going to pay . . . ” Fill in the blank with all those things parents want paid for: child support, medical expenses, child care, extracurricular activities, etc. You think it’s unpleasant for you to ask your ex such a question? You don’t want to deal with an angered response to such a question? Why on earth would you put your precious child, who doesn’t have near the emotional strength you have, to be in that position?
3. ” I can’t afford it because your mom/dad won’t pay their child support.” And of course there is the flip side taboo: “I can’t afford it because I have to pay your mom/dad child support.” There’s nothing wrong with explaining to a child that some things are not affordable – it’s the laying a guilt trip on them because they need to be supported that’s objectionable.
4. “You’re just like your mother/father . . . ” said right before saying a very negative thing about the other parent. Who is really being criticized? Won’t it leave them wondering: “If I’m so much like him/her, maybe I should be over there more often”?
5. “Ask your mom/dad if you can come here (date during the other’s custodial period) so we can do (something incredibly fun).” A nasty strategy used in the hopes that the other parent won’t be willing to disappoint the child by saying ‘no’ to whatever adventure conniving parent has teased the child with. It’s win-win for conniving parent – either they get part of the other’s custodial period or they have shown what a bad guy the other is. It’s lose-lose for the child whose relationship with non-asking party may be undermined whatever the result.