Walking the line: Strategies to help a child of divorce when co-parening breaks down

by Carolyn on August 31, 2009

Walking the line

Walking the line

I wrote this article for Vanessa Van Petten over at Radical Parenting It was an honor to be a guest author for such a fun and dynamic website!

Experts are fairly unanimous in their support of co-parenting for children of divorce.  Both parents continuing to work closely together raising their children despite no longer being a couple.  Children are best served by having both parents be active participants in their life.  But co-parenting is hard.  And divorce is often messy.  Sometimes one parent wants to try co-parenting but the other parent doesn’t.  Often times the lack of communication which may have contributed to the breakdown of a marriage extends to the co-parenting relationship after divorce; making it impossible to achieve it’s success.

But what is the child of divorce to do in the midst of a co-parenting break down?  How can they walk the line between the two people they love most?  Here are some strategies divorced parents and kids of divorce can use to cope with these difficult circumstances:

Set boundaries: If one or both parents are trying to make their children ‘side’ with them either by bribes or talking rudely about their ex spouse, the child of divorce needs to set some boundaries.  If they are very young, it will be up to one of their parents or another close family member or friend to try and do this on their behalf.  If they are older, they can do this for themselves but realize it takes a lot of courage.  If your child tells you they are dealing with this from their other parent, discuss what boundaries they would like to set and then role play so they can practice what they will say when they encounter the situation again.

Let them know their feelings are okay:
Tell them that you understand and expect that they will always love both you and their other parent.  No matter how horrendous the circumstances are.   Your ex might have abandoned you, left you bankrupt, stole your pet and vandalized your car and your child will still love them.  And they need to know that they don’t have to feel bad about that.  Also, if your child starts a conversation with you venting about their other parent, fight the urge to join in.  You only need to participate in that conversation on the level of active listening (head nods and uh-huh’s), telling them that their feelings are normal and letting them know that whey won’t always feel that way.  Allow them to express their feelings.  But don’t chime in with all the reasons you agree.  This will only make them feel like they can’t share their good feelings about your ex with you too.

Communication is key:
There is so much communication required with co-parenting.  When it all breaks down, it can make the child feel like the ‘go between’ or ‘messenger’, constantly liaising between their two parents.  Don’t advise your child to simply to say to their parent ‘you’ll have to ask mom/dad’, because chances are if that was going to happen, it would have.  But when asked to relay a message over to mom or dad, a child of divorce could ask for the message to be emailed to them.  They can then simply hit the ‘forward’ button, passing the message along.  They could also suggest for their parent to write it down for them so they don’t forget and then simply pass on the note.  Although neither of these suggestions are ideal as they treat the child more like a carrier pigeon than a beloved daughter or son, there are really no ideal solutions here.

Want to read the rest?……..click  HERE

feel free to comment either there or here.  I’ll be responding to any comments left here.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tammy August 31, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Great job Carolyn! And you were worried that no one would read you blog. I am still enjoying every post and I am not a ACOD. I am learning and strangely I can relate to a lot of things as well.


2 Carolyn August 31, 2009 at 10:46 pm

Thanks Tammy. It’s great to have the support of a dear friend like you!


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