Divorce is a difficult time for all members of a family, but it can be especially hard when there are children involved. As a parent who has recently gone through divorce, you may be left with hurt feelings and resentment toward your former spouse, but it is important that these feelings not be brought into the relationship with your child. Remember to follow a few simple rules when you are spending time with your kids after your separation.

  • Never argue with your ex in front of your child. Arguing in front of your child can be emotionally damaging, even if the argument itself has nothing to do with him or her. When children experience these heightened emotions, they show increases in certain negative symptoms, including aggression, anxiety, hostility, and depression. According to a recent study at Cardiff University, arguments that are physically or verbally aggressive are often the worst for children.
  • Allow your child to enjoy the time he spends with his other parent. Your child will crave quality contact with both of his parents, and it is important that you encourage a positive relationship between him and your former spouse. When your child fully understands that both of his parents love him very much – even though you are living separately – the divorce process will be easier on him.
  • Avoid badmouthing or gossiping about your ex in front of your child, who loves both of you equally. Speaking poorly about the other parent will make your child feel as though he has to choose between the two of you. Many children will also internalize this criticism, and he may take the negative comments and insults that were meant for your ex as a reflection on himself. Every time you tell your child how bad or what an “idiot” his other parent is, you are essentially telling your child that half of him is also bad.
  • Never speak poorly about the friends and family of the other parent. This can include your child’s grandparents, aunts, and uncles, as they will likely still be a big part of your child’s life, even after the divorce. Similarly to bad mouthing the other parent, this could result in your child internalizing your criticism. Your child is also not intellectually or emotionally capable of acting as your confidant, so keep your negative opinions about his family to yourself.
  • Never ask your child to love you more than his other parent. Many parents make the mistake of asking their child whom he loves more, and it can be emotionally damaging to make a child choose sides. He will feel torn and an incredible amount of guilt when spending time with the other parent. It’s not fair to make your child choose sides in your divorce.  Instead, focus your efforts on ensuring that your child knows how much you love him.
  • Don’t talk to your child about money issues or child support. Speaking to your child about these financial matters can make him feel like he is a possession or that it is his fault that there is so much animosity between you and his other parent. Your child already has enough to worry about with his own feelings regarding the separation, and bringing him into arguments about finances will only make him feel worse. Save conversations about child support for meetings with your divorce law attorney.
  • Allow your child unrestricted contact with his other parent via the phone or Internet. After a separation or divorce, it is normal for your child to miss his other parent. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want to be with you or would rather be with your former spouse. Allowing him to have simple contact with the other parent via the phone or Internet can help him to feel better, and it can also ensure that their bond remains strong. Never prevent your child from speaking to his other parent.
  • Spare your child from the details of your divorce and marital breakup. Your child will likely have a lot of questions about the changes that are going on in his life. It is important to be open about the divorce, but only share information in an age appropriate manner in terms that he will understand. With children, life is all about them, so make sure to explain things from those terms. Too much information could be confusing or overwhelming, so keep the details between you and your lawyer.
  • Don’t blame your former spouse for the divorce. Your child doesn’t want to be caught in the crossfire of two parents that don’t get along. If he does believe your side of the story, you could turn him against his other parent and potentially damage their relationship for good. Your child deserves to have two loving parents in his life, and if you make him believe the other parent destroyed his family, you could be depriving him of that relationship.
  • Don’t turn your child into the mailman. Some parents use their child as a type of delivery service to pass notes back and forth in order to avoid speaking to one another. This literally puts your child in the middle of your conflict. Instead, take a mature approach, have an adult conversation with your former spouse, and leave your child out of your interactions.
  • Never enlist your child to spy on his other parent. Asking your child to spy on his other parent is something that a good family law practice will discourage. Asking him to provide you with information will make him feel dishonest and disloyal, as will keeping a secret from his other parent. Ultimately, asking your child to spy on his other parent could backfire, as he may begin to resent you for asking him to do something that he feels is wrong.
  • Don’t interrogate your child after his visit with the other parent. When your child arrives home from his visit with your ex, don’t give him the third degree about what he did. His visitation time belongs to him and his other parent and quizzing him about his other parent’s life will make him feel uncomfortable. Instead, trust your child to disclose any information that is significant, and casually listen when your child volunteers information.

Additional Resources:

Fighting in Front of the Children – A recent study points to possible emotional damage.
Dealing with Divorce – Tips for adult children who are dealing with divorced parents.
Talking about Divorce – Tips for talking about fault in divorce.
Children as Pawns – What to do when your former spouse is trying to turn your child against you.
Helping your Child through Divorce – Tips for helping your kids deal with a divorce.
Children and Divorce – Possible consequences of divorce on children.
How Children of Divorce Cope – How children internalize and externalize problems.
Tips for Co-Parenting – A good co-parenting relationship is essential for happy and healthy kids.
Co-Parenting Rules – What to do and not to do when your child shares two households.
What Not to Say – Things you shouldn’t say to your child during or after a divorce.