One of the most fundamental co-parenting rules is to never place your child in the middle of adult responsibilities and concerns. Unfortunately, it’s very common in post-divorce and post-separation scenarios, and many parents don’t even realize it’s happening. Using a child as a messenger, for example, is an error many co-parents make, particularly in the beginning. Once you recognize the different ways a parent may use a child as a messenger after a split, you can work to avoid making this mistake.
As a Communication Conduit
While something like “Tell your Dad that I will be ten minutes late,” may seem like a harmless message to have your child convey, it actually isn’t. Whenever a child carries a message, they are being asked to deal with whatever the emotional reaction of the parent receiving the message is. Whether that is severe frustration or mild annoyance, your child will be affected by it.
On top of the emotional reception, your child may forget to do things sometimes. After all, that’s what many kids do. If your child forgets to relay a message that’s important, they will likely feel bad if their failure results in any type of fallout. The best thing here is to never put your child in a situation where any of this is a potential outcome.
As a “Spy”
No child should have been asked to report about one parent to another. Of course, it’s fine to ask your child about the time they spent with their other parent. Asking if they did anything fun or how their day was is a wonderful way to engage, but if you ask for a detailed report of all that went on at your co-parent’s house, you have simply crossed a line. Your child will feel guilty as if they are somehow betraying their other parent if they start to feel as if they are supposed to spy on them.
As a Disagreement Mirror
No two parents will agree all of the time. Maybe you and your co-parent have different rules in place for dessert or bedtime. Whatever those differences are, you shouldn’t manipulate your child into relaying your dismay at your co-parent’s methods to your co-parent or anyone else. As long as both you and your co-parent are looking out for the best interests of your children, minor differences in your approaches should be ignored. Do not undermine your co-parent by speaking negatively about their house rules to or in front of your child. If you are that frustrated by your co-parent’s rules, speak to them when your child is not around about your specific concerns.
Find a Path to Communication
To keep your child from being used as a messenger or spy after your divorce or separation, you and your co-parent will have to set a way for you two to communicate independently of your children. Fortunately, technology these days can be quite helpful in this arena, as long as you choose the right tool for your situation and use it wisely. Work with your co-parent to find a solution that both of you can live with.
Texts, phone calls, and emails can work if used properly, so set some ground rules. Always consider what you are saying before you send any message, and make sure that the topics stay focused on your child so you and your co-parent don’t lapse into old arguments from before the split. If you and your co-parent have real trouble communicating, consider working with a professional such as a therapist so you can learn to communicate effectively for the sake of your child.