Handling custody issues with an ex-partner is one of the toughest things parents face. There's a lot at stake including time with your child, their overall well-being, and your sanity. Today I'll be addressing one area - when kids get caught in the middle and three things parents can do to help.
Sadly, a child can become almost symbolic of the original fight between former spouses. That tension gets pushed down, usually unintentionally, onto the child.
First, be aware if you see your ex-spouse in your child. This can be challenging when a child looks like their other parent or has the same temperament. Parents find themselves over-reacting to behavior problems in their child because it triggers a stress memory from their previous marriage. Kids can only view our actions as directly related to themselves and don’t have the personal resources to understand a parent’s triggers.
Second, make and keep appropriate boundaries. Have a trusted friend or counselor to vent to and process your feelings with. Sharing or displaying personal feelings with a child can confuse their understanding of their role in the child/parent relationship. When parents share feelings about the divorce with the child it puts a burden on them they are not developmentally able to handle.
Third, not everything is about the divorce. Children are growing up and changing. It can be very hard to figure out, “Is this (behavior, action, etc.) about the divorce or are they just getting older?” Single parents have a more difficult challenge because of having to work out issues with kids by themselves. A divorce is a major life change for most people and often still a daily/weekly reminder for many people.
I know from working with families that have experienced divorce that there is much more to add in handling custody issues. So, here’s an encouragement. If you are doing the best job you can raising your kids then you need to give yourself credit! It is a difficult task raising children but to do so as a single parent even harder. Most single parents that do a good job parenting are really spent at the end of their day. You will make it through this next hurdle, whatever it is. Don’t take your eyes off of your prize… which is your children.