What Your Child Needs You to Know and Understand
Over the last 18 years, I have worked with young people affected by their parents’ divorce. Many times, they literally want to shout, “STOP PUTTING ME IN THE MIDDLE!!!” Unfortunately, most kids never have the courage to speak up and share their voice on these matters. It is critical parents are aware that your children are always listening! Please be exceptionally careful, and thoughtful, about what you say in your child’s presence and also mindful of your unspoken attitude during this difficult time. Throughout the evaluation process you and I will never, ever, have adult conversations around your children (you are advised to do the same at home and monitor what others say, too). On behalf of all children experiencing the divorce of their parents, experiencing their parents in conflict, and those young people caught in the middle of other changing family circumstances, the following guidance is offered for adults who hold the key to a child’s happiness and wellbeing – you are the only ones who can protect them:
- Don’t say mean things about my other parent – I want and need to love you both, please let me know I have your unconditional permission to do so.
- When you criticize my other parent it makes me angry at YOU!
- Don’t make me pick who I want to spend time with or where I want to live – I want to see you both and need a “home” with each of you. Don’t keep track of my time like I’m on the clock. It can’t always be 100 percent fair.
- Handle your financial conversations in private. I don’t want to hear about it and I don’t want to be your messenger.
- Don’t use money to win my love. Be a reliable and loving parent and I will love you no matter who has the “most” money.
- Don’t keep me from seeing my other parent. If you do, I’ll grow up and resent you. I need both of you, all of my life.
- Get a counselor to help you with your problems. I need you to be strong for my wellbeing. I don’t want to hear about your dating and your problems at work or how much we are struggling financially. Please talk to someone else. I need you to lead by example. Don’t make me become your parent, I’m only a kid and do not want to parent you or my younger siblings.
- The harder you make it on my other parent, the harder you are making it on me. Kindness and respect cost nothing, and are priceless commodities.
- Laugh and smile. I want to enjoy my life. Your mood impacts my mood. Find a way to be happy and enjoy your life again. I need to make positive memories with you, without your divorce defining my entire childhood.
- Don’t forget that I have a divided heart now and I live between two completely different homes, rules, traditions, and attitudes. Be patient with me when I forget things or need some time to adjust from house to house. Please buy me enough stuff that I don’t have to live out of a suitcase. If you want me to feel “at home” in both places, please set up a full home for me, even if I am only there a few days every month. Things like toothbrushes, shoes, clothes, my favorite cereal, and having cool décor in my room are important. These all help me feel welcome and settled. Don’t compete or argue about these things. Just help me not have to feel like a visitor when I am with either of my parents. Make it as easy on ME as possible!
- I need your full attention, understanding, and empathy during the divorce. Please do not expect me to adjust to a new family too soon – new stepparents and siblings complicate an already thorny process. Wait to introduce new people until you are divorced from my other parent, until I have had time to settle into my two new homes, until I understand how the schedule works and until I feel confident in this new life. Please make sure my need for these things come before your need for a new partner. Date while I am with my other parent, and do not tell me all about it when I return. It is awkward for me to think of my parents with anyone else and it takes a long time to stop hoping that everything will just go back to normal.