Divorced parents may have many issues that they don’t see eye-to-eye and never will. But one thing they will always have in common is undying love for their children. Most co-parents understand that their kids must have healthy relationships with both parents to thrive despite their differences.
If you are separated or divorced, you likely already know that your children are deeply affected by the breakup, even if you maintain a civil relationship with your ex. Children are resilient, but their well-being can be jeopardized when divorced parents knowingly or unknowingly place them in “loyalty” traps.
Four roles your children should never assume
Loyalty traps occur when parents put their kids in the middle of the divorce and force them to take sides, even if it’s not intentional. These roles include:
- The Spy: Questioning children about their time with your co-parent can make them uncomfortable. Some feel bad if they enjoy their time in the other household. Asking them who they saw or where they went can make them feel like spies. Solution? Don’t ask probing questions and tell them you’re happy that they had a good time.
- The Messenger: Co-parents who want to avoid direct contact often use their children to carry messages back and forth. Some of these may affect visitation schedules, child support or other issues only parents should address. Solution? Find another way to talk to your ex, such as email, text or one of the many co-parenting apps available.
- The Confidante: Children of divorce often feel the need to grow up too fast. Some may even become the caretaker for a parent devastated by divorce. This usually happens when a parent shares confidential information about the other parent, especially why a divorce occurred. Solution? Talk to a therapist or a good friend about these issues, not your child.
- The Ally: Parents hurt by an ex can try to strike back by enlisting sympathy and support from their child. It’s inappropriate to ask or expect a child to take your side in the divorce even if your feelings are justified. Severe emotional, behavioral and physical repercussions can result. Solution? Regardless of how you feel, never disparage your ex in front of your children and assure them that both of you love them.
It’s not too late to escape these loyalty traps
Even if you no longer love your former spouse, it’s essential for your child’s well-being that they love both of you. No matter how much anger exists between exes, identifying and avoiding these traps can help children thrive after divorce and build a healthy future relationship with both parents.