Even after a divorce, communication often remains necessary for co-parenting, shared finances, or simply navigating the new dynamic. While emotions may run high, maintaining respectful and clear communication can benefit everyone involved, especially children. During my years as a pastor and fatherhood practitioner, I have witnessed too much emotional damage caused to children by divorced and separated parents. I ran across an article a few months ago that addresses this topic, and I want to share it with you.  Dr. Jann Blackstone authored the piece.

Don’t Make Your Child A Co-Parent Messenger
by Jann Blackstone

Children take it very personally when dad or mom says anything even a little derogatory about the other, writes Dr. Jann Blackstone. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Q. My ex feels he no longer has to coordinate anything with me because we are no longer together. He tells me our son is old enough to arrange things between the two of us. Jesse is 10 years old and is overwhelmed with trying to be our go-between. He cries when it’s time to go to his dad’s because he hates being in the middle. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Most of the time when I tell parents they are making their children into their messengers — and that this is not regarded as a positive observation — they deny they are doing it. They tell me they never say a bad thing about the other parent.

I honestly believe most have no idea how much pressure these three little words put on their children: “Tell your mother (or father).” If they do, it’s about the most cowardly thing a parent can do.

Let’s paint a common scenario and how a child reacts when their divorced parent assigns them to be the messenger to the other parent.

Understand that most kids wish their parents would reconcile and HATE when their parents argue. It hurts their heart when they hear one parent badmouth the other, and since they all share DNA, children take it very personally when dad or mom says anything even a little derogatory about the other.

So, dad tells Jesse, “Tell your mother to be on time this weekend. She’s always late and I have things to do. Don’t forget.”

What does Jesse do? He knows that if he communicates the message just as dad said it, it will start a fight. Mom will get angry and yell at Jesse because he is the closest person around when the information is passed on. Jesse doesn’t want to be yelled at, so he has a few choices.

One, he doesn’t say a thing to mom. Or he decides to run defense because he doesn’t want his parents to fight. So, again he chooses to say nothing.

Or, two, he lies to mom. “Dad said he really wants to see you when you drop me off.” (That’s manipulating the situation with the wish that his parents will reconcile.) Jesse might say a host of things to buffer the message, none of which is the point dad wanted to convey.

Basically, the parents are teaching Jesse to be codependent (or run defense for them) and lie.

The easy fix would be for dad to tell mom himself, leaving Jesse out of it.

But many co-parents just don’t want to risk the blame and chastising. “I don’t want to fight with her,” one parent told me. “So I ask my child to pass on the information.” It didn’t register what putting the child between his mom and dad was doing to the child until it was explained.

Dad has ways to convey his desire for mom to be on time without blaming her for past behaviors. Something like, “Julie, Jesse and I have an appointment at 4 p.m. today. We can’t be late. See you when you drop him off at 3:30.” No one has accused anyone of anything, but Julie knows she should be on time. Then, it’s Julie’s turn to cooperate — and both have kept the child out of it. That’s good ex-etiquette.

(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at dr.jann@exetiquette.com.)

©2023 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Three Tips for Separated or Divorced Parents

1. Focus on the Present and the Children

Stick to the Issue: 

  • Keep discussions focused on current logistical matters like schedules, finances, or children’s needs. Avoid rehashing past grievances or using communication as a weapon.

Prioritize the Children: 

  • When discussing their well-being, use “we” statements and avoid parental alienation. Celebrate their successes together and maintain consistency in expectations across households.

2. Respect and Civility

Mind Your Tone: 

  • Even through text, emails, or calls, be mindful of tone and word choice. Avoid sarcasm, accusations, or insults.

Practice Active Listening: 

  • Truly listen to understand your ex’s perspective, even if you disagree. Acknowledge their feelings and avoid interrupting.
  • Set Boundaries: Agree on acceptable communication methods and timeframes. Avoid late-night texts or emotional calls. Stick to neutral language and factual statements.

3. Clear and Concise Communication

Choose the Right Channel: 

  • Use email or text for simple logistics, phone calls for more complex discussions, and face-to-face meetings for sensitive topics, if necessary.
  • Be Clear and Direct: Clearly state your needs and requests. Avoid being passive-aggressive or making assumptions.
  • Be Prepared: If discussing a specific issue, come prepared with notes, solutions, or compromises you’re willing to consider.

Additional Tips

Don’t Involve Children in Conflict: 

  • Never use children as messengers or leverage them to get your way.

Consider Professional Help: 

  • If communication remains strained, consider seeking mediation or co-parenting counseling to learn healthier communication skills.

Focus on Progress, Not Perfection: 

  • Communication won’t be perfect every time. Forgive yourself and your ex for occasional missteps and focus on continuous improvement.

Some Final Thoughts

Keeping your child out of the middle of communications with your ex protects your child from being overwhelmed by the pressure of trying to be a go-between and the hurt it causes them.

Remember, open and respectful communication can foster a healthier environment for everyone, especially children, even after a divorce. By prioritizing respect, clarity, and the well-being of your children, you can build a bridge for a more cooperative and positive future. Plus, you model for your children what wise and mature behavior looks like.  

Inspiration from the Holy Scriptures

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

– Galatians 5:22-26

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