A 13-year-old girl I spoke with told me “I have to hold my mom’s hand because she’s sad and follow her around all day telling her that I love her to cheer her up.”
What’s wrong with this picture? This girl is being expected (or at least she feels she is expected, which is just as bad) to serve as an emotional crutch for her divorced mother. This situation is an example of the problem that comes about when parents treat their children more as peer friends than offspring and lay complex adult problems on them.
Let’s be clear, a child (heck, even half of the adults I know), are not equipped to assume the responsibility of listening to adult divorce drama, then dispense appropriate advice or support. What’s worse, when a parent relies on their own child to be a sounding board for frustrations, complaints, and concerns about the child’s other parent, this creates a treacherous tightrope for the child to walk…don’t dare fall and disappoint either parent!
One problem with this situation is that the mother has failed to build her own appropriate support system. Instead of turning to adult friends, family, co-workers, or others she knows who have been divorced to talk to about her problems, she has laid her emotional baggage at the feet of her child.
I often hear people refer to their parent or child as their “best friend.” I can see that as an adult, considering one’s parent or grown child to be their BFF is a testament of the level of love and respect they have for one another; however, when one party is still a developing minor, it can be confusing and a conflict of interest to straddle the line of both the adult authority and a buddy. When does the mom hat go on and when is it okay to wear the girlfriend hat?
A child doesn’t fully comprehend all of the issues involved with finances, break-ups, infidelity, and so much more of the ugliness that can accompany divorce. So, by using a son or daughter as a counselor, they are being overloaded with heavy burdens that they have no idea how to process. Besides worrying the child, what possible good can come of this arrangement? The child, herself, has no life experience that can be used to offer advice. He or she may do their best to offer comfort; but, at most the parent has probably succeeded at finding another to carry the emotional load – just not a person strong enough to.
Next, when such a parent cries, grumbles, and confides all of their troubles and grievances about their ex to a child, the child is now privy to a myriad of details that are none of their business, and most likely a laundry list of negative things about their other parent. The sordid details of your divorce are your business. Your child doesn’t need to know every last irritating thing your ex has said or done, and your child doesn’t need to have every negative trait of their other parent pointed out to them.
A child is a beautiful blend of both his or her mother and father. When one parent takes it upon themselves to bitch and moan about everything bad mom or dad does, that sends the message to the child that the other parent is bad; therefore, half of the child is “bad.” This behavior is a characteristic of parental alienation, and it is a form of child abuse. In attempt to have a child unpack the parent’s divorce baggage, the parent has, instead, given the child a whole new set of baggage for herself!
The result of using your child as a divorce therapist is that the child is thrown into the deep end of TMI and bad feelings about their other parent, and now he or she has to figure out how to come to terms with new inclinations to blame one parent or another, to take sides, to act as a spy, to try to play both sides of the fence to make everyone happy, or anger they may now feel for you for trashing their other parent or putting them in this difficult position.
Children should just be allowed to be children! A child should never need to be concerned with topics like child support, court, rumors and accusations, or other adult matters. A kid should not be used as an intermediary to shuttle messages back-and-forth, to enact revenge, or be a part of anyone’s guilt games or drama. A loving parent will release their child from the bondage of scary, sad, and confusing subjects that are far beyond their understanding and make demands on them for loyalty.
I am a firm believer in counseling. I contend that everyone has issues they could use some help with, and that anyone could benefit from talking to a professional to develop healthier behaviors and thought patterns. If your divorce is weighing on you making you angry, depressed, or lonely, then take those concerns to a qualified professional or a trusted friend. Your child will appreciate you allowing them to be free to love and be a kid for as long as they can, and you can rest easy knowing that you aren’t creating more divorce scars for them to heal from!