5 Ways Divorced Parents Put Kids in the Middle

Help for Kids in the Middle of Divorce

Are you accidentally putting your kids in the middle, so that they're often caught between you and your ex? It's a vicious cycle that can happen to anyone, even the most caring and self-aware parents. Start the healing process by first taking the time to explore the ways you might be vulnerable putting your kids in the middle of your divorce. Here are five of the most common ways divorced parents inadvertently put their kids in the middle without even realizing it —  and what you and your ex can do about it: 

5 Ways Divorced Parents Put Their Kids in the Middle

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Tweaking your parenting time schedule through the kids.

Sad teenage girl sitting on couch
Photo © izusek/Getty Images

While it's a bad habit, it's one that usually begins innocently. No matter how good your intentions are, it may seem easier to talk to your ex through your kids sometimes. But using them to adjust your parenting time schedule on the fly puts your kids in the middle and forces them to be the recipients of your ex's response. So the next time you find yourself saying, "Let your mom know that I'll pick you up at 5:30" or "Did you tell your dad that Friday doesn't work?" stop and pick up the phone. Call your ex directly or, at the very least, send a quick text or email instead.

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Asking about the other parent's dating life or new marriage.

Curiosity is natural. And, frankly, your kids may be all to happy to share the information with you. But it's not information you need, and it's yet another way divorced parents put the kids in the middle. In cases where you want to get more information about a new relationship in order to feel comfortable with your kids being around your ex's new wife or girlfriend, it's far better to reach out and ask for that information yourself. This allows you to have a direct conversation about your concerns and receive information which may actually put your mind at ease, without putting your kids in the middle at all.

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Making judgments about the other parent's decisions.

Divorced parents frequently judge one another. He doesn't do things the way you would, or she's too controlling. No matter what the reason, and regardless of how valid your concerns are, avoid bashing your ex in front of the kids. Be aware, too, that biting your tongue takes discipline and practice. But it's in your kids' best interests to be afforded permission to form their own opinions rather than being fed negativity about either parent.

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Expecting your kids to automatically know what you need.

Your kids can't read your mind. So don't expect them to intuitively know what you want them to do or say when they're with your ex. Instead, let them know directly what you need. This is good practice for the rest of life, too — for you and your children. Sharing your needs out loud, directly, removes unrealistic expectations and gives the other person a chance to support you authentically.

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Choosing whatever is least convenient for your ex.

Finally, another way divorced parents frequently put the kids in the middle is by intentionally choosing whatever options are least convenient for one another. This is just another way of stirring up trouble with your ex, and there's often no reason for it. Remember, too, that it doesn't cost you anything to choose options that work for your ex. And sometimes when you model what it looks like to treat one another with respect and general courtesy, the same manner gets returned to you. So avoid standing in the way of whatever is convenient for your ex, just to make him or her miserable. In terms of 'keeping the peace' and demonstrating reasonable interactions with your ex, it's far better to be accommodating when you can and when it makes sense for the kids.