How to Bring Calm to Your Home if Your Kids Take Opposing Sides in Divorce –and Your Hostile Ex is No Help
When parents are getting divorced, the children may take sides with one or the other, even if you’ve tried to keep them away from the messiness. This situation can be challenging enough, but it can become even more complex if your kids take opposing sides in divorce, and your ex is doing nothing to heal the breach–and maybe even encouraging it. What can you do?
Children should not be drawn into the adult issues of divorce or be encouraged to choose sides. Mental health experts say that children in such situations can suffer long-lasting psychological damage, including increased anxiety and depression and poorer academic performance. The less conflict the kids experience during and after the divorce, the more likely they are to move happily forward with their lives and develop healthy relationships.
Your ex should support you in ensuring that the kids maintain a positive relationship with both parents and avoid deepening any schisms, particularly about the divorce. But if your ex is hostile and refuses to address the issue or insists that there’s no problem, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands as best you can.
Control Your Emotions
The most important thing you can do to heal the rift in your family is to stay in control of your emotions. Even if a child is pushing your buttons, accusing you of ruining the marriage, don’t react defensively and start firing off all the ways your spouse contributed to the end of the marriage. Kids should not be put in the middle of the divorce or made to carry their parent’s emotional weight. Ultimately, they’ll remember which parent made them feel this burden the most. If your ex is pressuring them to take sides, they’ll eventually begin to resent it, especially if your home offers peace and no pressure.
Listen to Your Children
Children of divorce need a safe emotional space to vent their feelings and opinions. Take the time to listen to each child’s viewpoint with empathy, your full attention, and without judging, criticizing, or even offering solutions. Children want to be heard and understood, so take care to use language that validates their feelings. For example, you might say: “I can understand why you feel that way…” or “That must be very difficult….” You can also offer non-verbal reassurance–hugs or a squeeze of the hand–to show that you care and understand. Above all else, compartmentalize your feelings, even if what you’re hearing is painful.
Don’t Be Too Quick to Blame Your Ex for the Kids’ Issues
Remember that children may naturally align with one parent or the other without any encouragement from the other parent, so don’t assume that your ex is necessarily pushing a particular agenda. Sometimes kids might align with a parent whom they believe was wronged by the other parent, such as in cases of infidelity or other behavioral issues.
In addition, keep in mind that sibling rivalry often increases after divorce because each child feels that they have to compete for more of their parents’ attention. Your children might be taking opposing sides because they’re seeking to curry favor with “their” parent. If you believe sibling rivalry could be at the root of the difficulties–or even if you don’t–try to carve out equal amounts of quality time for each of your kids and reassure them of your love for them.
But even if your ex is responsible for the behavior, avoid blaming the ex in front of the kids. Placing blame can backfire badly. Trust that eventually, your kids will wise up to their parent’s unhealthy antics. That said, if you believe your co-parent is trying to alienate the children from you, speak to your lawyer immediately.
Help Siblings to Work Through Conflict
If your children’s disagreements about the divorce are serious, you’ll need to help them work through their conflict. Help them to express their feelings without resorting to insults and to empathize with the feelings of their siblings, even if they don’t agree.
It’s going to take some time for your children to settle into their new life. Don’t be surprised if things are rocky for a while as they figure out their feelings. Just hang in there and continue to be the most supportive, loving parent that you can be.