‘Divide and Conquer’: A Mindset of a Child of Divorce

  • Children of divorce can find themselves testing boundaries.
  • Communication between co-parents can help keep children from exploring those boundaries.
  • For your shared child's sake, it is important for consistency in rules and boundaries among the households.

When you are a child of divorce, you can find yourself exploring your boundaries.

“If Mom does not let me watch television past 8:30 p.m., trying it at Dad’s won’t hurt. If Dad will not buy me that toy that I want, maybe I ask Mom or her new boyfriend if I could have it.”

These are the types of scenarios that many co-parents run into, and these scenarios give a clear picture into the mind of the child caught in the middle, as well as the benefits of working together as co-parents.

Testing boundaries

Through testing their boundaries, a child of divorce is attempting to establish what the rules are and are not. Previously, one of the most important consistencies in their life was that their parents were married and living under the same roof. When that dichotomy changes, a child may begin to question the validity of other rules during this challenging time.

During this difficult transitional experience, children have to endure the discord of two parents whose relationship becomes something other than what their shared child saw it as. They saw it from the perspective of the child created from it. They may have thought of it as what they wanted in their future relationships, believing that everything was perfect. They may have saw it as how love was supposed to be.

Early on in the divorce experience, these sentiments can create some of the biggest hurdles that a child has to face, and it is up to the parents to make sure that a child can overcome these challenges before they permanently damage them.

Co-parenting and custody

One of the easiest ways for parents to confront these challenges that their child may be facing is through communication. The emotions and moods of a child of divorce may be all over the map, and having someone with you who has studied that map and is going through the same challenges of keeping your shared child in line, is beneficial.

It can be an awkward and sometimes, tense situation co-parenting alongside your ex-spouse. Some ex-spouses are not OK with the idea of being co-parents. Some will use the legal channels to try to prevent contact between you and your child.

That is when you need to step in and decide to fight for your child. Contact your attorney and begin the steps necessary to obtain the parenting time you need.

Other times, the difficulties come from an emotional level. A lot can occur in the breakdown of a marriage. Things can be said, and feelings can be hurt.

However, it is in the best interest of your child that those hurt feelings and past events are put aside, in favor of their well-being and their future. They need something better than to be a prize or to be used in an emotionally-charged game of tug of war.

They need their parents, and if they do not have parents that are on the same page, there is a greater chance that they will utilize the dichotomy for their own ends.

Getting taken advantage of

The potential of a child taking advantage of one parent over another, due to the differences in environment, rules, and disciplinary strategies can result in a child taking the reins in their relationship with the parents. They begin to dictate their feelings regarding a specific parent based on their willingness to agree to whatever the child has in mind.

Depending on how willing one parent is, it can affect the relationship that a child has with the opposite parent. Whether it is financial constraints or simply a child not needing whatever they claim to need, it can become a point of contention. It can affect a child’s willingness to comply with aspects of the parenting plan in the divorce decree, and it can be taken advantage of, leaving a child vulnerable to parental alienation.

Whether it is small things, like what they may be having for dinner that particular day or larger things, like getting a puppy, it is important to maintain clear boundaries as to what is considered necessary for a child and what is considered a special occasion treat.

That means that you may find yourself cooking dinner, rather that grabbing fast food, and while the convenience of fast food may be appealing, it is too important to your child’s well-being not to enforce similar, if not the same, rules that they would be subject to at their other parent’s home.

That means that while at the grocery store, the unhealthy cereal may not set the best precedent, and you may need to grab a healthier option. These small changes will reflect your authority as a parent and set the boundaries that your child needs.

Cordell & Cordell understands the concerns men face during divorce.

Preventing ‘divide and conquer’

Relaying the same sentiment to your co-parent is a bit trickier. If rules are being enforced on your end but not theirs, it can send mixed messages. Communicating the benefits of how things are being done in your home is a direct way to keeping your child from dictating their own life before they are ready to do so.

Preventing the “divide and conquer” strategy that a child may employ also forges a level of trust that may have been lost during the divorce experience, creating a level of respect for the opposite parent’s place in their shared child’s life.

It no longer is about what drove you apart, but instead, the focus is shifted. It is about doing what is best for your shared child when your shared child does not know what is best for him or her.

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