When children are caught in the middle of the divorce experience, they can find themselves at a crossroads in their life without much choice in where they are forced to turn. Many learn so much about the marital problems of their parents that they feel just as invested to one side or another as a divorcing member of the union itself.
However, many wonder if that should actually be the case. Researchers and parents have often examined how much information about the end of a parental marriage is too much information, for a child who is invested in the happiness and well-being of both parents.
‘Sharing is caring’
Some believe that there is a value in sharing truths, and while they may be children and the actions or arguments of parents may needed to be edited for the audience, they may be the right person to share this information with.
Those parents that believe in sharing this information may feel victimized during or after the divorce and feel hurt or angry about the events that have transpired, according to Psychology Today. Those parents want their child to carry the same opinion as them, in order to feel validated in their own beliefs.
They may want their child to know specific events, framed in a specific context that paints the opposite parent in a negative light. For example, if one parent drank too much or went on too many extravagant spending sprees, that parent may feel the need to inform the child, in order to get them on their side.
While some parents may hold the belief that this is acceptable and justified behavior, it also is a form of parental alienation and is incredibly harmful for the child. It can cause lasting damage and prevent a child from ever having a functional relationship with the alienated parent.
Boundaries and parentification
This is why it is important for you, as a parent, to set up boundaries and never turn your child into a confidant for you to spill all of your woes and troubles, involving your ex-spouse/co-parent. It can be a damaging behavior for your child and cause the roles of parent and child to be blurred.
This role change is called parentification. According to The Washington Post, parentification is when the parent projects their role onto the child, which can happen when divorced parents rely on their child as a confidant and reveal private information or mediate conflict.
“Children should not serve the intimate needs of a parent, or placed in the role of secret-keeper,” said Lisa M. Hooper, a professor and researcher at the University of Louisville, formerly of the University of Alabama. “When a child starts serving as a friend to the parent, and the parent is getting his or her needs met through the child, that becomes problematic.”
This was shown in a research study published in the Journal of Family Therapy, where over 750 college students were surveyed to evaluate the connection between their later adult psychological functioning and their childhood roles and responsibilities.
The study showed that those who experienced early parentification were at an increased risk for depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and substance abuse as an adult.
This is part of the reason why boundaries and selective sharing is important for parents during the divorce experience. Depending on a child’s age and maturity level, they may not be up to the task of fully understanding the concepts and complex emotions involved in the breakdown of a marriage.
Maturity and the truth
They also may not be able to fully understand what perspective entails. If one parent divulges all of the information they can about specific events or behaviors that led to the end of the parental marriage, the child may take those specific events or behaviors as face value, rather than understanding that that is the perspective of one parent and that events and behaviors can be interpreted in a variety of ways.
Once a child matures and becomes old to enough to form their own conclusions with the understanding that one person’s version of the truth may not entirely be objectively accurate. Some children may require a neutral adult to share their worries with, and that is okay. Whether it is a professional therapist, a teacher, or another adult they can trust, it is important for them to foster their own perspective, as it pertains to their relationship with their parents.
When they are old enough, children need to come to their own conclusions when it comes to their relationships with their parents, and decide what type of relationship they want to have with them without oversharing or parentification coming into play.
Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.