A parent sometimes asks a child a lot of questions about what is going on in the other parent's home; questions about whether mom or dad has a boyfriend or girlfriend, if the new boyfriend/girlfriend is spending the night, if mom or dad is drinking or using drugs, if mom /dad asked questions about him or her. Sometimes the questions are to satisfy curiosity, but sometimes they are to hurt the other or to hurt the parent asking the questions. Sometimes the questions are to help a parent feel better about himself or herself-that the other parent is not doing OK without the relationship.
Enlisting the children to play this game complicates and confuses the relationships they have with both parents and is damaging to their emotional well-being.
Tug of War
Parents sometimes continue their conflicts after the divorce. Each side looks for support for his/her side because then parents can assure themselves that they are "right" and "okay" because the child is on their side. Children are caught in the middle and feel as though they are being ripped apart. Children usually lose respect for both parents and themselves because children are a part of both parents.
Warring parents can't stand to talk to each other and sometimes don't want to take the chance of making the other parent angry. So they ask children to take little messages to the other parent: "You are two weeks behind in child support and when are you going to pay"; "The house is still half mine and you better make sure the furnace is repaired"; "If I don't get Christmas this year, I won't pay child support."
Children should not be involved in parent's fights. Children need to love both parents because it makes them feel better about themselves.
What Would I Do Without You
When parents divorce, they become overwhelmed and feel less than whole. They feel alone and miss the companionship and help with responsibilities that were part of the marriage. They may count on children to fill the gap and look to the children for emotional support or to be the little mother or man of the house. Children feel used when thrust into the role of being the parent's friend or helpmate. They often must grow up before they are ready and miss out on being children.
The Money Game
Parents often have a financial crunch when they become single parents. They sometimes let children know how worried they are when bills come due or are overdue. They blame the other parent for their money problems. This behavior scares the children and makes them feel insecure. They may become preoccupied with thoughts about how they can bring money into the home or they may think that if they aren't there, the parent will be able to cope.
I'm Starting Over
Sometimes divorce makes parents feel that they are starting over and that they are young again. They may adopt clothing or hair styles of teenagers. They may stay out late or not come home until morning. Children find it embarrassing and confusing when parents act like "one of the kids".
I Owe My Kid
Parents know that divorce hurts children, and they feel guilty. Some try to make it up to the children by letting them off the hook with chores and responsibilities or by buying the children wonderful presents, sometimes going without things for themselves to do it. Children know when parents are trying to buy their love. It makes them feel uncomfortable. Children need the consistency of still having to do their regularly assigned chores, and they need love and attention.
Over My Dead Body
Sometimes parents play custody and visitation games. They try to get even with the other parent for some hurt that occurred in the marriage or caused the divorce. They try to keep the children from the other parent or they try to gain custody to break the other parent financially through court battles, to show that they are the better parent, or to intimidate the other parent to gain something else.
Children feel at fault in these games; if they weren't around, they wouldn't be a vehicle for the parents to continue to fight. They believe that their feelings don't matter because the parents are so consumed with fighting the war.
A parent sometimes calls the other parent names or says nasty things about the other parent in the hearing of the children. The parent is hurt or angry and may even believe that the children should know the "truth" about the parent. Children don't feel good about themselves when part of themselves comes from the "no good" parent. Children need to learn for themselves the strengths and shortfalls of each parent. They want and need a good relationship with both parents.
A parent sometimes may try to use children as a weapon to change the other parent's behavior or to try to get something from the other parent. The parent may refuse to pay child support because he/she believes the other parent is using it for entertainment or new clothes. The parent may refuse visitation because a new girlfriend/boyfriend is in the life of the other parent and that parent is now immoral or not giving enough time to the children. This behavior is unfair to children. Children should not be used as a pawn for a parent to retaliate against the other parent.