Using Children as Pawns

child_pawn04From: Peace Talks

Using children as allies and pawns during separation and divorce is all too common. Parents who are feeling hurt, angry, or bitter, may want to tell the child intimate details about why the marriage broke down, to persuade the child to think and feel like they do. It is very reassuring to have your child agree with you and become furious at the other parent. It also is a way to cope with your jealousy and desire for revenge.  Parents may thus coax a child through questions to spy on the other parent, to tell them stories about the activities and behavior of the other parent.  There have even been cases when a parent will feign illnesses, or adopt psychological problems, in order to obtain the children’s loyalty against the other parent.  There have also been cases where a parent will tell a child that the other parent does not really love him or want to be with him, but will want to see him a lot to hurt the caretaking parent. This hurts your child far more than it does the other parent. Click here for an article about children being used as pawns in divorce.  

Children often feel loyalty to both parents, and they quickly pick up on what each parent wants to hear. As a result, they tell both sides some version of what they want to hear, sometimes elaborating on events, exaggerating comments, or altering the tone of the parent’s response, and thereby increasing the conflict between the parents.  Using children as allies and pawns only confuses them. Researcher Janet Johnston has shown that such behavior has long-lasting, damaging effects on the children’s future development.  Remember, it is you, not the children, who is divorcing. Don’t expect them to get divorced, too. In most situations it is not healthy for them to reject the other parent, expelling him or her from their life, even if you are doing so. Click here for another terrific article on this topic.

Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001). For more information:

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