Parenting Time & Decision Making

Don’t Use Your Kids as Messengers


Don’t Use Your Kids as Messengers

At one stage or another, almost every set of divorcing parents will experience situations of ill-will, conflict, heated arguments, (whether verbally or by email or text), and misunderstandings between themselves. Yet in most cases these same divorcing parents must nonetheless figure out a way to effectively communicate and deal with each other on an ongoing basis, since they will remain involved in the joint upbringing of their child.

In such scenarios, there are many ways to go wrong – but one of the most devastating and harmful mistakes from the standpoint of a child’s personal and emotional development, is to have the child serve as a “messenger” between the parents.

This involves asking or depending on the child to relay messages from one parent to the other, and can include things like:

• Requesting changes to access or custody schedules (“Tell your mother I can’t pick you up on Friday night this weekend, but I’ll come at 10 a.m. on Saturday”);

• Asking the other parent to take care of school or health-related obligations (“Ask your father if he made that appointment with your pediatrician, or whether I’m supposed to do it”);

• Soliciting information about general day-to-day matters (“Ask your mom if she knows where your blue ski jacket is”).

This is unhealthy for so many reasons. For one thing, it puts the child directly in the middle of any conflict between the parents, which is never a comfortable place for any child of any age to be. And all the more so where both parents have unresolved negative feelings toward each other, and end up inadvertently (or sometimes deliberately) conveying their anger or hurt through the child.

But even if the split is amicable, a child will naturally have intense feelings about the separation or divorce, and will feel conflicted about playing go-between.

Secondly, this places a great burden on the child, in terms of ensuring that the messages that are conveyed are accurate and timely. Yet as any parent knows, children are already notorious for not fully applying their listening skills and for forgetting things at the best of times, so to burden them with the responsibility of being an accurate messenger is unfair.

Bottom line: One of the duties of being an adult is to take responsibility for your own communications. More importantly, one of the responsibilities of being a parent is to do what’s best for your children. So keep the kids out of it.

So what are your thoughts and comments about using kids as messengers?

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.