Do you have a hostile or strained relationship with your Ex?
If so, you probably hate having to deal with them, especially when it comes to anything having to do with co-parenting.
Whenever you have to talk to them, get a text or email from them, you feel the pit of your stomach tie up in knots. You think to yourself, “Will this ever end?”
Whether your Ex is belligerent, annoying, hostile and irrational, stubborn or flakey… They drive you crazy.
Complicate your life.
And leave you feeling hopeless.
But as much as your relationship with your Ex makes you upset and stressed, what you may not be fully aware of is how it affects your kids.
Even if you aren’t fighting with your Ex or saying disparaging things in front of the kids, your anger and hostility can still affect them.
Believe it or not, children are extremely sensitive to parent stress and tension. Even when you’re not talking about it, your kids may be feeling caught in the middle of a situation they don’t want to be in.
That’s why, in this article, I want to help you see the subtle ways your strained relationship with your ex is negatively affecting your kids—whether you’re aware of it or not—and what you can do today to make sure your children feel relaxed, safe and loved, no matter how tense your relationship with your Ex has been up until now.Ease the Tension for Your and Your Kids
When you and the other parent aren’t seeing eye-to-eye, consider how this feels for your kids.
They see the two people they love most not getting along, making each other angry or even making each other cry.
It creates a huge dilemma for them. The question weighing on their hearts and minds becomes “How can I love one parent without disappointing or betraying the other?”
Parents who are constantly at odds with each other create a lot of stress for their kids. Many kids live day-to-day treading lightly, afraid they might make things worse.
When this happens, they may keep quiet about how they feel, for fear of upsetting you.
They may tell you what you want to hear because they don’t want to rock the boat and add to your stress. Or they may choose to keep their feelings to themselves out of fear that they may lose your love and acceptance.
They might also try to be a peacemaker or a negotiator between you and your Ex, which isn’t good, because it only draws them deeper into adult issues.
Children need to be children. Whether their parents live in one home or two, they should be able to grow up and enjoy their childhoods without having to worry about adult problems, free of undue emotional stress.
While you may be ticking all the right boxes by not fighting within earshot of your kids, and keeping your opinion to yourself about what a big liar/cheat/flake your ex is…
There may be other things you’re doing—unintentionally—that’s STILL putting them in the middle.
Even when you’re not fighting or arguing in front of your children, be aware that kids are very intuitive when it comes to their parents. They love you and are actually pretty good at picking up on clues that you’re upset or unhappy.
When there’s unspoken tension in the air, they feel it.
Without Mom or Dad ever saying a word, kids are often very aware of parent problems. They notice the tone of your voice, the occasional eye roll or when you don’t respond/completely ignore a comment they made about their other parent. How you interact (or don’t interact) with each other also carries a lot of weight too.
To give you a better idea of some of the subtle ways children get caught in the crossfire, here are a couple of ways parents inadvertently make things harder for their kids.
1. Ignoring the other parent at family functions or school events.
When your kids have an important event like a school recital or sporting event, what do you think is the first thing they look for?
Yep, you guessed it… their PARENTS. Your children look forward to seeing you and their other parent sitting in the stands or beaming with pride when they recite their lines on stage.
However, now that you’ve split up, instead of kids being excited about their BIG event your kids may feel more anxious about what will happen when the two of you actually “see” each other. Although you may not be calling each other names or picking a fight, giving your Ex the cold shoulder doesn’t make it any less awkward for your children.
In an effort to break the ice or make the situation more bearable, your children may become more focused on mediating between the two of you than enjoying their moment to shine.
2. Not communicating details to the other parent.
Let’s face it, parenting and managing your childrens’ needs can sometimes be a logistical nightmare. When things come up like birthday parties they want to attend, homework projects they need to do or practices they have to make, you may dread having to “talk” to your Ex.
Maybe it’s because you think you’ll just end up in a fight or it might be because the thought of having to deal with them just feels like too much.
In an effort to bypass the hassle, it may seem much easier and convenient to just let your kids deliver the details. It goes something like this…
“Tell Mom, I need to pick you up early on Thursday.”
“Be sure to let your Dad know your reading report has to be done before you get back.”
“Don’t forget to tell your father, your game starts at 7:00 PM on Saturday.”
“If you want to go to summer camp, you’ll have to ask your Mom to pay for half.”
Actually no. While avoiding parenting conversations with your Ex makes life easier for you, being the middleman is hugely stressful for your kids.
Keep in mind, children aren’t typically good at managing details. When parents hand-off information for kids to pass on to the other parent, it typically leads to more miscommunication and misunderstandings. And guess who gets caught taking the wrap for the missing details?
But that’s not all, sometimes the news kids are left to deliver doesn’t land well. Suppose Dad tells Allison if she wants to take swimming lessons Mom will have to pay half. When Allison tells Mom what Dad said, Mom goes off the deep end. Seems from her point of view she is just barely getting by while Dad is making bank. Guess who gets stuck listening to Mom rant? And then what happens when Mom gives Allison an earful to go back and tell Dad?
As you can imagine, Allison is the one who loses the most out of this deal.
3. Openly criticizing the other parent’s choices.
You may not call your Ex names in front of your kids or talk about what a jerk he or she is, but your feelings about them are obvious nonetheless when you criticize their choices.
“I can’t believe your father bought that expensive car for himself when he still owes me money for your last doctor’s appointment!”
“Wow, your mom sure found herself a real winner there. That boyfriend of hers is a weirdo.”
“Your father has been stuck in that dead-end job his entire career. He’ll never do anything with his life.”
“OMG, where did your mother get that outfit? I sure hope you learn to dress better than that when you grow up.”
You might think you’re just speaking the truth or perhaps that your kids aren’t bothered by your comments. However, hearing negative comments about the other parent often leaves children feeling helpless and caught in the middle. In order to defend the other parent, they must confront you. And for most young kids, challenging a parent is intimidating and uncomfortable.
Children understand that those jabs and occasional slights come from a place of anger and upset. They in turn don’t want to rock the boat so instead of sharing how they feel, they just stay silent.
Not to mention how incredibly confusing it is for kids to see the two people they love the most, hate each other.
The other tricky bit is that children literally see themselves as half of each of their parents. When you casually point out the shortcomings of the other parent, kids can’t help but wonder if you might feel the same way about them too.
Although that worry may seem far-fetched to you, remember that parents play a significant role in how children see and feel about themselves. AND when they hear negative or bad things about one of their parents, it can definitely impact their self-image.
So if you have accidentally strayed off of the good coparenting road and accidentally put your kids in the middle, take heart, you can get things back on track.
There is a way to remedy what’s happened and reassure your children that they’re loved, safe and that you have their best interests in mind, always.Here’s How
It’s easy to get carried away by your feelings about your Ex, and unintentionally put your kids in a position they don’t want to be in (and you don’t want them to be in, either).
That’s why, much like a successful business relationship, co-parenting well involves steering clear of personal issues, focusing on the kids ONLY, and keeping things business-like between you and your Ex.
Keeping it “all business” may not seem easy at first. After all, no matter how long you’ve been separated or divorced, you have a personal history together. You have a way of talking and behaving with each other. You know each other’s likes and dislikes, as well as, habits and pet peeves. You know exactly what buttons to push with each other, and that can make staying cool and collected a real challenge when you have to interact with each other.
But for the sake of your kids, you must try.
Because although your relationship as a couple has ended, your roles as parents will last a lifetime. Breaking free of that history and finding a new way to move forward is essential.
Fortunately, it doesn’t require a herculean effort to forge a new relationship with your Ex. It just requires a few simple shifts in the way you communicate.
Imagine you had to work with someone you didn’t like very much.
What would it take to make that situation work?
Much like working with someone you don’t like, your success as a co-parent may depend on:
Of course putting aside that history is no easy task and it definitely doesn’t happen overnight. It takes commitment, dedication, the ability to set aside differences and find common ground.
So how do you get there?
In my video program, Co-Parenting With Purpose: How to Raise Happy, Secure and Resilient Kids After You’ve Split Up, you’ll learn how to do just that. I’ll show you how to work together with your Ex in a way that takes the stress off your kids.
You’ll find out how to keep your kids out of the middle, so they can enjoy their childhood without the burdens of adult issues.
By the way, we’ll also explore other ways kids can get caught in the middle even if you and your Ex get along well!
In Co-Parenting With Purpose, you’ll get insights into how kids are affected by separation or divorce, how they may internalize certain situations and why they might blame themselves for your divorce. I’ll also offer you tips on how to help children talk about how they feel and what you can do to support those feelings
You’ll also get practical, guilt-free advice on how to bypass putting your kids in tense or stressful situations while reducing the frustration you might feel about co-parenting, too.Help Your Kids Avoid Stress
You and your kids have been through a lot. I know you love them more than anything and you want to make sure they’re happy and thriving. My program will help you do what’s right for them and right for you, too.
Wishing you and your children the very best,
P.S. What if your Ex is the one who’s putting your kids in the middle?
While you can’t control what your Ex does, you can control what you say and do in order to help you children handle whatever comes up between the households. In Co-Parenting With Purpose, you’ll get practical, real-world strategies on what to do and say if your Ex is undermining you, alienating your kids or just being a total jerk.What To Do If Your Ex Undermines You