When parents intend to separate or divorce, it is essential to assure their child that their love for the child is unconditional. It may be helpful to seek the advice of a qualified professional before having a discussion with the child about new living relationships.
Future living arrangements should be discussed on an age-appropriate basis. Unfortunately, even the best intentions of parents cannot easily dispel a child’s “terrors” about a future which lacks the constant presence of both parents. Childhood fears may include anxiety about one parent not being able to take care of the child and the possibility (in the child’s mind) that the child will be separated from both parents and be “given” to foster parents.
A child’s view of the separation/divorce process will be influenced by each parent’s conscious and unconscious “messages” to the child. It should not be assumed that the child will voice his/her fears and concerns. It is the parents’ responsibility to anticipate that the child may experience considerable anxiety. The child may have great difficulty expressing his/her anxiety for fear of alienating a parent.
Each parent should make a conscious vow not to place a child in the middle of any marital dispute. A parent should not permit hostility toward the other parent to become the child’s problem. One parent may despise the other but children usually wish to maintain their allegiance to both parents.
One of the worst and most common “no no’s” is using a child as a messenger to transmit information, documents or money. Each parent must look beyond his/her ego and attempt to insulate the child from involvement in parental conflict. As marital problems often disrupt good parenting, the adults in the family must be wise enough to recognize the consequences of bitter disputes which affect the child. A child’s emotional health is too important for parents to place their needs above their child’s wellbeing.