Protecting Children From Loyalty Conflict During a Family Breakup
The breakup of a family is difficult for everyone. For some, it is a shattering experience that comes as a shock with no warning.
For the person who is more "ready" to leave, it is still painful. For the person who is caught unaware and unprepared, it is devastating. When children are involved, this difference in the adult experience absolutely must be acknowledged and managed by the parents. It is the only way to protect the children from loyalty conflict, from feeling like they have to choose, from feeling like they have to decide that one parent is the "good" parent and the other is the "bad" parent.
While this should be obvious, it often is not. In the midst of tumultuous change, emotional upheaval, and shattered dreams we go into survival mode. Parents shut down all but the most essential functions which tend to relate to very basic self-care, work, finances, and transportation.
The children are left to deal with being caught in the middle between parents who are blaming each other. One parent is justifying the decision to leave (relief and guilt) while the other parent is outraged (hurt) at being rejected.
Parents who are ending their partner relationship need to plan for the needs of the children before the separation occurs. Let your children see that even though you could not resolve your conflicts to stay with each other, you can mutually love and care for the children.
Can children cope with parents who place them in the middle?
Of course they can. Children need both parents. Children love both parents. Children want to please both parents. Children can learn to choose Mom when they are with Mom, and to choose Dad when they are with Dad. They can do it, but it will not help them develop a healthy and positive view of intimate relationships. It will not prepare them for commitment and honesty in their own relationships in the future.
Don't make your children choose.
Instead, meet together (with a professional if needed) to make some basic agreements for the sake of the children:
1 What will you tell the children?
2 Can you meet together to tell them the mutual story or do you need to meet separately?
3 When will you tell the children? You need to tell them as close as possible to the same time if you are unable to do it together.
4 What will change and what will stay the same in the life of the child?
5 Will you litigate or will you mediate?
6 If you choose litigation, how will you protect the children?
Planning at a time of crisis is tough. That is why crisis counselors are important. The breakup of your family is a crisis. Think seriously about sitting down together with an expert in family breakup and successful family reorganization and make a plan.
Your children need protection from the adult issues. They will have enough to deal with as they learn that moms and dads can quit loving each other; as they learn that life can be scary and unpredictable; and as they gradually develop the skills they need to learn to be able to go back and forth between Moms House and Dads House.