Parents living together and raising children together in 1 home talk with each other nearly every day about the behavior and well-being of their child - it's called coparenting. Parents living in 2 homes with a child going back and forth do not - it's still coparenting. That daily conversation ensures both parents are sharing and learning about the child's fears, challenges, accomplishments, and needs. 2-home coparents need to make an effort to create those opportunities for information exchange. Children have a unique relationship with each of their parents and so the conversation between the parents brings an important focus to all of the child's needs, not just some of them.
The breakup of an adult relationship with children is a breakup of the whole family. Children are shaken by the sudden understanding that life can change dramatically and love can, too. If mommy and daddy can quit loving each other, can they quit loving the child? The child may feel responsible for the breakup or just long for the family to live together again. These tumultuous feelings influence the way the child sees the world in dramatic ways.
Children know when parents actively dislike each other or do not accept or respect each other. The pressure this places on the child can be unbearable. Children begin to tell each parent what they want or need to hear. Honesty and spontaneity are no longer safe. Children make this change for emotional survival because they feel so scared and overwhelmed by all the negative feelings swirling around them.
Sometimes children complain about one parent to the other regardless of the family living situation. Almost all parents who coparent together in 1 home have experienced the child who, suddenly and without reason, will only allow mommy or daddy to do something, Some of those battles are worth fighting to assert parental authority and require the child to cope with the reality that they are not the one in charge. Some of those battles are not worth fighting and the parent just complies.
This same behavior happens with parents who coparent in 2 homes but they often don't deal with it together or talk with each other about the behavior. It is essential that they have these conversations. The potential for a negative split between the parents is high, especially given the adversarial approach to family decisions practiced in our family courts. This places the child squarely in the middle with too much responsibility and too much pressure.
If parents are unable to have regular conversations with each other about their child's needs, it is important to find someone who can help facilitate such meetings. This may require a professional: a pastor, a teacher, a trusted elder family member, or a therapist with coparenting expertise. Keeping your child out of the middle requires thoughtfulness and commitment from both parents.