When you and your partner with children in common separate or divorce, you will likely each have reasonable and ongoing access to your children. While there are a variety of custodial arrangements to choose from, the goal is to have ongoing and frequent contact with your child. This one-on-one time with your child is valuable and can help you feel closer to your child. You have an opportunity to bond with them in a way you may not have had before. However, it is important to keep the lines between parent and friend clear.
Be careful what you share with your child
Beforehand when you wanted to talk about your day at work, you probably did it with your spouse. Now the only other person in the house is your child, so it seems natural to share with them.
That may be fine. But what about if you had a bad day because of something your ex did? Is it acceptable to share that with your child, too? No, it is not. It is absolutely imperative that you keep your opinions, and your struggles, with your former partner to yourself (or share them with your therapist, or close friends — but always out of earshot of the child). Even if you do not mean to do so, bemoaning the difficulties of co-parenting to your child sends a message to your child that the other parent is “bad” or “mean” and can create emotional conflicts for the child. Your child should be able to enjoy their time with each parent free from concerns of “adult matters,” which need to be worked out when the child is not around.
How much can you ask your child about their time with their other parent?
This is a fine line. If your child or co-parent thinks you are digging for information, things could get uncomfortable. For instance, if you want to know who your ex is seeing or how much they earn, ask them directly. Even something as innocent as “What did you have for dinner?” could be taken as an attempt to judge the other parent or imply they are not caring for your child properly. If you child volunteers something negative that occurred at the other household, raise it with your ex directly (away from the child), rather than passing messages along through your child, or agreeing with the child that their other parent is a bad person as a result of the alleged conduct.
Does that mean you should not talk about your co-parent at all?
It is possible to talk to your child about their life with their other parent without directly talking about the co-parent. Ask open-ended, positively-framed questions of your child, such as “do you want to tell me what you did this week?” or “What was your favorite part of your time with ___?” You do not need to ignore the fact that your child has another parent and life; however, you need to create an environment where your child feels comfortable sharing that part of their life with you.
If you can collaborate on divorce and custody, it will make it easier to collaborate as co-parents. If your child sees you two can still get on, they are less likely to feel caught in the middle. Divorce is hard enough for children as it is. Be sure you do not inadvertently make it harder.