For couples with children, co-parenting can be one of the most challenging aspects of a divorce. Even if there is conflict, resentment or other negative feelings from the breakup, it is important to do all one can to avoid putting children in the middle.
One thing parents should be careful to avoid when co-parenting is “loyalty traps.” Loyalty traps can cause emotional and mental strife for children, and if taken too far, they could be considered alienating under British Columbia family law.
Loyalty traps are situations parents put children in that, often unintentionally, make them feel like they have to “pick sides” or that they are betraying one parent by loving the other. Experts have identified four general types of loyalty traps:
- The spy: When a parent asks children for details about their time at the other parent’s house in a pointed way. This could be something like “Does mommy have a boyfriend?” or “Do you like daddy’s cooking?” Children may feel that giving a positive report of their time with the other parent will make the parent asking feel bad or less-than.
- The messenger: When a parent sends a message to the other parent through their children. Even something as simple as “tell mommy I’m picking you up at 2:00 on Saturday” is problematic because it puts children in the middle of the co-parenting arrangement. Parents should opt for tools like text message, email or co-parenting communication apps instead.
- The confidante: When a parent tells the children about their feelings or the circumstances of the parents’ relationship or divorce.
- The ally: When a parent makes the child feel like showing affection to the other parent will make the other feel “betrayed.” This can lead to such extremes as children refusing to see the other parent because they think it will hurt someone else’s feelings.
Ultimately, unless a situation is abusive or harmful, child psychology experts agree it is usually best for children to have both parents in their lives after divorce. To facilitate this in a healthy way, it is imperative that parents avoid loyalty traps. Putting together a clear custody arrangement and co-parenting plan with the help of a family lawyer is also a critical step to move forward successfully.