Could this happen? Yes it can!

A twelve-year-old is invited into the mediation process. One parent is in the lobby and the other parent is not present.  The mediator gives the pre-teen the space to share their living preferences by asking a simple question, “Where do you prefer to live?”

The pre-teen responds, “I want to live with my mom.”

Custody is set for the pre-teen to reside with the mother during the school week Monday – Saturday morning and to live with father on the weekends beginning Saturday mornings through Sundays 8pm. Holidays and summer vacations are set. 

Fast forward, the pre-teen is now 14. Life happens and this family finds themselves back in the mediation process with a focus on change of custody, initiated by the teen and the father. 

The teen is scheduled to be interviewed by the mediator and is nervous because they lied to the mediator in the past to please mom. 

Could this happen? Is it possible that the teen could be worried that they would not be seen as credible in the eyes of the judge? Is it possible for the teen to have a new understanding of their family dynamics and that they have gained insight into their parents’ behaviors? 

YES! It is possible and it happens! 

In divorced families, children often feel caught in the middle of a loyalty battle between their parents and feel like they have to please one parent over the other, even if they don’t agree with what the parent wants them to do. Sometimes children worry about one parent more than the other and do or say things so the parent is happy.  

As parents, it is important to not put your emotional well-being in the hands of your children. It is not their responsibility to help you feel happy. In divorced families, children adjust as well as their parents adjust. So if you are a hot mess and you excessively (more than 3-4 times when they are leaving your home) tell your children how much you are going to miss them and how you cannot wait till they get home, you are setting your children up to worry about you and to say and do things to help you feel happy. 

How might this look in your family? Maybe your child loves to go to Padres games with one parent and there is a school trip to see the Padres play. Children are encouraged to ask their parents to volunteer as chaperones. As much as your child may want to ask their other parent and to have the other parent volunteer, if they know you will be devastated for not being asked, they will ask you. Of course they will have fun with you as their chaperone, so why is this a big deal? It’s a big deal because your child is making decisions for themselves while ensuring they are taking care of you. Look ahead, if you are unconsciously asking your children to take care of you in this way, you are teaching them that people must be responsible for ensuring others feel okay and that they must put others ahead of themselves. Children like this may grow up to be passive adults who get walked on and taken advantage of. 

Parenting and co-parenting is a journey. This said, if you walk the path of thinking about how your words, actions and behaviors may impact your child now and in their future, the path will be easier to walk. Choose kindness and compassion and forget about creating games of loyalty for your children. You are their teachers and they love both their parents. Walk the path of kindness and compassion together.