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Is your coparenting conflict causing loyalty anxiety for your child?

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Children often struggle with their parents’ separation as they feel they are made to choose between each parent in varying situations.

Separated parents can feel abandoned, resentment or bitterness towards each other as they are hurt, sad or angry. This has an adverse effect on their children because parents can put a lot of emotional pressure on their children. They can feel caught in the middle of their warring parents and feel they are being made to choose sides.

This can be done directly or indirectly.

One parent may say directly to the child “you want to live with me, don’t you?” and when the child is with the other parent they say “we are a team, you and I, we don’t need anyone else, do we?”. Often children will answer yes to both parents as they don’t want to hurt either or feel like they are letting them down.

A parent might say to their child “It’s my parenting time so I’ll take you to the school concert on Friday night”. The other parent, unaware the concert occurred until the child talks about the concert on their next visit, is in shock and disappointed. They might say “Why wasn’t I invited to the concert? I really would have liked to have been there”. The child feels caught in the middle of the conflict, thinking maybe they should have told them about it before, maybe they should have asked the other parent if they could come too or wish they didn’t have concerts to go to as it is so stressful knowing it makes mum and dad fight.

There can be indirect testing of loyalty too. Imagine.... you and your ex are standing at opposite ends of the football pitch as you can't stand being near each other. Your child starts to run off the field elated as he scored the winning goal.... suddenly he slows his pace as he is torn which parent to run to so that he can celebrate and receive proud congratulations and hugs. He looks towards Dad, then turns to look towards mum, both parents have huge smiles, arms outstretched and yet he doesn't know who to go to first. He looks from side to side, battling to make a decision on who to go to. The decision is too hard to make. His loyalty to his parents is in conflict, and he turns and runs back to his team to celebrate so as not to hurt either of his parent's feelings. Both parents miss out, because they couldn't put their child above their hate for each other!

Don't make your child choose. Parents should choose to do what is best for their child. View situations through the eyes of the child, rather than the view of what you as a parent want or don’t want. With every decision there is a precluding trigger or feeling that creates a reaction which results in an action or behaviour. Reality test your decision. Think about why are you not inviting the ex to the concert or standing next to each other at the soccer field. Ask yourself what would my child want? Would my child want both parents at their concert, of course they would. Would the child want both parents next to each other to cheer them on and run to at the end of the game, shouting “Did you see me score a goal?” Absolutely they would.

You may think that you are hurting, angry or sad at what has happened to your life, but think about what you are putting your child through from the impact of your grief. Your child is the collateral damage in the coparenting conflict. This conflict does immeasurable damage to your child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.

If you are struggling with coparenting conflict and want to improve communication, create a civil coparenting relationship and put your children's needs first then gain support from me as your Conflicted Coparenting Divorce Coach. Book your coaching session here -

Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce & Conflict Coach, Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, NMAS Mediator & Parenting Coordinator.

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