How To Help Your Children of Divorce Set Boundaries
There seems to be quite a bit of confusion when it comes to establishing boundaries during and after the divorce, especially between co-parents and children. But, the biggest myth I want to tackle is that boundaries are a one-sided conversation. The confusion occurs because one parent believes they need to protect themselves from the other parent, yet a co-parenting relationship involves two parents who will need to still respect one another for the greater good of their children.
With that being said, boundaries require two people to make a decision together in the best interest of the relationship and ultimatums only involve one person while preventing collaboration.
As for ultimatums, they place strict conditions on a situation or relationship which hinders the connection. One parent must do x, or else you’ll do y. A parent who receives an ultimatum from their co-parent will most likely not comply, as it doesn’t include their perspective as well. And, when the one parent feels forced to make a decision, they are more inclined to push back and do the opposite. This isn’t to be defiant, but because it’s natural to recluse when forced to do something against one’s willpower.
On the other hand, boundaries create respect for the relationship to maintain a healthy connection between co-parents, or parents and their children. Boundaries are the gateway for open communication while bridging the gap between different perspectives. One parent may express their limits to their co-parent by letting them know what they value to work better together for the sake of their children’s well-being. The other parent may also value the same goal, such as open communication, however, their definition may be quite different. It doesn’t make one perspective better than the other, but it’s about negotiating to establish what works best for all parties involved.
There will be rare occasions when a firm NO is warranted. This may occur when a parent or child experiences emotional, psychological, sexual, substance, or physical abuse from an individual.
Additionally, it can be very common for parents to believe they have the final say in their household. And, while it is true, children also have personal boundaries of what they need from their parents to be respected and cooperative. The greater respect parents have for their children, the more love and understanding will be present within the household.
What do children's boundaries look like with divorced parents?
Here are 5 Boundaries Children Need With Their Divorced Parents:
1. Not To Be A Messenger
Children are meant to play, not relay messages back and forth between their parents who avoid talking with each other. They are not a personal assistant to you or your co-parent. When children are expected to deliver messages they are often having to deliver messages that aren’t age-appropriate. This leads to children having to take on adult-like responsibilities when emotionally they aren’t equipped to handle particular situations or subject matters.
Children often feel stuck in the middle of the discord when they are expected to deliver messages between their parents. They recognize that their parents cannot constructively communicate, potentially hindering the development of their own viewpoints about relationships or communication skills. They may develop a belief that all romantic relationships are about fighting or that it is okay to name-call and be disrespectful to others.
Sometimes, children can develop anxiety, depression, or PTSD from being caught in the middle of a co-parent conflict. Either way, avoiding your co-parent will impact your child’s personal growth, how they choose to value relationships/friendships, and what love or trust means to them.
2. Not To Be An Emotional Support System For A Parent
Being a single parent can be extremely tough, especially when your support system is limited. Maybe the divorce left you with little friendships, a disgruntled family, or perhaps you even had to pick up your whole life and move to another city. While the emotions of the divorce may be a roller coaster, expecting your child to emotionally support you can put too much emotional weight on their shoulders.
Often, children are too young to understand the complexities of divorce or what led to the breakup to begin with. They typically will witness their mother or father being sad and wonder how come they cry more than they laugh. Your child may even internalize the divorce is their fault if you emotionally confide in them to support you.
If you are struggling with your divorce, we understand and are here to support you. In the meantime, let your child experience their childhood the way you would want them to so they can thrive and adapt to their new lifestyle.
3. Not To Be A Full-Time Babysitter For Siblings
As you transition from a partnership to singlehood, you may desire to step out and begin experiencing new social interactions. However, asking your oldest child to consistently babysit during your parenting time so you can go on dates can cross their personal limits of family time. Children who are forced to grow up too soon before they are emotionally and mentally equipped can become a parentified child. This means the child is taking on the parent’s responsibility that is far too soon in life before they are mature enough to handle it.
The long-term effects of a parentified child can be a lack of emotional maturing, regression in life as they develop, extreme sense of worry the family will fall apart if they don’t take on the responsibility, and/or the desire to find someone to take care of them in their adult relationships or the need to become the constant care taker. This can lead to perpetual cycle of unfulfilling relationships.
4. Not To Be Forced Into Taking Sides Between Their Parents
Divorce can get pretty ugly between co-parents, but one parent may feel betrayed by their own children if they decide to live with the other parent, aka your ex. However, children will most likely not choose sides on their own unless they feel an alignment with one parent’s parenting style over the other or want to remain in their school district.
On the flip side, children can be generally persuaded by one parent through spoiling, lack of household rules, or emotional guilt to be closer with one parent over the other. In the end, this usually hurts the parent who is resorting to these manipulative behaviors because the child senses tension and knows when they are being used as a ploy. Eventually, as your children mature they will realize who had their best interest at heart all along.
For the parent who is sensing these tactics are going on in the other household, focus on staying neutral, showing genuine love, connecting through mutual interests/hobbies, and your child will feel inner peace and come to you naturally.
5. Not To Be Forced Into Forming Relationships With Step-Parents
As children spend time between two homes, it is important not to force them to have a parent-child relationship with a new stepparent. Children will naturally choose to honor the relationship with their step-parent by having simple interactions where they can build trust and friendship.
While step-parents can be wonderful bonus parents to the children, a child will develop the relationship at their own pace where they feel comfortable. Children look for security and safety before interacting with adults outside of the biological parents, as they are still learning about relationships and who has their best interest.
If the step-parent acts in a way that isn’t conducive to a healthy relationship, the child may choose not to engage with the step-parent out of fear they will be reprimanded or be told what they can or cannot do. Children value those who respect their limits, listen to worries and fears, understand their feelings, and support them through positive engagement and encouragement.
The healthier the interaction between the children and step-parents, the easier it will be to form a close relationship.