This is the fifth in a series of blogs on this topic.
In my last blog, I wrote about children of divorce taking sides with one parent over the other. In addition to taking sides, many children feel “caught in the middle” of their parents. For others, there’s the feeling of being pulled between their parents.
Being caught in the middle includes hearing one parent complain about the other. When a child (or a grownup) hears their parent being disparaged, it’s like they are being criticized themselves.
Eric shared, “Hearing complaints from one about the behavior of the other was never nice. It puts you in an impossible position to hear them out while not wanting to at all.”
Stacey lived in the middle of the anger, “When I was with my father, he would talk sh*t about my mom. When I got home, if I had fun with my father, my mom called him Disneyland Dad and got mad at us. She would bad mouth him and vice versa.”
Heather felt similarly, “The hardest part was dealing with the animosity between them and feeling like being stuck in the middle all the time.”
Holidays are particularly difficult for divorced families. Children may miss being with one side of the family, worry about choosing which parent to be with, feel sad for the parent that was alone or overwhelmed by too many family events.
Liz remembered being sad for her dad, “I do remember feeling so sad at holidays when my Dad was alone. It was very painful for me. My Dad began to fall apart physically and the responsibility was enormous.”
Rachel didn’t like the choice, “I did, however, always hate Thanksgiving (still don't love it) because I always had to choose where to be and where ever I was, I felt like I was betraying the other parent. Why did they make me choose? I still feel that way now”
Eric didn’t like having more than one holiday, “Holidays and communications -- you have to report everything twice. Splitting time between loved ones is not fun. Not having them together as a couple means loneliness and heart break, even if they both were alone with the divorce.”
Lisa said, “Holidays weren't hard because it was never a question that my brothers and I would spend every single one with our mom. He would ask from time to time but never expected it. He knew what he did and that it wouldn't be right.”
Traci didn’t come home, “Since I was in school in Boston, and my parents lived in NJ, I rarely came home. I felt I needed to split my time evenly. It became stressful for me.”
Some parents put their children in the middle by asking them to give the other parent something. In the Parenting classes that I teach, we caution parents from putting their children in the middle of their arguments or asking children to be their “messengers” to deliver information, child support, mail, etc.
Ari felt like a messenger, “Our parents, as is probably common, often used us. "Tell your dad that..." "Tell your mother that she still owes me..." They were warned not to do that, but that's just how it goes sometimes.”
And so did Jay, “I became the intermediary shuttling information back and forth between them (although more so from my mother to my father). Because of the strain in their relationship, it seemed like my mother came to everything at school and my father didn't. I assume that was because that was the way she wanted it. It was also hard sharing information with him only seeing him a couple of times a week."
Some children feel guilty about their circumstance and feel caught in the middle of the whole family dynamic.
Tina felt guilty because she ended up with two moms and her sisters lived with her dad, “Well, it was fun for me cause I got my mom. I got my own room for the first time and I got to decorate it. I got to live with two moms, which was fun… I experienced (and still in my adult life it translates) a lot of guilt, as I knew my sister was devastated that mom didn't "pick her". I was taken from my three sisters and my life was never the same.”
As in each blog before, I’ve tried to give a glimpse into one aspect of life for children of divorce. In my next blog, I will share advice for divorcing parents from the voices of adult children.
Jody Comins, MSW is a Divorce & Family Mediator and Collaborative Coach in the Greater Boston area. She is an adult child of divorce and uses her experience to create a child-centered practice at A Better Way: Divorce Mediation. She is a mentor for volunteer mediators in the Norfolk Probate & Family Court and a court approved facilitator for the required parenting classes in MA.