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Etiquette for Exes - The Four Big Don'ts

No one plans to get divorced. It is hard on everyone involved; creating upset and stress for the couple, their family, and sometimes even the family dog. Minimizing the effect on the kids, however, should be a priority for both parents, their extended family, and their friends.

The following are problems to avoid which can help make the difference between a divorce being an unfortunate change, or a life-long trauma:

Blurry Boundaries

Some parents have difficulty determining what is appropriate information to share with their child. Resist the urge to be 'honest' about the questionable behavior of your child's parent and/or your difficulty dealing with it. Drawing your child into your emotional problems contributes to your child's difficulty setting boundaries with others throughout their lives (i.e., The Pleaser.) This is the adult of divorced parents who says, years later, the following in therapy, "My Mom is my best friend, we tell each other everything," or "My dad took it really hard when my mom left, so I had to take care of him."


Don't make any normal or regularly scheduled activities optional. For example, "It's your mother on the phone, do you want to talk to her?" or "It's up to you if you want to spend the weekend with your Dad." Your child might feel guilty if he or she wants to carry out the scheduled activity. Further, be enthusiastic about activities with the other parent. Skip the seemingly harmless "I'll miss you while you're gone," as this risks worrying your child about leaving you alone or hurting your feelings. While input into decisions that affect parenting plans is appropriate, until your child is an independent adult, he or she should not have the final say.


If the other parent wants to seek professional help for your child, it is wise to support this. First, it is helpful for children who are going through divorce and gives them a place to say things they cannot say to parents. Second, it sends the message that it is acceptable to seek help when we need it. Third, family courts do not look favorably on a parent who stands in the way of seeking help for children. Getting your children therapeutic help does not mean you have failed them. Children need a neutral setting and objective ear; what if the only person you had to talk to about your divorce was your former spouse? Do, however, exercise your right to help carefully choose the therapist. Finding a trained therapist with experience in this area will help identify problem areas quickly.


Do not put down the other parent. This damages your child's self-esteem because you are insulting or criticizing that part of your child that identifies with the other parent. Remember, your negativity not only affects your child's view of the other parent, but of himself or herself, and of you as well. What you say about the other parent is indirectly teaching your child about how to speak about you.


Next issue: Protecting your child's self-esteem through divorce.
Janet is a registered psychologist and Divorce Coach. Jocelyn is a registered clinical social worker and Parenting Coordinator. Together, they founded the 2 homes Therapy Groups for children with families in divorce transitions. For more information about children and divorce, call 290-1805 or visit

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