CHILDREN: Caught In The Middle

Children caught in middle Divorce Cycle Dollar Photo

Can children of divorce love both of their parents without paying a price? Many children have told me they keep their feelings about their “away parent” secret. They feel like they are children caught in the middle of two warring sides.

“It’s hard to know what to say to Mom. She flips-out when I tell her how much I miss my Dad. She’ll go into some rant about what a lousy father he is and how he never pays child support. I know he should pay child support, but that shouldn’t give her permission to say bad things about him.”

Slamming the ex is one of the most popular and damaging things divorced parents do to each other. Continued problems after divorce, and the anger that goes with it, are common. This anger can come from anywhere and may be left over from the issues surrounding the marriage or divorce. Issues continue to mount, as does the anger and often parents start talking about each other.

Children Caught in the Middle

Who gets caught in the middle? Ask most any child of divorce and they can accurately tell you about the quality of their parent’s relationship. It is important to them, and they will listen closely for new or additional information about the relationship. They love both of you, and they should not be made to suffer because of it. It can be very difficult to keep the negative issues away from the children. But it is possible to keep them out of the middle. The problem is many parents don’t realize the damage they’re doing. Or worse, they don’t even try.

It is important to remember that your anger toward your ex is yours, not the children’s. The children didn’t divorce the away parent, you did. Try not to make your anger theirs. Children have a natural loyalty to both parents. So they should be allowed to love each parent without suffering a penalty. Think about how you felt when your parents where attacked or bad-mouthed by someone. This is a very common problem in marriage and can easily illustrate the bad feelings associated with parent bashing.

You may have experienced the same process if your parents confided in you about each other. Being placed in the middle is no fun, and neither is trying to choose sides. When children have to choose sides they are put in a no win situation.


Too often the children are made to be messengers. “You tell your mom not to bother coming one minute early to pick you up. I have till 5:00 pm and I’m not letting you go early. This is my time, not hers.” “You can tell your dad this is the last time he’ll see you until I get the child support payment.” Talk about “killing the messenger,” this is a terrible spot for children to be put in. This is a “black hole,” and should be avoided at all costs. Communication with your ex is your responsibility.

Remember that divorce creates insecurity in children. Having them handle your problems makes it worse. One of the best messages a parent can send their child is that they have things under control. This creates a sincere feeling of safety and security. It will pay off for your children. Money problems, rules, inconvenience, and scheduling are common problems with every divorce. The only way to handle these issues is through direct interaction between the parents.

An Option

For those of you who can’t seem to get through a conversation with your ex without fighting or arguing, an option might be the following. Dealing with these situations can be smoother if parents treat each other like they were transacting business. There are certain rules, times, and methods of exchanging information, and delivery. I would frame it around precious merchandise. It’s so valuable that it must be handled with extreme care. Communication and timing is of the utmost importance.

Try to start this new style on something relatively common. Do not start with who will pay what for the braces, or what age is appropriate for which piercing. Visitation always seems to be a factor. Rules are usually defined in the divorce decree. Many will set dates and times for visitation, and responsibilities for care. Use these statements as the foundation and build up.

The following is an example of what steps to take to minimize problems:

• Identify the opportunity. (I did not say, “problem.” You’re dealing with valuable merchandise here.)

• Communicate about facts, not feelings. (Feelings are confusing, usually negative and contagious.)

• Discuss the options and their advantages and disadvantages. Keep the information factual, not personal. (Tina doesn’t feel well, not Tina is sick and you always forget her medication.)

• Set up a clear plan. Repeat the plan to each other. Then write it down.

• Follow through with it. Be courteous. (Would you keep your business client waiting?)

• Don’t question the merchandise. (Let the children determine the topics they talk about.)

Your relationship with your ex is not going to go away. Working together becomes a positive for everyone. Working together doesn’t mean you will always have your way. Be flexible and see if your “good will” comes back to you. Keeping the children’s feelings and well being first will help you when dealing with your ex. Remember, relationships waiver, but they can always improve. You both should maintain a common goal. Keep your children healthy.

This article is written by Dr David A. Swift, and was formerly posted on, which serviced the wonderful ministry of Gary and Norma Smalley. (c) Copyright 2003 Smalley Relationship Center.

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Filed under: Remarriage Separation and Divorce

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2 responses to “CHILDREN: Caught In The Middle

  1. I am married for 14 years suffering from abuse and tortures. We have two kids and am tired of facing an emotionless person. Please help me. I have filed for maintenance but as in our tradition, local self governing system has decided to bring us together again. But I can’t live with him as I don’t believe him. Please save me; please help me. I can’t leave my children. Please help me otherwise I will not have any other option than commiting suicide.

    1. Sudha, I’m so, so sorry for what you are going through. How I wish we could help you… I truly do. But we just don’t have that ability. We’re not connected in India. The best I can recommend is that you look for Christian Bible-believing missionaries located somewhere around you. There is also a web site, where you can contact them, that may be helpful –that you can find someone there that can help you. You can find it at They might have connections somewhere near where you live that can help you.

      Please throw away the idea of suicide. You say that you can’t leave your children, but what do you think it will do to them if you kill yourself? Then THEY will be left alone without you to lovingly help them, protect them, and be there for them. They don’t need to be exposed first-hand the the “abuses and tortures” plus, the horrible questions they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. They will question if they had a part in making you do that (children do that, even if you assure them otherwise). They will wonder why you didn’t love them enough to stay and be with them. They NEED you to be a hero to them, to be a parent who shows them love and buffers them from the abusive actions and words of their father. If he can do this to their mother, what do you think he is capable of doing when you’re not around? It will be an “emotionless person” who will be their guide throughout the rest of their childhood.

      Please persevere in finding another way to cope with what you are going through. Please don’t take the exit of suicide. Find a Christian missionary, or several, who can direct you better than what you are considering. God loves you and has better for you. But look in the right places, not the route of a cheap death. I hope you will and pray that God will give you the strength and insight to find a better way to deal with what you are going through so you get to a better place in life.