Unwilling Spies

“I feel caught every time I go visit my father. I come home and I am bombarded with twenty questions.”

This is a quote from a child caught between divorced parents (borrowed from Adolescents After Divorce by Christy Buchanan). Ms. Buchanan’s study found that almost two-thirds of adolescents from divorced homes said they feel caught between their parents at least sometimes, and 10% said they feel caught between their parents frequently.

Being used as a messenger or a spy was rated by children as being among the most stressful events they associate with their parents’ divorce (source: Stanford University, Christy Buchanan).

Being used as a spy is more likely to happen to older children, and children of divorced parents with high conflict and low cooperation are most likely to feel caught between their parents. Not surprisingly, children used as spies have poorer psychological adjustment, reporting feelings of anxiety, depression, and sometimes aggression.

In Making Divorce Easier on Your Child: 50 Effective Ways to Help Children Adjust, Nicholas Long, Ph.D and Rex Forehand, Ph. D state: “…it is how you divorce and what you and your child’s other parent do following the divorce, rather than the divorce per se, that has the most impact on your child’s adjustment.”

Surprised? It seems like we shouldn’t be. Doesn’t it smack of common sense that forcing kids to spy, gather information about their other parent, and report back like a traitor makes them feel like crap?

Of course, “all parents deny using such tactics,” say Alvin Pam and Judith Pearson, authors of Splitting Up: Enmeshment and Estrangement in the Process of Divorce.

Recommendations to spare your children include:

1. Do not use your child to deliver messages to your ex-spouse.
2. Do not ask your child questions about your ex-spouse’s personal life.
3. Do not interrogate your child about the time he or she spends with his or her other parent.

(borrowed from Making Divorce Easier on Your Child)

It’s cowardly and irresponsible for these parents to make the kids do something they are not adult enough to do on their own: speak for themselves and ask their own questions. Kids should never be their parents’ spokesperson. It amazes me the limitless ability of some parents to keep inflicting pain on the kids long after the ink has dried on the divorce papers.

About TheSmirkingCat

I am endlessly trying to make sense of a world that has completely and unapologetically lost its mind.
This entry was posted in divorce, kids, poor parenting, spying, using kids. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Unwilling Spies

  1. i totally agree… sometimes when my 6 yr old stepson comes, he will volunterily be like “my mom sure asks a lot of questions when i come home from here… why does she do that?” – and thats pretty sad to interrogate a 6 yr old that doesnt even understand whats goin on.

  2. astepmomssay says:

    It’s a fine line to walk. I think it is important to show interest in their lives in general—and I don’t think it is healthy to pretend that other life doesn’t exist.BUT, there is a big difference between asking them how their weekend was or what they did and grilling them for minute by minute details.

  3. Smirking Cat says:

    I agree that pretending the kids’ life with the other parent doesn’t exist would be odd. However, sending the kids to the other parent with specific information to gather is dead wrong, and making the kids ask questions like “When is your payday?” is outrageously wrong. (Yes, I know someone with poor enough parenting skills to actually do this.)

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