Divorce is upsetting for everyone involved, especially the children. But when one or both parents resorts to criticism of the other parent in front of or through the children, the effects can be devastating. Children need to maintain a bond with each parent. Their emotional life depends on it. Criticizing their mother or father threatens that bond and is an attack on the child who shares aspects of both parents.
In an ideal world, divorcing and divorced parents would treat each other with kindness and respect. They would remember the good in each other and put the interests of their children first. Many parents are able to do this and although the divorce is still painful, the adjustment is smoother, and a working relationship is maintained.
Unfortunately, when there is anger and conflict between parents the resentful feelings continue and the children are placed on a battlefield. They listen and watch their parents attack each other and hurl insults and blame back and forth. Children pick up on the words, the tone, and the body language. Just about every aspect of their parents' behavior is interpreted and analyzed. Even very young children have finely tuned radar systems that pick up on subtle changes in their parents' behavior and mood.
One scenario that frequently occurs involves a parent who gives a child messages to deliver to the other parent. “Tell your father to stop acting like a child and send me the check”. “Tell your mother she better not let you guys stay in that house with her boyfriend.” Messages like this put the child in a position to take the brunt of any angry backlash that may occur. They also force the child to side against their parent. They have to consider their parents in a negative light and may question their parents' intentions. It also leads to feelings of guilt as the child realizes he or she cannot protect his parents from hurt and pain inflicted by these messages.
Using a child as a conduit to hurt an ex-spouse is detrimental to the child and causes deep scars. Children often take responsibility when it is unwarranted and they assume adult roles, such as therapist, or confidante in order to shore up the parent who they perceive to be the victim. Keeping the child out of all adult discussions and roles and shielding them from anger is essential in order to protect their self-worth, their innocence and their relationship with each parent.
It absolutely makes sense that hurt and anger would result from divorce. But bringing the children into it is irresponsible. Adult feelings and thoughts need to be shared with other adults. Talk to a close friend or if possible a therapist who can help you sort through your emotions and find responsible ways to deal with them. Joining a support group or taking a parenting class can help you meet people who share your feelings and have found solutions to similar problems.
Often, people haven't fully let go of the marriage and remain connected to their ex-spouse through anger. Unless this is worked through, the outpouring of resentment and animosity may continue. Divorce hurts. It is a loss, a failure, dreams unfulfilled. Anger is sometimes easier to deal with than the hurt and grief but until the deeper seeded emotions are dealt with it is hard to move on.
I believe that it is possible to treat an ex-spouse with kindness and respect, which is best for the children. However, at the least they can be treated in a civil and professional way.