Children face difficult loyalty conflicts when forced to choose between their parents. If being close to one parent means being disloyal to the other, children can feel stuck in the middle. Trying to choose between two parents they love can feel like an impossible situation.
It’s often hard for parents to spot loyalty conflicts. Most parents just want to do what’s in the child’s best interests, but their perceptions of this can be clouded by feelings about the other parent. As a result, loyalty conflicts are often caused by unconscious behaviour and subtle messages from parents, and are usually unintended.
If your child is frequently upset at handovers, seems unwilling to visit the other parent, or even refuses to go, they may be experiencing divided loyalties.
Your child’s feelings are heavily influenced by your relationship with your ex-partner. This relationship is likely to be complicated, especially in the early days when you are still working things out.
As co-parents, it’s important for you and your ex to have an ongoing relationship. You may need to address some of the following issues:
If you there are no immediately obvious reasons why your child is experiencing difficulties, it’s possible there’s a loyalty conflict.
Give your children permission to be as close to the other parent as they are to you. Watch out for the hidden messages that children pick up on, and make sure you and your ex are doing as much as possible to make sure your children are comfortable and happy in both homes.
Separated partners tend to reassess each other in the light of their relationship breakdown. If your ex has hurt you and disappointed you, you may feel that they’re untrustworthy, selfish, uncaring, irresponsible, and whatever else comes to mind. But it is important to remember that this assessment is about your ex as a partner, and not as a parent. Hard as it may be, try to focus on their good points as a parent. Remember that this is how your children see them, and try to separate your feelings from your children’s.
Talking this through with a friend or a counsellor could help you to find new ways of adapting to being a single parent. If you and your ex are struggling to agree the arrangements for your children, a family mediator can support you in deciding what’s best for them.