Assisting Families in Transition

Parental Conflict Hurts Your Children

For our inaugural post, I thought it appropriate to write about how parental conflict hurts kids, even when it is not played out in front of the children.

When parents decide to end their relationship, it’s normal for some level of conflict to be present. Anger, bitterness, jealousy, and misguided efforts to reconcile influence parents’ behaviors. Sometimes those things can trick parents into making very poor parenting decisions that are motivated not by the children’s best interest, but the parent’s negative feelings about their co-parent. So even if the parents aren’t arguing with each other in front of the children, they can still be harmed by decisions parents make when they are angry or upset. Some common examples that I encounter include:

  • Not allowing a parent to see the child;
  • Revoking an agreement for off-schedule access previously made;
  • Avoiding discussions with the co-parent about child-related matters/using the child as a messenger;
  • Saying negative things about the co-parent to the children or within earshot of them

Of course, there are innumerable ways that angry parents find to “stick it to” the other parent when negative emotions short-circuit their reasoning skill. But the bottom line is quite simple: when parents choose to be in conflict, they are making a choice to harm their children. Parents can, instead, choose to set aside their desire to punish their co-parent and do what actually is in the child’s best interest.

How can you tell if you are making co-parenting decisions that really are in your children’s best interest? I coach parents to consider this: All parents will make mistakes–none of us are perfect (including your co-parent…and you!). One difference between a good parent and a bad parent, in my opinion, is that the good parent will observe the negative impact on their children when mistakes are made. They say to themselves, “Yikes. That didn’t work out for little Johnny. I’m not going to do that again!” Bad parents, on the other hand, observe the negative impact on their children, but continue to engage in the behavior because they have placed their own needs ahead of their children’s needs. Example? Saying negative things about the co-parent in front of the child is probably the most common.

Most folks learn to move past their differences and create some form of a working relationship with their co-parent so they can raise their children without creating unnecessary stress for them. You can get there, too. Even if your co-parent is not willing to cooperate with you, there are many things you can do to ensure you don’t add to the conflict.

Be the parent who chooses not to hurt your kids, no matter what others do.

Jack Bannin, MS, LPC, LMFT
Owner, Bexar Family Solutions

Originally posted on June 22, 2011