Sometimes parents use their children to deliver messages about changes in visitation or to get information about what’s happening with an ex-spouse. This unfortunate parenting practice sets your children up to be in the cross-fire between their parents.

By Carolyn Ellis

Too often, children get caught in the crossfire of the divorce game their parents play. It’s a big parenting mistake to put your child in the role of messenger for communications that should take place between you and your ex.

“Initially, I did ask my nine-year-old son to convey information to his father for me,” confessed Sandra. “I rationalized it because I was so steamed at his Dad I was worried I’d say something I might later regret. Looking back on it now, I see what a burden I had put on his young shoulders. For Tim to be put in the position of telling his dad when he had to be back at my house, or that he wasn’t allowed to play on his computer after dinner at my house, simply wasn’t fair. No wonder Tim started to get very quiet and withdrawn. His dad was angry at me and ended up taking it out on the messenger.”

Asking your children questions about what your ex-partner is up to in a detailed, intrusive way is also not appropriate and does not protect your children’s best interests. Let your children share what’s important to them without actively digging for gossip about whether daddy has a girlfriend or how mommy is spending her money. Fishing for information about the other parent not only puts your kids in the middle, but it may cause them to start to hide information from you.

Children need to be children. They understand instinctively they are the product of two people—mom and dad. The natural tendency for children is to take any upset or disruption personally. “If Mom and Daddy can’t get along, it must be because of something I did” is a common conclusion. Putting your child in the role of messenger between two disputing adults is not only ineffective, but it’s unfair to your child. Not only does it create tension and stress for your child, but it sets your child up to have divided loyalties or wanting to play peacemaker between the two people he or she loves the most.

Helping your children adjust to life after divorce means you need to put your children’s best interests first. Empower your children by telling them they do not need to be the messenger of adult communications. Assure them they can ask that the other parent not put them in that position. It’s important you do this in a way that does not blame or criticize your ex or their parenting style. For example, “Sandy, I notice you’ve been giving me Daddy’s messages lately. I think it would be easier on everyone if Daddy and I spoke with each other about those kinds of issues. I’ve asked Daddy to speak with me, but if he forgets, you can remind him that you don’t have to be the messenger anymore.”

In most cases, it’s in your children’s best interest to have a relationship with both parents. The exception to this principle would be cases where you fear the safety or physical well-being of your children or yourself, in which case you should contact the appropriate professionals to keep you safe. Let your children be children, and keep the planning and coordination about parenting to the grown-ups.

Graceful Divorce Solution coverExcerpted with permission from the award-winning book The 7 Pitfalls of Single Parenting: What to Avoid So Your Children Thrive After Divorce by Carolyn B. Ellis. Carolyn Ellis is the Founder of and She is an award-winning coach, transformational expert and is also the creator of the award-winning The Divorce Resource Kit. Combining her deep intuitive abilities with her Harvard-trained brain, Carolyn specializes in helping individuals navigate change and uncertainty by tapping into their own inner brilliance and emotional resilience. To learn more or to book a session, please visit