If you share a child with your ex, you know the feeling of being forever bound to someone through parenthood even when the marriage itself has failed to stand the test of time.  Divorce is a fragile period for parents and children alike and establishing new dynamics can be daunting. When reflecting on their own behavior and decision making, single parents would do well to remember this simple maxim; YOU are the parent, THEY are the child.

It may seem obvious, but this is one of the most common and least discussed pitfalls of being a single mom or dad. The stress of divorce can distort the emotional territories between parent and child and before either realizes it, the parent is relying on their child for support instead of the other way around.

Falling into this dynamic is accidental and almost always derives from the love you have for your children in the first place. During the post-divorce period, you will be re-identifying yourself as a single adult and as a single parent. The pride we take in our children and our desire to shield them from pain often gets single parents stressing out about how well they are doing. We want to be strong parents for our kids, but if we’re not careful that desire will become wrapped up in the ego and we end up achieving the opposite effect.

The following are a few simple ways to mentally check yourself and ensure that the emotional support between you and your children flows in the right direction.

  • Don’t dish the dirt with your kids about the other parent

Inevitably, your kids will complain about the other parent. As fun as commiserating about your ex may be, remember, your kids are not your buddies and they’re not there to validate your feelings. Your kids may initiate these conversations, but playing into them is a passive-aggressive way of disparaging the other parent. Remember, to hurt the image of their other parent is to hurt your child themselves.

  • Don’t make yourself a martyr

The circumstances of your separation may have been messy. You may be deeply wounded or angry with your ex.  No matter what the case, kids never have anything to do with it. You want your kids to see you as their rock, not as a victim or even as a hero.  Making it about your feelings and how you need your children to perceive you hands them the role of nurturer.

  • Don’t use your child as a mediator

You may be divorced but it is still your responsibility to build and maintain a working relationship with your ex. When kids have to do the communicating for you, they are the ones stressing out about how to edit the content because they are considering your personality and how you will react when you hear it. This amounts to role reversal. Talk to you ex. You are NEVER through learning to communicate.