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Your Child Can't Be Your Partner

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It's only natural that after divorce, parents -- lacking the support and help of a spouse -- often turn to their children to get practical help and emotional support. The boundary between generations gradually blurs and in many ways, the child may become a quasi-partner instead of a kid. It's so tempting. Right there in your house is a person who understands you, loves you and has two hands and a brain. The child is someone to talk to, someone who willingly offers hugs and kisses and someone who can help with the dishes, mow the lawn and even help discipline the younger siblings.

Be careful. There is a fine line between appropriately asking children to take on responsibilities at home and making them into mini-adults before they are ready. There is an even finer line between the usual conversations between parents and children and conversing with them in order to fill the gap left by your ex.

To grow into psychologically healthy adults, children need to be allowed to be children as much as possible, even in the wake of crisis. Yes, you may need the kids to step up and take care of themselves and each other more than they did when there were two parents in the household. Involving kids in money management and household tasks and expecting them to be more responsible can have beneficial outcomes. But how you go about it will make the difference between helping children mature and overburdening them.

Here are a few simple reminders:

Take the high road as you outline the new realities. Have calm, matter-of-fact talks with the kids about how life will be different. By all means, be sympathetic about the fact that changes are needed but avoid blaming the other parent for the changes in lifestyle or spending habits. Your kids may need you to comfort them but not at the expense of their relationship with their other parent.

Look to your own friends and relatives for your personal emotional support. Save talk about how overwhelmed, angry, disappointed, or relieved you feel to be rid of your ex for the adults in your life. Your children are dealing with their own feelings. They don't need to be burdened with yours.

Be realistic about how much you can ask of the kids to help keep the household running. Don't expect a 6 year old to vacuum the house perfectly or a 12 year old to make a gourmet meal. Yes, they can be taught to assume some chores. All kids need to be coached in how to do household tasks. But keep your expectations age and stage appropriate. This will probably mean adjusting your standards for how clean is clean and how much gets done in a day. That's okay. Better that your standards take the hit than the kids.

Maintain your role as the person who sets limits. You are the parent. Don't make one of the children into your co-parent for disciplining the others. Asking a child to do it will disrupt the positive bonds between siblings. The other kids become resentful of the child or teen who is now in charge. The kid in charge may enjoy his or her new status but the responsibility for keeping a younger sibling in line can be overwhelming.

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