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Families Change Guide to Separation & Divorce

5.3 - Comments on Traps

5.3 - Comments on Traps

Let’s look at another game parents play, called “The Messenger Trap”.  This communication trap is very common. It’s when parents use their children as messengers. For example: “Tell your father to get the support payments to me on time!”

This “Messenger Trap” video shows us how this game affects the children. Watch carefully to see what types of feelings your child might have if you play this game.

 

Narrator: After separating, some parents avoid talking to each other by asking their kids to deliver messages for them.

Father: When you see your mom, ask her if we can switch days this weekend.

Mother: Oh sure. I'll just change all my plans to suit him. Could you remind your father that the child support is due tomorrow?

Father: Yes, yes. I know all about the payments. I don't need to be reminded about that every single time...

Narrator: How do you think this boy feels about delivering messages for his parents?

Boy: Frustrated

Narrator: Sure. Because he has to tell his parents stuff that only makes them more angry or sad and that's a job he doesn't want. But he's just a kid and feels he can't say no. He's trapped in the middle.

Boy: Sad

Narrator: Mum and Dad used to be happy together and friendly to each other. Now, they seem upset all the time. They hardly even talk to each other at all. This little boy is sad because he misses the way his family used to be. It hurts.

Boy: Guilty

Narrator: The little boy knows the message he brings will likely hurt his mom or dad and he doesn't want to do that.

Boy: Worried

Narrator: Absolutely. What if he doesn't get it right? He doesn't want to make things worse between mom and dad. And what if they get angry at him? 

Boy: Confused

Narrator: Isn't it your mom and dad's job to look after stuff like this? This little boy probably used to be pretty sure he could rely on his mom and dad to do what they were supposed to do. How did it get to be his problem?  

 

Perhaps you never considered what being caught in the middle as a messenger feels like for your children. Telling children to take messages to your former partner places them in the middle of issues that should be discussed and resolved by you. Being a messenger is a painful burden for children. Parents need to communicate directly with each other. 

If your former partner is using the children as messengers, you can try to talk to him or her about how hard it is for the children when they are asked to be a “message service” and that you should both try harder not to put them in the middle. 

You could also suggest to your children that they say something like “When you ask me to tell things to mom/dad, I get nervous or worried that I won’t get the message right.”