parental conflict

What is the key to raising a smart, compassionate and grounded child? While experts might debate the strengths and weaknesses of various methods, it doesn’t appear that there is one, perfect model. Research indicates,however, that the formula for giving your child less than a perfect chance at a happy, secure and normal life is actually more predictable; especially when parents involve children in parental conflict. There are various studies that indicate that children of high conflict divorce, for example, are more likely to experience mental health problems, behavioral disturbances, and substance abuse problems than their peers.

Many of us may not think twice before we complain about our spouse, partner or ex in front of our child. Sometimes, we’re only stating ‘the obvious’ or ‘the truth’. We try to be funny, and at other times, a comment is made in anger and quickly forgotten. Often we think children are not listening or don’t care about seemingly adult issues. But children do listen and while they might not understand the context of a comment, discussion or argument, they can sense emotions, especially when the emotion is anger.

High conflict is another beast entirely. The telltale signs of high conflict between parents are mistrust, hostility, undermining the other parent’s role, authority or relationship with child, or placing a child in the middle. For instance, having an argument with your spouse about paying the bills or balancing the checkbook – even on a routine basis – doesn’t likely rise to the level of high conflict. On the other hand, telling a child that the family home is in foreclosure because the other parent is a “deadbeat” smells like high conflict.

Are you the parent who creates or perpetuates high conflict? If so, take a look at your actions and the motivation(s) behind your behavior. Are you attempting to even the score with the other parent for past hurt(s)? Are you competing with the other parent for the children’s affections or good will? Are you combating what you perceive to be the children’s perception of the other parent and feel the need to educate your child as to the other parent’s nature, problems, etc.? While there may be no love lost between you and the other parent, your children will benefit greatly from your efforts to treat the other parent with respect. Demonstrating respect (even if it is not mutual) is an action that you can control, and it will go a long way toward creating peaceful communications and exchanges with the other parent. When a child observes parents being able to communicate and to get along, valuable life lessons are learned and a child’s sense of security is strengthened. When you undermine, attack, or hold grudges against the other parent, it is usually your child that suffers the intended and unintended consequences.

Individual, couples, or family counseling can be helpful to process feelings and to deal with past and current events. Many therapists offer coaching to assist parents who are having difficulty communicating or working together. One of the therapist’s tools can be modeling appropriate communication and behavior to parents who have lost the ability to work together. If neither of these options is successful, it may be time to try a mediator or parenting coordinator.

Types of Parental Conflict Assistance

A mediator is a third-party neutral who meets with both parents together or separately, usually at an agreed-upon place and location to assist parents with a defined set of issues or disputes. The mediator listens to the parties to understand their concerns. Through several discussions, the mediator works with the parties to come up with results or a plan of action. This process is cooperative and the parties are essentially in control of the solution – everyone works together for a common goal.

A parenting coordinator (PC) is also a third-party neutral who can assist parents with limited or ongoing parenting issues or disputes. While a PC often utilizes mediation, there are other tools available in the event of impasse. The relationship between the PC and the parents is contained within a contract that defines not only the scope of the PC’s role, but also authority for decision-making if the parties are unable to come to a resolution. Often using a PC is helpful for parents who want an alternative to traditional litigation (and the costs and time associated with litigation) or for those parents for whom conflict continues at an unhealthy level even after the conclusion of litigation.

If you are experiencing high conflict with the other parent, don’t lose hope. There are many options available to help you and the other parent learn to engage in healthy, appropriate communication that benefits your child.  For helpful guidelines, tools and resources to reduce conflict see

A great family law attorney will walk you through the changes in your life with skill and compassion. At Tario & Associates, P.S., we have been practicing family law since 1979 and have helped thousands of Bellingham families settle their legal needs. Please contact us today for a free consultation. We are here to help!