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Strategically Overcoming
Complex Problems

Is your child trying to ‘fill the gap’ after your divorce?

When you decided to get a divorce, it was to help you move on from a relationship you didn’t feel was healthy or appropriate any longer. You knew your children would struggle with it, but you also knew that you’d be in a better place without being with their other parent.

One issue that almost immediately cropped up, though, was that your children started trying to fill in for the other parent. Instead of playing after school with friends, your oldest would come home and start cooking for you. Instead of doing homework or playing a game online, your younger child would come to be close to you when you seemed upset, checking over and over if you were feeling better.

What’s happening? Why is your child acting like this?

This is something that psychologists nickname “filling in the gaps.” You and your ex-spouse have to be cautious if this kind of behavior starts happening. Why? Children can try to fill in for the missing parent. The older child might try to take over for mom or dad as a disciplinarian. A younger daughter might start acting like she’s her dad’s main companion. While you want to have good relationships with your children, you also want them to have their own interests and lives. Your adult concerns are not theirs to worry about.

What can you do if you see your kids trying to fill in the gaps?

If you can, sit down with your ex-spouse and children to discuss this. Sometimes, firmly explaining that you love them but that they need to focus on being children and doing what interests them will be enough to give them perspective. At the end of the day, they’re your children, and they should be treated their age.