My parents always put me in the middle.

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From an American teen: My parents haven’t gotten along in years. They always put me right in the middle of their arguments and then blame the other for putting me in the middle. One week, my mom kept telling me all morning about how bad my dad was in the past (meaning before I was born), and how she should have left years ago, but didn’t because of me. My dad was bothering me all afternoon about the exact same issue. They always say they’re not going through with it “because of me” but I doubt it.

Last Sunday my dad was trying to give me the living room remote back but wanted me to hide it from my mom. I didn’t want to and told him to keep it, and I asked him not to put me in the middle. He went the other way with this and said that he’d immediately put a divorce paper in “so I wouldn’t be in the middle”. And then he started talking about giving me to the state post-divorce so I really wouldn’t be in the middle! I got very stressed and he thought my mom was the cause of me being stressed. I started to hit myself in the head with my fists when I felt I wasn’t being heard at all and he told me to cut it out. He acted as if I shouldn’t have felt anything at all.

So after a long period of silence, he said that he’d stay with my mom and that if he sees me stressed again, he’d divorce her. He also says that I can’t hide being stressed because he’d know. My problem is that I can’t get it across that my emotions do not revolve around them and that I have other stresses, too. I also can’t tell them to keep me out of the middle, because it leads to similar struggles. I’m scared that I’ll have to plaster on a fake smile until I graduate because of what my dad said. I don’t want to be the deciding factor for my parents’ divorce!

More information: The week that neither would leave me alone left me very angry into the school day. I started crying one morning and my mom thought I was crying for her! I wasn’t at all, but I was sick of hearing about “the past”. Not like it mattered.

Is there really anything I can do to relieve myself of stress and try to work my way out of the middle?

A: You know what? I think your parents are both very scared people. Neither one of them is happy in their marriage. Rather than confront it straight on by either working to make it better or getting a divorce, they use you as an excuse to avoid doing either. Whenever one or the other of them gets close to getting off the fence, they start another issue about you or with you. They are so scared of change that their fear has grown bigger than their love for you and they’ve lost sight of the need to make a secure home for you to grow up in.

I think you already know that their fights and their decisions have nothing to do with you. The most important thing I can tell you is that if your folks divorce it will NOT be because of anything you said or did or didn’t say or didn’t do.You can’t solve their problem. You can’t quiet their fears. That’s up to each of them. I think they still love you. Their fear is just too big to show it right now.

No kid should have to live with the kind of fear and anxiety you are living with. If you were a few years older, you could consider getting out of the middle by getting out of the house. For now, you may not have that option unless there is a relative who might let you live with them. If there is a kind aunty or grandparent in your life, I do encourage you to talk to them and see if that is an option.

If you feel safe enough (meaning that neither will physically hurt you if you stand up for yourself), you could tell your parents that you just can’t participate in their fights any more and that when they start in you will go to your room or go to a friend’s house. Then just quietly do it. You don’t have to explain ever again. It’s far more effective if you just up and leave for awhile. If you argue with them or lecture them or show attitude, you are helping them avoid the real issues.

Finally, I encourage you to talk to a school counselor or pastor or your family doctor about what is going on so that that person can talk to your parents. It’s likely they really don’t realize what they are doing to you. Someone with a little authority might be able to get their attention and push them to get their priorities straight.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Feb 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). My parents always put me in the middle.. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/02/22/my-parents-always-put-me-in-the-middle/