I have a dirty little secret I kept to myself for many years…my son has rejected me and refuses to have anything to do with me.
Like millions of other parents across North America, I found myself embroiled in a very contentious custody battle. I was forced to fight tenaciously to remain a part of my son’s life, endlessly being pushed through the revolving door to the courtroom.
I was accused of things I had not done, painted as an incompetent mother, and covertly berated to my son. I was relieved when my ex-husband moved out of province and my son moved in with me full-time because I thought everything would be smooth sailing moving forward.
Within a year and a half, the last nail had been added to the coffin and I found myself financially depleted, feeling completely isolated, and without a relationship with my only son who went to his father’s for Christmas break and never came home.
Alienating You From Your Children
Parental alienation has many faces, but the outcome is always the same…a child is influenced by an emotionally unhealthy parent (or other caregivers) to reject a fit and available parent. To the alienated parent, this rejection can sometimes occur literally overnight (as it did with me), or they experience a gradual degradation in the relationship they have with their child until that child finally “decides” they don’t want to see their parent anymore.
Some common indicators (observed at various phases of alienation) suggesting that you are being alienated include:
- Your child tells you that they do not want you to attend their extracurricular activities.
- Your child refuses to honor your parenting time and they insist it is their decision.
- The alienating parent insists that they can’t force your child to go to your home.
- Your child views the alienating parent as having only good qualities and you as only having bad qualities.
- Your child’s reasons for the rejection seem frivolous and they cannot provide a detailed account of why they are rejecting you.
- Your child may talk like a music track on auto-repeat, parroting the same words over and over, typically to figures of authority, such as mental health professionals.
- Your child uses age-inappropriate language.
- Your child calls the alienating parent to “rescue” them while with you.
- The alienating parent texts and emails the child intrusively while the child is with you.
- Your child experiences frequent stomach pains.
- Your child refuses to eat any food cooked or touched by you.
- Your child rejects any form of affection from you.
So, what is a parent to do to counter the negative influence the alienating parent has on their children? The following are five must-dos when facing parental alienation:
- Educate yourself.
- Minimize conflict and approach your child with empathy.
- Become proactive.
- Demonstrate patterns of behavior.
- Involve a qualified mental health professional.
Educate Yourself About Parental Alienation
As a co-parenting and reunification coach, I talk to many parents. I talk to parents who are beginning to suspect they are being alienated, parents whose children have just cut-off from them emotionally, parents who have not had a relationship with their children for years, and even parents who are being wrongfully accused of alienating their children. In almost every single case, the parent does not fully understand the dynamics of parental alienation.
Knowing how the alienating parent thinks is paramount in successfully countering them at every turn. Understanding your child’s perspective will change the way you perceive your child’s behavior and the way you react to it. What many alienated parents do not know is that they sometimes engage in behaviors that unwittingly reinforce the alienation. Gaining a deep understanding of parental alienation will help you to avoid some common pitfalls.
Reduce Conflict and Approach Your Child with Empathy
Alienating parents thrive in chaos and conflict. In fact, they go out of their way to ensure that the child associates conflict with the alienated parent. Unfortunately, you cannot control anyone but yourself. Therefore, the role of conflict resolution master falls on you.
Many things happen when you are able to successfully achieve this. You feel more in control, your stress level goes down, you are giving the alienating parent less ammunition to work with, and you look like a rock-star in court and to any other professionals involved.
Reducing conflict when it comes to communicating with your ex is one thing. It is equally important to carry this over to your parenting practices. This often means ignoring poor behavior rather than acting like a disciplinarian, and responding to your child with empathy rather than anger and frustration (which becomes much easier after educating yourself on your child’s perspective).
Normal parenting practices often do not work with alienated children, and I strongly recommend you find the help of a seasoned coach to help you if you are struggling to parent your child.
As an alienated parent, it is common to feel off-balance and put on the defense, and forever reacting to the chaos. Being reactionary is your worst enemy when being alienated from your child. It leaves you feeling completely out of control, and often makes you appear unstable to untrained therapist eyes who may be involved. I get it! I went through it all myself and was desperate for anyone to believe me and step in to protect my son.
All the while, my ex remained cool, calm, collected, and overall appeared to be more grounded and capable.
If you’ve been going through this for some time, I’m sure you are pretty good at predicting your ex’s next move. Now is the time to preemptively act on every prediction you make. If you are being falsely accused of drug use, invest in drug testing so that you have proof that these allegations are false rather than waiting for a judge to order the testing.
Take parenting or conflict resolution classes. Prepare yourself mentally for the next parenting exchange and think about what you can do to deescalate any expected situation your ex may concoct.
Demonstrate Patterns of Behavior
Did you know that 95% of Judges enter the courtroom without ever reading a word of the evidence submitted? This means that they are relying on your lawyer to paint a picture of what is happening within your family. This is what typically happens…your ex’s lawyers slings mud in your direction, including possible false accusations.
Then your lawyer slings mud back in the other direction. The Judge is then left frustrated wondering why “you parents” just can’t get along and thinks you’re both the problem.
Documenting the alienating parent’s behavior is key, but that is only one side of the equation. The next step is organizing ALL that information into a format that can be easily understood and that demonstrates long-term patterns of behaviors over the course of years.
Pathways Family Coaching offers a free webinar to help parents understand exactly how to achieve this. A link to register can be found at the end of this post.
Involve a Qualified Mental Health Professional
If your children are already starting to pull away, or are refusing to speak to you and have you blocked on all channels, the only recourse you may have is to seek “reunification therapy”. But there is something very important to understand…there are no developed protocols for “reunification therapy”, which means that any therapist can proclaim to offer this service regardless of the approach to therapy they take. This means that outcomes can wildly vary.
If you are seeking therapy to help your family, there are several important things to take into consideration. First, the therapist needs to be highly qualified. I always recommend a family systems approach to therapy with a therapist who has a background in attachment, trauma, and personality disorders. They also need to understand and be able to identify pathological enmeshment and the difference between alienation and estrangement (when a child rejects a parent for legitimate reasons).
If you are seeking a court order for therapy, it is important that ALL caregivers and the children be ordered to attend therapy. This includes step-parents, and most importantly, the alienating parent. After all, they are the source of the problem and if they are not required to meet with the therapist, it is much more difficult for the therapist to identify the root of the problem. I always recommend strict and thorough court orders that ensure the alienating parent complies with the therapeutic plan, and the therapist is empowered to make recommendations to the court if reunification is not successful after a period of time.
Parental alienation is a very complicated family dynamic that is often missed by the courts and many therapists, is left uncontested by child protection agencies, destroys families, and leaves the children with long-term lasting effects of the emotional abuse they endured well into adulthood and sometimes for the rest of their lives.