Parental Alienation is a consistent set of behaviors that seek to drive a wedge between a parent and a child. Methods of parental alienation can be very subtle, such as making a child feel guilty for spending time with their other parent, or more deliberate, like purposely throwing away letters and gifts of the other parent.
Parental Alienation is a form of child abuse, not to be taken lightly. Why is it so serious? For one, a child deserves to have a full and loving relationship with both parents. As long as neither parent exhibits behaviors that could be detrimental to the child (such as a substantiated history of abuse or neglect, drug or alcohol abuse, criminal behavior, and anything else potentially damaging to the child), then the child should not be kept apart from either mom or dad.
As an adult who grew up alienated from her father, I can personally attest to the fact that when a parent is not in a child’s life, he or she can feel as though they are not lovable or good enough. For my entire childhood, I was led to believe that my father was not interested in a relationship. My mother routinely told me what a terrible person he was and prevented our relationship by refusing his calls, not answering the door when he came for me, and throwing away cards and gifts. I still have issues with not feeling valued, and I fear those I love will leave me.
Keep in mind when a child hears bad things said about either parent, it hits on a deep level because a child is composed of both mother and father. When a parent is attacked to a child with insults, criticism, and portrayed in a negative light, this sends a message to the child that he or she is also a bad person.
These are some of the common ways Parental Alienation are exercised:
- Bad-mouthing of a parent in front of a child
- Using guilt to make a child feel bad about loving or wanting to see the other parent
- Making a child feel as though he needs to take sides, spy, or defend one parent over the other
- Refusing attempts at contact (and then often telling the child that parent doesn’t care or want to see them)
- Acting to turn the child against the other parent
Many divorced parents could find themselves guilty of elements of parental alienation. Most of us have been angry at a former spouse and, if not careful, it would be easy to begin a verbal rant about all of the things about them that irritate us or reminisce about all of the things they do or have done that you don’t like. STOP before you speak, because you will just hurt your child making these statements. In the short term, you may succeed in persuading your child to take your side, but these methods often have a way of backfiring!
Think before you vent, and remember who is watching and listening to your behavior. If you are upset about something your ex has done, remember that your beef is with them, and should not involve your children!
Below are ways you can combat parental alienation
1. Take every opportunity when you are able to see or talk to your children to remind them of how much you love them and want to be with them.
2. Document every refused attempt that you make to contact your kids. Save any returned mail and keep a log of every visit or phone call made. The more proof of intent that you can attach to every one of your efforts (e.g. certified mail, e-mail, or other methods with “evidence” included), the better.
3. Release your children of the pressure to choose. When I saw my son struggling under his dad’s influence, I continually reminded him that he was free to love who he loved and like who he liked, so I would be happy for him when he was happy, allow him to share without judgment, and vocalize to him that I supported his right to love and be loved by his dad. This helped him immensely!
4. Don’t be afraid to involve the courts or law enforcement, if needed. Police don’t typically get involved in family issues, but if you feel that you need a witness to parenting exchanges or the courts to enforce your parenting plan, back up any claims with your documentation.
5. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so as much of a right as you have to be angry for being alienated, take the high road and demonstrate peace and civility before your kids. Let the other parent own the role of angry, bitter, and vindictive!
6. Prove the other parent’s allegations wrong. If your ex is portraying you as a deadbeat, hot head, or you name it, show your child all of your good qualities and make a liar out of your ex. Kids are smart. They will eventually put the pieces together and realize that their alienating parent treats others in this way or has issues of their own.
7. Don’t fan the flames by becoming part of the alienator’s anger campaign. If you remain calm and well-behaved, you don’t add any more fuel to the fire. Some people will act childish and crave fights no matter what. There’s not much anyone can do to prevent the extreme tactics of a narcissist or others who are mentally unbalanced. Just do your best to ensure your children have one stable parent.
8. Never give up! Sadly, some alienating parents succeed in keeping their children away from the other parent for years – even a childhood. This is extremely cruel to both the children and other parent; but, it does happen. I was 42 before I reunited with my father. It took me that long to see through all of the lies I was told and to find my dad. Other alienated children also see the light and seek reunification with their parents, so be ready to welcome them back!