How to Deal with Parental Alienation
Parental alienation is when a child rejects a parent, resists contact with a parent, or shows extreme reluctance to be with a parent.
What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation is when a child rejects a parent, resists contact with a parent, or shows extreme reluctance to be with a parent. The child’s rejection of the parent occurs because of alienating behavior by the other parent, whether it’s done intentionally or unintentionally. Parental alienation is a phenomenon seen almost exclusively with high-conflict divorce or separation cases.
Many experts consider parental alienation a form of child abuse. Children have an innate desire to have a relationship with both parents. Decades of research show that children who have a secure, close relationship with both parents are typically better-off emotionally, physically, academically, and socially. Children who experience parental alienation can face a lifetime of harm from things like depression, drugs and alcohol, failed relationships, multiple divorces, or estrangement from their children later in life.
Signs of parental alienation
Parental alienation looks different in every situation, depending on the personality of the child. Some alienated children may express rage toward the rejected parent, either yelling and screaming at them or treating them with open hostility and defiance. Other children may not say a word and instead cut themselves off emotionally from the alienated parent, interacting with them as if they are a stranger.
A common denominator in parental alienation cases is that the breakdown of the relationship between the parent and child is irrational. The child’s thoughts about the alienated parent are highly skewed, polarized, and often sound almost word-for-word like something the favored parent says about the rejected parent.
With parental alienation, the child often forms a close alliance with the favored parent and blames the rejected parent entirely for the divorce or breakdown of the relationship. The child may refuse visitations with the alienated parent, as well as relationships with extended family. The child might deny that they ever had a positive, close relationship with the alienated parent.
Why parental alienation occurs
Unfortunately, parental alienation happens because the parents usually have feelings of anger, resentment, or hatred towards one another. The alienating parent often makes derogatory, demeaning, and belittling comments about the other parent. The alienating parent may also use his or her children as pawns to get back at their former partner or spouse. The alienating parent may start stonewalling the other parent, refusing to communicate or cooperate, which sometimes includes purposely not sharing information about their child.
Some parents may not realize their behaviors are alienating the other parent. In some cases, the parent is so emotionally devastated by the breakup of the relationship that their judgment is skewed. Other times, the alienating parent is well aware of what they are doing. These parents almost always have narcissistic or borderline personality disorders.
Some purposeful behaviors that alienating parents use to drive a wedge between the other parent and child include purposely not complying with court-ordered visitation, undermining the alienated parent’s authority, using the child as a spy, and sharing intimate details about the relationship or divorce that are inappropriate for the child’s age, such as infidelity, sexual issues, finances, or abuse.
What to do about parental alienation
If you feel like you are experiencing parental alienation, it’s critical to address it right away. Intervention by a trusted friend or therapist may help a parent who is unintentionally alienating the other parent recognize their behavior and correct it.
If the other parent is intentionally hostile, it will be more challenging. You will likely need to get help from a legal professional. You should try to carefully document all the suspected alienating behaviors as much as you can, particularly non-compliance with visitation. If possible, have a friend or family member with you to witness the alienating behavior during exchanges or when you have to meet face-to-face with your co-parent.
The use of a co-parenting communication service like TalkingParents can help maintain unalterable documentation of your calls and messages, all of which can be ordered in your Records for court.
If you are the alienated parent, remember to take care of your mental and emotional heath as well. Focus on positive, constructive behaviors and avoid any desire to punish the other parent or be angry with your child. Combating parental alienation is emotionally draining. Consider working with a counselor or joining a support group for other parents affected by parental alienation.