Avoiding Parental Alienation
Good co-parents make it a point to put the children first, set aside anger, see the other’s point of view, and foster the children’s relationship with the other parent. But all too often, good co-parenting is not the reality. Whether it stems from anger, hurt, jealousy, sadness, or other strong emotions, sometimes one parent will try and manipulate their children to dislike or harbor bad feelings towards the other parent.
What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation is the programming of a child by one parent to denigrate the other targeted parent in an effort to undermine and interfere with the child’s relationship with that parent. It is often a sign of a parent’s inability to separate from the couple conflict and focus on the needs of the child. Such denigration results in the child’s emotional rejection of the targeted parent, and the loss of a capable and loving parent from the life of the child.
Parental alienation can take place in many forms and can even be carried out unwittingly. More often than not, however, it is a tool used by one of the parties to drive a wedge between the child and his/her other parent. It may also be referred to, in layman’s terms, as “parental brainwashing.”
This process is often accomplished through trash talk, lies, misrepresentation, and isolation. Parental alienation may start with something as simple as complaining about an ex-spouse in front of a child and grow in severity as problems between the couple escalate before, during, and after the divorce. The purpose of this psychological alienation is to bring the child closer to the offending parent by driving them away from the targeted parent.
There are 4 distinct ideas that are common when parental alienation tactics are being used by a parent. These include the following:
- That only they love the child and without them, the child will have no self-esteem or self-worth.
- Not only is the other parent not available to help the child feel good about themselves but they are also dangerous for the child to be around.
- It’s the other parent’s fault that the family isn’t together anymore.
- If the child wants to attempt to pursue a relationship with the alienated parent, the relationship with the alienator will be put at significant risk – in other words, it’s either him/her or me!
Victims of parental alienation often become fearful and mistrustful of the alienated parent. Because children are easily influenced and suggestable, they struggle to see the “gray area” in this conflict. Instead, they are groomed to see one parent as “good” and the other as “bad.”
Tell-tale signs of parental alienation
It isn’t uncommon for parents to criticize their spouse in front of their child in a moment of frustration. A child may also overhear arguments or misinterpret events. So, how do you distinguish parental alienation from an everyday, ill-timed dispute?
Keep an eye out for these clear and common signs of parental alienation:
- Discussing, sharing, and updating the child regarding the couple’s relationship and separation or divorce. This sign goes beyond “over-sharing.” It is a calculated attempt to influence the child’s perception of each parent.
- Denying or attempting to deny the other parent access to the child’s school and medical records.
- Refusing to share important information about the child’s performance in school, his or her schedules, and upcoming events with the other parent.
- Creating code-words and signals with the child when discussing the other parent.
- Openly blaming the other parent for any and all problems.
- Not allowing the child to bring personal items to the other parent’s residence.
- Instructing the child to pick a favorite parent or to choose just one parent.
- Asking the child to monitor the other parent and report back.
- Scheduling fun events and activities during the child’s time with the other parent so he or she will not want to go.
- Withdrawing from and ignoring a child when he or she mentions the other parent in a positive way.
- Monitoring the child’s phone conversations, texts, Skype, and email with the other parent.
- Offering the child a choice, to visit the other parent or not, when the court order does not allow for a choice.
Steps to prevent parental alienation
While you may feel helpless if you are the victim of parental alienation, there are some steps you can take to prevent the situation from getting worse.
- Be the best parent you can be: No matter how much your child tries to hurt you, never fight back. Continue to be the best parent you can be at all times. Your child is a victim just as you are. Never lash out through anger, no matter how difficult it might be, especially when your child is lashing out at you. Always try to reinforce your love for your child, even though he/she might not reciprocate. And always be there for your child in the times that they might need you.
- Never stop trying to get into contact with your child: It is possible that you may be denied total contact with your child by the other parent. Don’t give up, be it sending gifts, trying to phone, or even visiting. If you do stop trying, it will give the other parent an opportunity to paint you in a worse light, perhaps even suggesting that you do not care about your child. Always make an effort to stay in contact with him/her.
- Don’t blame your kids: Parental alienation is a difficult and complicated situation. At no time should you blame your child for what is happening. Remember that he/she is being manipulated.
- Don’t retaliate by alienating your spouse: If you start to notice your ex-spouse manipulating your child against you, do not reciprocate with your own manipulation. This creates even more turmoil for your child and may leave him/her feeling confused and abandoned. Never ask your child to take sides. This issue is between you and your child’s other parent, not you and your child.
- Seek legal help when needed: In certain parental alienation circumstances, legal counsel can be a great help. This is especially true if your ex-spouse is denying you visitation rights that were already granted through a court order. In this regard, it is imperative for you to keep accurate records of when visitations were denied and consult your attorney.
About Sparrow Miller PLLC
Attorneys Dusty Sparrow-Reed and William Miller practice criminal defense and family law. They bring a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and trial experience to the table. They understand that all cases are “big” to the individual at risk or experiencing the breakdown of their marriage and family. “We have the wisdom and experience that you’re looking for to ensure your interests are protected, and the legal skills to get the job done.”
For more information about parental alienation, divorce, spousal support, custody and visitation, and family law, contact our office today at 703.875.8780, or visit our website: www.SparrowMiller.com.