Poisonous Parents: Child Alienation
“Mom and Dad!” These words will elicit emotion in any child, even an adult ‘child’. We were all children, once. We all loved our parents – in different ways and perhaps not equally, with a bias one way or the other.
Parental love is the guiding light that raises children to be strong, successful and confident adults. Yet, some parents actively work to undermine the love a child has for the other parent. This often induces such antagonistic feelings that a child may reject the other parent. Ominously, some kids ‘lock out’ the other parent in order to please the dominant parent (with whom they live) causing their love for the other to be ‘buried in a dark place’ in their psyche. One way or the other, this is what we call “parental alienation”.
The causes of parental alienation are often very complex. Jealousy following a break-up may cause a mother to fear the loss of her children to their father and his new wife. As a result, she may make constantly disparaging remarks concerning the father, his family and his choice to leave the mother and children.
“I am not going with you. I do not want to see you! You don’t behave like a real father!” These bitter words pierced the heart of a client of mine recently, as his daughter, the victim of alienation by her mother, shrieked at him when he called to invite her to accompany him and her new kid brother for a milkshake. Although he knew that this accusation was fed to his daughter by his psychological unbalanced and resentful ‘ex’, they hurt him deeply.
Parents who actively alienate, use a range of such strategies to undermine the love a child would otherwise have for her father, or a son for his Dad. They cause immense harm to children, who may grow up believing that they are not loved by both parents.
What can the rejected parents do in such cases? The answer is not a simple one, as the causes of the other parent’s betrayal may be many and complex. To make matters worse, the child that displays the rejective behaviour, may have become super-dependent upon the ‘bad’ (alienating) parent. Removing the child from the care of the alienator at this stage, may hurt the child even more!
The solution is not a purely legal one either, though it would be good if ‘Child Alienation’ were to be declared a crime, some think. It is more complex than that, however. When we encounter this type of behaviour, we employ a range of tactics, including assessments and supportive care from other professionals in our team along with court intervention by our legal professionals.
It can be a long road to reconcile the embittered, alienated child with his or her parent. It is worth the effort – to leave the child in the hands of the vindictive, alienating parent, can cause deep psychological damage to the child. And the damage does not end there – the child will someday model the behaviour and beliefs to the next generation. And the next.
It can take time. During this process, it is vital for the alienated parent to maintain a powerful belief in himself and never falter in his love for his child. Even when the situation feels hopeless, the alienated parent must remember that the child is a victim, too. The child needs him, more than ever. The alienated parent needs the support of a good lawyer, a great psychologist and a steely determination to regain the love of his child, against seemingly insurmountable odds. The battle can be (and is frequently) won by the parents who keep faith.