Parental alienation is a very real thing that can feel extremely out of your control. Some people are dealing with total alienation from their children, while others are experiencing it to a lesser degree. Either way, it is extremely painful.
As you read through this article, you may notice certain behaviors that seem familiar. Obviously, there are many who are attempting to alienate the other parent on purpose, but there are also those who may not even realize they are doing it at all. Look, no one is perfect at divorce and so if you recognize some of these behaviors in yourself and have a couple of a-ha moments, now is your chance to change those behaviors and do better.
Whichever side of this you are on, this article is designed to help you, your children, and even your ex-spouse.
Parental alienation is defined as actions taken by a parent to isolate a child from the other parent through words and conduct – any effort to create division. Some examples of this may include, but are not limited to:
- A parent insulting the other parent to a child.
- Allowing others to speak negatively to the other parent in a child’s presence.
- Interfering in a child having contact with the other parent.
- Sharing unnecessary details with a child.
- Tempting a child with “better” alternatives than spending time with the other parent.
If you are experiencing this in any way, you know how infuriating, terrifying, and overwhelming it can be, making it difficult to think straight and navigate through without letting your emotions and fears take over and get the best of you. If you are in fact dealing with this though, you are going to need to find a way to be your absolute best self so that you can make clear and effective decisions in your child’s best interest.
Now, the absolute best solution for this problem is for it to simply stop. There is nothing good that can come out of these behaviors and in the end; it is the child that is hurt. And if it were as easy as this, the article would end right here, but it isn’t and it doesn’t.
Tempers tend to run high and people can be very emotional during the divorce process. So first and foremost, learning to calm yourself by taking a step back and taking a few deep breaths is something you will need to practice often.
Now let’s explore this in more detail. According to Sinta Ebersohn, founder of The Fair Divorce, the result of these behaviors is that “children become entrenched in divorce battles. The relationship the child has with the alienated parent deteriorates and the child is emotionally scarred, robbed of a normal developmental childhood, and at risk of being an alienator when they grow up.”
Again, if you are realizing that you are the parent displaying these behaviors, we encourage you to be honest with yourself and stop doing it. If you are the parent on the receiving end, well then you can’t control the behavior of others, so what can you do?
1) Practice Self-Care – Experts across the board agree that self-care is essential and must be made a priority in your life starting right now. The only way you will be able to have the strength and clarity to navigate through this on a daily basis is if you are taking good care of yourself. There is a reason you are told to put the mask on yourself first before helping others in the event of an airplane emergency. You are of no use to anyone else unless you care for yourself first. End of story.
2) Don’t Engage – Take the high road when dealing with the other parent and with your children, and behave in a loving and consistent manner. Amy J.L Baker from The Attached Family suggests that the parents being alienated should “never make attempts to defend themselves or have lengthy discussions with children around alienation.” She instead suggests that parent always convey a message of “I love you and I am here for you if you want to spend time with me.”
Further, she encourages parents to use the following method when communicating with their children on the subject: “I hear that you believe that I __________ and I am sorry that you believe that. I do have my own perspective and am willing to discuss it with you if and when you want.”
3) Knowledge is Power – Get educated on the subject of parental alienation, what your rights are, what you can and cannot do legally, how to be of service to your children, and how to cope. Mike Jeffries, author of A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation, states that “intellectually understanding parental alienation provides parents with an emotional anchor that helps you make good decisions for yourself and your children.” Just as in any other situation, the more you know, the more effective you will be in navigating through and creating the results you desire.
4) Get Support – Reach out to trusted loved ones or professionals to help you through. Trying to navigate any stressful situation on your own only makes it harder on you. Having at least one person you can talk to openly and release emotions and frustrations to will make it less likely that you will take these things out on your children. Rosalind Sedacca of The Child Centered Divorce likes reminds parents that “their children are innocent and not to take their frustrations out on them by losing your temper, acting aggressively, or shaming and criticizing them. By having others to lean on, you get to be the parental role model your children deserve.”
Parental alienation is a source of pain and long-term damage for all parties involved. Marina Sbrochi says it best, and the following is taken from her article titled “Parental Alienation Sucks.”
“Every single story has a tragic ending. The child is put through trauma and the parent that does the alienating always LOSES in the end. Here is a testament to taking the high road…. It is tough dealing with unreasonable ex’s [exes]. No one is saying it is easy, but it is worth it.”
Jennifer Butler is a writer and life coach who has navigated through her own divorce as well. To find more of her writing head over to www.jennjoycoaching.com or www.instagram.com/jennjoycoaching.