Publisher’s note – this particular post is a general post, not reflective of any particular situation that I may or may not be dealing with personally. Furthermore, this post is being written gender neutral, as it is a topic that affects both genders.
Just as I am an advocate for cancer survivors and patients, universal health care, and adoption, I am also an advocate against something called “Parental Alienation.” Today is the annual recognition of Parental Alienation.
To be clear, this is an issue that affects both mothers and fathers, but also extended family members such as grandparents. But what exactly is Parental Alienation? First, it should not be confused with the term “Parental Alienation Syndrome” which is completely different, though it is considered the next level from Parental Alienation. According to Psychology Today, Parental Alienation is the “psychological manipulation of the children against a targeted parent.” This is not necessarily a custodial parent vs. non-custodial either. The action of Parental Alienation is “psychological manipulation” which simply means causing the child to think differently about either parent, usually in a negative sense. Simply put, talking mean about the other parent so that the child wants nothing to do with the targeted parent. This type of emotional abuse actually can occur with extended family members as targets as well, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings. The individual actually manipulating the child will have one or more targets.
Parental Alienation Syndrome is actually when the manipulation has been completed, and the child, who under normal circumstances would unconditionally love both parents, now tries at all costs, to avoid the targeted parent, even to a level of hatred themselves comparable to the offending parent.
What would cause one parent to go after another parent, and use the child in this manner? Clearly it is to serve as some sort of revenge, either for a system that the antagonist perceives did not give the desired result, or even if the desired result was reached, the decision was not enough. The hatred of the target by the other parent, is more than the love the parent has for the child. That does not mean that the offending parent does not love their child, the offending parent just hates the targeted parent more.
No one gets married with the ultimate goal of getting divorced, well unless you get involved with a pre-nuptial agreement, then I believe you pretty much do not have confidence in your marriage lasting. I do not have the secret formula to what makes a marriage last “til death” parts the spouses, or when the marriage simply falls apart. And the reasons that marriages do fall apart are numerous, from issues such as money problems, to even getting married under false pretenses. But at no point, should this EVER affect the children.
And that is exactly how Parental Alienation works, by drawing the children into the failed marriage. Only the two spouses are the ones married and divorced, not the children. The children will keep the same parents as they had when they were married. However, when one parent is driven to cause as much hurt as possible, children do get used as a weapon to hurt the targeted parent. Make no mistake, this is emotional abuse, child abuse. No child, under normal circumstances will hate their parents, unless they are convinced to, and this is Parental Alienation. When the targeted parent is no longer able to be involved with the child, now by the child’s choice, this is Parental Alienation Syndrome. In the short run, what this means to the offending parent, “good, I got what I wanted, my child hates (the other parent) and I know that parent is hurting now because of that. I have now hurt the targeted parent as much as they have hurt me.” Think about it, the parent seeks revenge, uses the child to do so, and succeeds. Sure, the targeted parent has now “paid” for their transgression and nerve for filing for divorce. But now you have a child, or children, who will have not only parental issues, trust issues, and relationship issues in their future lives.
The offending parent does not take the harm to the child into consideration. All that matters is what occurs to the targeted parent at all costs. But just as any traumatic event in a child’s life, whether it be abuse, loss (death) of a parent, auto accident or fire, the child who grows up resenting their targeted parent faces a couple of major issues. There are all kinds of shocking statistics that point to risky behaviors of children of alienated parents, but one thing is certain, it is not something the child will ever forget. And just as the offending parent will feel victorious, vindicated, eventually the child will discover the manipulation, and the role that they themselves played, or were played. And then a whole new set of issues will develop.
So how does a child get manipulated against their other parent? Involving the child in discussions pertaining to the divorce process from court orders to the issues of the divorce. Lies. Talking negatively about the targeted parent. Wrangling support from outsiders (family and friends) to “verify” the things said about the targeted parent. Really, anything that causes the unnatural act of turning a child against their parent. That is manipulation.
And while “parent” is in the term, the act is actually involving the child, there are things done to add to the hurt caused to the targeted parent which is meant to reduce any fight the targeted parent may put up. Keeping the targeted parent from communicating or seeing the child, not sharing simple things like photos and report cards, not informing the targeted parents of medical issues that arise are all acts of parental alienation, because the purpose is there, to alienate the child from the targeted parent, to erase the parent from the child’s life.
And those outsiders that actively participate or encourage the unnatural act of turning a child against their parent, may actually be considered worse because they are not as emotionally involved as the offending parent, then presumably should have a clearer head, to see the hurt being caused to the child. Again, do you hate the targeted parent more than you love the child? Then you are guilty of Parental Alienation.
I am an adult child of divorce. I grew up hearing awful things about my parent by outsiders. My parent chose to not deal with all the hatred and manipulation by the others. And so, as much as I loved that parent, I grew to hate that parent. And as visits diminished, the hatred grew because clearly, everyone else was right. And the absence of my parent proved it. But a tragedy early in my adulthood would open a door that had been slammed shut by me. Now, I am not the kind of person to hold a grudge, even in this extreme case. I never did ask either of my parents why they got divorced, and with my father no longer living, I do not want to know, being able to hear only one side at this point. I have forgiven, moved on, but have not forgotten.
I love my daughters. I did divorce from their mother, but I did not divorce their mother. I divorced from my wife. And that is why it has been so important to me to not allow to happen to my daughters what happened with me, because I know how it feels. Because our daughters will outlive both of their parents, and most likely have a family of their own, their mother and I will need to co-exist as mother and father. There are children that are not as fortunate. Those children will never get the chance to stop the hurt, never get the chance to forgive. And that is what today is all about.