Your child announces that he or she “hates” you. Your children claim that they don’t want to be with you anymore. Does this prove that you're a bad person? A more likely scenario is that your child is a victim of Parental Alienation.
Parental alienation syndrome even has its own name – PAS. And it can be hard to identify.
Who does Parental Alienation?
Typically one parent, often with the aid of other family members who feel they’re on some mission to demonize the other parent out of misplaced loyalty to their relative. Maybe they have a distorted sense of “winning at all costs.” Even if it means emotionally destroying the very child they claim to love.
One parent may use sneaky tactics to manipulate the child into refusing a relationship with the non-resident parent themselves. So it looks like it's the child’s idea, when all along the other parent has been hard at work behind the scenes gradually eroding the child’s relationship with the other parent. The child simply becomes the alienating parent’s mouthpiece.
Parental alienation is often delivered in the guise of “truth.” “Well, I have to tell our child the truth!” is a common claim of an alienating parent.
The truth is that a good parent does not ruin, taint, or destroy their child’s relationship with the other parent out of hate and anger for the other parent.
Parental alienation causes fear, anxiety, stress, insecurity, confusion, internal conflict, self-hatred and guilt in the child victim. Parental alienation can cause psychological disorders later in life.
Lies, Lies and More Lies.
Lies and libel are the tools of the trade of the alienating parent. Parental alienation is emotional abuse of children.
In my own practice, I frequently feel helpless to counter parental alienation. Early on in my career as a family law attorney, an experienced attorney said to me in a moment of instruction, “Do you want to know something about parental alienation?” Yes, I said, anticipating pearls of wisdom from a much wiser attorney. She paused, and simply said, “It works.”
That's a pretty dismal outlook, but you can take steps to counter it.
First of all, what does parental alienation look like? Consider what the other parent does to create the hotbed of hatred.
An alienating parent may:
Block parenting time, often making lame excuses – “They’re sick…” “They’re tired…” “They don’t want to go with you…” “He/she is grounded because…”
Make false accusations against the other parent and claim child abuse.
Say bad things about the other parent.
Enlist friends and family members to join in on bashing the other parent.
Tell anyone who will listen what a bad person the other parent is.
Coerce, shame, guilt, and manipulate the child into rejecting the other parent.
Destroy mail, presents. Not pass along phone calls.
Show the child the court papers, using the false excuse that the child needs to know the truth.
What You Can Do.
You feel helpless, frustrated, defeated. The very children that you love have turned on you. So what can you do to counter the effects of parental alienation?
Stay calm. Anger, aggression, striking back will make things worse for you and for your child.
Put your child first.
Do not get drawn into arguments. Don’t legitimize crazy by arguing with crazy. Here’s something I learned from a seasoned mediator who was addressing PAS. It’s a good response when dealing with a child who’s been wound up by the other parent, and the child is spewing accusations you know came from the other parent: Calmly say, “That’s ridiculous and you know it.” You may have to say it multiple times. End of argument.
Build your case. For example if the other parent accuses you of drug use, do a drug test.
Document, document, document. Write it down – dates, times, what happened, where it happened, what was said. You get the picture.
Keep all custody arrangements. Keep in touch with phone calls, letters, visits, activities involvement.
Get good legal representation. Ask around, do your research.
Don’t say bad things about the other parent
Don’t drill your child about the other parent’s activities.
Meantime, hang in there. Take the high road. Stay the course.