How does Parent Alienation Damage Children of Divorce?

“You are a bad parent and I don’t want you in my life anymore.” Most parents have heard this from their children at some point and feel free to ignore it. Unfortunately for some divorced parents, this threat becomes reality.

“Parent Alienation Syndrome” or PAS is a devastating force seen in divorced families most often with custody issues. Dr. Richard A. Gardner defined PAS in 1987 as “a disturbance in which children are preoccupied with deprecation and criticism of a parent – denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated”.

How is a child turned against a parent?

PAS occurs when one parent (or stepparent) programs a child into a pattern of hostility and negativity toward the other parent. Alienating the child or children from the parent who initiated the divorce can be one way for the parent who feels wronged to realize some revenge.

These children see one parent — the alienator — as all good, and the other parent — the alienated — as all bad. The child may believe being loyal to the alienating parent is the only way to keep that parent’s love. Children feel no guilt in verbally abusing and rejecting one parent while the other parent — the alienator — sits back and enjoys the newfound status as the perfect parent.

Mediation Focuses on Good Co-Parenting

Parents who use divorce mediation attorneys to resolve their divorce issues are much less likely to experience PAS than parents who use divorce litigation attorneys. Mediation attorneys work toward setting up cooperative and supportive co-parenting relationships. They may recommend a reunification therapist to help with the process. Divorce litigation often encourages emotional and financial combat between parents with the children as pawns.

What can a parent do to repair the alienation?

What is a parent to do if they are alienated from their child? Maintain any line of communication to your child that is available. Use friends and relatives, if necessary, but keep that line open. Send birthday cards, postcards or holiday cards. Attend public activities of your child, so your child can see you still are a part of their life.

Be patient and strong. You will be hurt numerous times by your child rejecting you but persevere in maintaining that relationship. Your child may reach adulthood before your relationship is reestablished. In some cases, it may never be reestablished. This is especially true if the child was very young when the alienation process was initiated. The older your child is when the alienation occurs, the more likely it is that they will realize what occurred and come back to you.

In the end, you must grieve over the time lost with your child and then pick yourself up and continue to live. If your child returns to you, let them find a healthy, whole person, a little bruised but with friends, interests and a capacity for love.

For additional information on children’s issues during divorce, read The Kids are Not Alright and Why Consider Counseling for Children of Divorce?

©2018 Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation

By Dr. Eileen Schanel Klitsch

ID 55378687 © Ruslan Huzau | Dreamstime.com

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