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Kids Divorcing Parents

By Dr. Eileen Schanel Klitsch

“You are a bad parent and I don’t want you in my life any more.” Most parents have heard this from their children and felt 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 when custody is in question. 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”.

Parents who use mediation attorneys to resolve their divorce issues are much less likely to experience the PAS tragedy than parents who use divorce litigation attorneys. Mediation attorneys work toward setting up cooperative and supportive co-parenting relationships. Divorce litigation often encourages emotional and financial combat between parents which results in the children being used as pawns.

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 that their loyalty to the alienating parent is the only way for them to continue to feel safe and loved. They feel no guilt in verbally abusing and rejecting one parent while the other parent, the alienator, sits back and enjoys their newfound status as the perfect parent.

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. It may not be until your child reaches adulthood that your relationship is reestablished, and in reality, it may never be reestablished. The older your child is when the alienation occurs, the more likely it is that they will someday 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.