Parental Alienation Syndrome
In some divorces, a parent will try to influence the relationship between the child and their spouse to disrupt or damage the bond. The child will be allied with one parent and reject affection from the other, without any real reason for doing so. While there is an element of some ‘brainwashing' by the parent, the child also contributes to the situation by actively rejecting the other party. This is called parental alienation syndrome (PAS).
When this happens, the rejected parent might be tempted to completely withdraw from the child. Without getting any support from their spouse, it is easy to see why a parent can feel totally outnumbered and without recourse, if their child simply does not want to see them. Of course, this only exacerbates the situation: failing to make an effort to repair the bond with the child means it is more difficult to recover, although it is certainly still possible.
There are some steps you can take to either avoid parental alienation or at least mitigate its effects. First, if you think alienation is happening, but you and your spouse are still on relatively good terms, try to address the issue with him or her. Maybe they are doing something that they do not realize is having a negative impact on your relationship with your child. Or maybe it was a one-time event that occurred during a particularly contentious point of litigation. Either way, bringing it to your spouse's attention can be a useful way to stop alienation from happening.
If this behavior continues, then you will need to bring it to the attention of the court, especially if there are already orders in place. Many judges will also incorporate language in their orders which prevents parents from speaking ill of the other party in front of the child. If you believe this is happening, ask your lawyer to file an enforcement action. If the other parent is actively interfering with your parenting time, such as by making the child unavailable or being deliberately late, this can also be addressed by the judge. Of course, the difficulty is in proving that the other parent is bad-mouthing you, or that they are intentionally interfering with your time with the child to damage your relationship. Keeping a calendar or diary when significant events occur is a useful way of documenting the arc of your relationship between your child.
Next, you will need to understand that being rejected by your child is inherently painful and traumatic. Seek out the appropriate resources to support you and combat your feelings of unworthiness. There has been increasing recognition about the impact PAS has on families and parents, and support groups have grown exponentially to provide information and resources to parents who have been alienated. An organization called that National Associate of Parental Alienation Specialists aims to educate parents and legal professionals to address PAS during family law disputes. Their website hosts dozens of articles, conferences and other resources to support parents and their lawyers. It will help you connect with other parents who might be going through the same thing, too.
Enlist the help of a good counsellor who has experience dealing with victims of PAS. They will have expertise in dealing with the other parent and can provide you with tools to cope with them and your child. They may also be able to help you identify destructive patterns between you, your child and the other parent, and stop harmful cycles. You can draw on this knowledge when having future interactions with your spouse or child.
Develop a strong circle of friends and family members who can help you through this time. A good support group will offer compassionate advice, but will also be able to provide you with some ‘tough love’ to make sure you don’t dwell on the negative aspects of your situation.
Finally, understand how you relate to your child during this time. Try your best not to withdraw. But, realize that exposing yourself to rejection from your child after a particularly hard day can only compound your feelings. Be smart about when you reach out. Try to call them after an accomplishment at work, or if you know they have achieved something at school. Keep things positive. Do not, under any circumstances, try to reason with them, or make them realize that they are being manipulated. First, this will likely only confuse them and perhaps make them turn against you more. But, more importantly, your child should never be involved in the disputes between you and their other parent. Even if that person is actively manipulating the child, remember that two wrongs do not make a right. As your child gets older, he or she will realize that you have always been a stable and positive influence in their life. If you need guidance on how to speak to your child who has been alienated, asking a professional counsellor or therapist can be incredibly useful.
Do not break promises you make to your child – so do not make promises you cannot keep. Try to avoid giving the other parent any ammunition against you. Remember, they are influencing the child to develop a stronger bond with them and to reject you. Forgetting your child's birthday or not going to their baseball game when you said you would only provide evidence to the child which supports what the alienating parent has been saying to them. Try to remember that they are not the reason your bond is fragile – they are just as much a victim as you.
If you have questions about how to deal with parental alienation syndrome, get in touch with the Law Office of Peter Van Aulen today, for a free initial consultation at 201-845-7400.