Divorce – especially for children – is always challenging. It is particularly difficult for children to navigate life between two households while maintaining quality relationships with both parents. In many instances, children are placed in vulnerable positions where one parent forces them to choose sides in the dispute – resulting in the other parent’s alienation and destruction of the parent-child relationship.
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a term that was coined twenty years ago by Richard A. Gardner, MD,an American psychiatrist. Working with families primarily involved in custody struggles, he noticed a sort of brainwashing occurring at the hands of one parent, leading to the demonization of the other parent – culminating in the child’s rejection of the targeted parent.
The practice of parent alienation causes harm to the targeted parent and the relationship with the child, and as more has become known about this issue, it has also been deemed a form of child abuse. These poor children are programmed to reject one of their parents without any justifiable reason.
This dynamic is more frequently instigated by the custodial parent. Because fathers represent a higher proportion of non-custodial parents, they experience alienation in larger numbers and are victimized more frequently.
For fathers who are faced with a high-conflict and combative ex-partner, it is important to learn how to help your child as a co-parent and how to prevent and subdue the effects of parental alienation.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
- Think carefully about the impact your words and behavior have on your children – don’t criticize your ex in front of them, and never ask them directly to take sides.
- Always bear in mind that children need to feel loved by both parents as they struggle to come to terms with the breakdown of family life as they know it.
- Remember that children of all ages, particularly teenagers, are vulnerable to emotional manipulation. As adults/parents, we need to consider how this war impacts their health and well-being in the long-term.
- If you can do this with honesty and absence of anger and animosity, encourage your children to foster the relationship with their other parent. Again, if you can be honest about this, show a genuine interest in what they do during their time with your former partner.
“Take your oxygen first.”
In order to help your child(ren), you must help and protect yourself first. Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) can hit hard – both emotionally and physically. When dealing with PAS…
- Focus on developing a loving, trusting, positive relationship with your child(ren).
- Remember what our parents used to say? “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing.” This is extremely helpful when your relationship with your ex is hurtful, difficult, and filled with anger.
- Be aware of your own feelings and avoid saddling your kids with negativity and acrimony.
- Show compassion toward your child(ren) and respect their feelings. Let them know that they can express anything to you without fear or judgment.
- Be aware of your tone and facial expressions during interactions with your high-conflict ex in front of your kids. In other words, keep your cool.
- When you have set appropriate boundaries, can anticipate tension and manage yourself, and have realistic expectations, pat yourself on the back for creating an environment where your kids feel safe, valued, and respected.
You alone control your reactions to your ex’s vindictive and angry comments and behaviors.
However, neither you nor your ex should ever have to do or say something just to keep the
peace. Both of you should sit down and develop a communication strategy; a business-like,
just the facts, style of communicating. While this negotiation is bound to be difficult, it is
doable so long as you both have the best interests of the kids in your hearts and minds.
- Try to avoid responding to provocative comments in a defensive way to prevent disagreements.
- Avoid texting unless it’s about your child’s schedule or a place to meet them.
- Never text emotional content or critical remarks.
- Avoid expressing genuine emotion to your ex or apologizing for wrongdoing in the relationship. If your ex is an abusive narcissist, they might interpret your apology as proof of your incompetence and use it against you.
- Make a structured, specific parenting plan a top priority.
- Be firm – the plan should include schedules, holidays, and vacations to minimize conflict. Also, a little flexibility to accommodate emergencies can go a long way toward developing a more positive co-parenting relationship. Using a communication notebook or other resource to share important details with your ex can prove to be an essential tool in helping you stay detached and business-like.
As you navigate through re-making your co-parenting relationship with your ex, make sure to
nurture your supportive relationships with friends and family. Keep in mind that a third-party
mediator, if needed, can provide valuable guidance to both of you. Educate yourself on
strategies to deal with a difficult or high-conflict ex-partner by searching for books and
websites that offer sage advice.
The good news… you can learn coping skills to deal with a high-conflict ex and lessen the
negative impact on your day-to-day life while helping your child(ren) through this difficult
transition. When you accept that you have control over your own feelings, reactions,
perceptions, and behaviors – and not those of your high-conflict ex – your life will greatly
Parental alienation is not a gender issue, nor is it exclusive to parents. Both mothers and
fathers can be victims of toxic co-parents. Boys and girls, sisters and brothers, as well as
grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins can be forced to take the side of one parent at the
expense of the other. The abuse of the child affects everyone.
Parental alienation is an international scandal and can damage children for life. Do not give up
on yourself or your children. Stay strong, no matter how hard it gets. You will endure. Your
love for your child will prevail and you will find peace.
If you, your children, or your ex aren’t coping then please seek professional help and support.
Contact Partners in Men’s Health (PMH) to seek advice from Dr. Jamie. Join a support group
with other alienated parents to learn new coping and adaptive skills. Focus on your
own healing through resources offered by the CPTSD Foundation.
Others like you are going through the same devastating experience of being prevented from
continuing a close and loving bond with their own children. If this is happening to you and
your children, you are not alone. The traumatic experience you are living through is sadly not
unique and all too common. Please visit www.TarTales.org where you can share your
important story with other survivors.