There is much debate as to whether or not “parental alienation“ rises to the level of a definable mental illness often referred to as “parental alienation syndrome.” At Mr. Custody Coach, we don’t much care about that part of the argument. Reasonably intelligent individuals are aware that people of all ages can be taught to hate, love, learn, etc. on any number of topics. When a malicious parent chooses to teach their children to hate the targeted parent – that’s parental alienation. (Referred to as “PA” throughout the rest of this article.)
It’s real. It exists. Despite all of the fear-mongering and hysteria, particularly by women’s groups – it’s not simply a “tactic to gain the upper hand” in a custody proceeding. A mother can do it. A father can do it. It makes one wonder why anyone would be against anything that shines a spotlight on parental alienation. We have our suspicions, but that isn’t the point of this article. We want to share with you some ways to combat it when it is happening to you. Please also see our Parental Alienation Teleconference – available on-demand with over 3-hours of extremely detailed and helpful discussion with our special guest expert.
#1 – Don’t become an alienator! Regardless of the order of the rest of the tips we present, this is the most important one. When you’re experiencing PA, you will have a natural tendency to become defensive and explain yourself to death. Worse, you may want to counter and talk about what horrible things your ex has done. This is alienation, too! Don’t get suckered by your natural desire to defend yourself against false accusations.
#2 – “I love you” always! Any time you do manage to gain contact with your children, regardless of the method, tell them that you love them. Tell them that you care for them. Tell them that they’re often in your heart and mind.
#3 – Positive language, always! Avoid the use of negative language. This is one parents often overlook. It’s simple and it’s subtle, that’s why it’s missed. Sometimes we’ll call it “think like the child.” Examples include:
Instead of, “I miss you…” Use, “I look forward to the next time I see you!” I miss you can put the child in a position to feel guilt or upset. The second effort is upbeat and positive.
Instead of, “I wish I could have seen that…” Use, “Wow, that’s great to hear and must have been very exciting!” The former conveys a lost opportunity or a regret. The latter conveys excitement, support, and positive reinforcement regarding whatever experience is the topic.
Find your opportunities to turn a potentially negative message into a positive communication.
#4 – Never stop contact efforts! Even if you know that your cards, letters, gifts, emails, voice-mails, etc. are being intercepted or are otherwise never delivered – don’t give up the effort. Change may not come in the short-term, so keeping a diary or journal of your contact efforts as well as writing to your children as if they were going to read it – SOME DAY – will prove helpful both for you and, hopefully your children if they have the opportunity to find out the truth.
#5 – Control yourself! Manage your emotions. Follow your court orders and agreements. Avoid giving your high-conflict ex-partner any reason to vilify you to the children more than they already have. Frankly, they don’t need an excuse, they can just make them up. Made up ones, you are much more likely to overcome in the long run. Provable mis-steps, not quite so easy to overcome.
#6 – Avoid blaming the children! Try to remember that they are victims in this mess, too. You will be challenged on this one, as along with the general bad-mouthing about you that is a common part of the PA experience, your children may spy on you, talk about every move you make, every purchase you do, who you talk to or spend time with, and if you don’t remember that it is a part of the alienator’s arsenal, you could become agitated towards the children. Don’t let it happen.
#7 – Be yourself! Don’t overcompensate, though. If you just act as you always do, you can’t possibly be appearing to your children as your ex is portraying you. Avoid overdoing it because of your desire to be “extra-special” as a means of countering your ex’s false allegations. Just be your usual loving, caring, nurturing self. Always remember that your actions will forever speak louder than your ex-partner’s words.
#8 – Keep your plans, always! That is to say, if you’ve made special plans or arrangements which involve your children, leave them in place even if you fear that your ex-partner will not relinquish the children for your custodial time(custodial interference). If you’re late or fail to show one time, it will be twisted into “proof” of your lack of caring for the children and give them the power to further alienate the children.
#9 – Build the relationship with memorable moments! We are not suggesting that memorable moments = become the Disneyland parent! Quite the opposite. Long talks while canoeing on the lake or during long walks, a nice vacation, having a catch with the ball, sharing a professional sporting event… for younger children – book reading, movie watching, this list is endless. It’s not about “fun and games all the time” – it’s about memories that will forever be etched in their brains for all time.
#10 – Create the best team of professionals you can afford! Legal professionals, mental health professionals, therapists, articles, scholarly studies with solid data – all of that needs to be readily available to make your case the strongest it can possibly be. Be sure they are knowledgeable and experienced with parental alienation and can advocate for the appropriate changes that will benefit your family.
Conclusion: Parental alienation of children, regardless of severity, will very likely affect them well into adulthood. It is vitally important that you avoid, at all costs, directing your rage, frustration, or disappointment at the children. The high-conflict, vindictive ex-spouse is the root of the problem no matter how much the actions and words of the child are what becomes your immediate torment. The children are caught in the middle of a terrible struggle and doesn’t really mean the terrible things they’re saying about you or doing to you.
Hang in there!