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Understanding and Overcoming Parental Alienation

July 04, 2023
Advice, Co-Parenting
Understanding and Overcoming Parental Alienation

Divorce is hard on the entire family, most notably the children. A child can feel like the fraying rope in a harsh tug-of-war game. They might incorrectly assume that to express love to one parent is to deny love to the other.

Understandably, when a child feels these deep and conflicting emotions, parents can start to see a number of behavioral changes, like:

  • Withdrawal
  • Tantrums/Anger (younger children/older children)
  • Crying
  • Risky behaviors

Watching your children struggle with painful emotions stemming from the divorce between you and your ex can be heartbreaking. What’s even more difficult is pinpointing what originates from the emotional issues of a split family and what is a natural, hormonal part of a child’s growth cycle (like, the “Terrible Twos,” having a “Three-nager,” or all seven of their teen years).

All too often, and with especially contentious divorces, a co-parent can struggle with a third type of catalyst to their children’s behavioral change – parental alienation.

What Is Parental Alienation?

If you’ve ever heard the term “alienation of affection” in relation to a divorce case, you likely have a good sense of what parental alienation is. While “alienation of affection” applies to an extramarital affair, “parental alienation” refers to the loss of love between parent and child as the direct and intentional result of what the other parent says or does.

In other words, parental alienation occurs when one parent purposefully and unfairly ruins their co-parent’s bond with their child. A parent can use several tactics to cause this scenario, such as:

  • Persistent interference with visits and communication
  • Manipulating children to choose them over the other parent
  • Character assassination
  • Constantly criticizing the other parent and their decisions

Signs of Difficult-to-Spot, Hard-to-Prove Abuse

Parental alienation is a form of child abuse. It’s emotional in nature, so the signs and effects are challenging to recognize and prove. There are little-to-no apparent characteristics. The abuser typically has no eyewitnesses to the abuse, and the child doesn’t know they are experiencing it.

However, there are a few signs to know about. A child can seem especially angry at you, even cold or distant. If nothing you do is right, or if they can’t recall any good memories with you but feel the exact opposite about their other parent, you could be dealing with a case of parental alienation syndrome.

What To Do

Kids often find fault in others, but they shouldn’t be critical of everyone. At the same time, they should be able to recognize the good in others and situations, too. If your child’s emotions seem one-sided against you, if they can’t seem to remember any good times with you, or if they ask you to keep your good times a secret, there are a few things you should do:

Document Everything

A parenting journal is essential for insight into the signs and symptoms of any supposed abuse. The key is to document information regularly for it to be most valid and valuable. Divorced family apps can make regular note-taking more effortless with the bonus of storing data in a way that’s easy to sort through and preserve.

Hire Professionals

Hire two professionals immediately: a mental health therapist and legal counsel.

A mental health professional, like a psychologist or family therapist, can help you with parental alienation abuse on many different fronts:

  1. They can provide a safe and neutral environment where your child can share more openly and honestly about both parents.
  2. They have the necessary experience and knowledge to evaluate the situation.
  3. The diagnosis from their evaluation validates your case and aids you and your legal counsel.
  4. They can continue to work with your child to undo the adverse effects of emotional turmoil before a child’s thoughts and actions become too damaging.

Quality legal counsel is just as indispensable. They can either work as a mediator between you and your ex-spouse to facilitate agreements or work with your mental health professional to compile compelling evidence for your case. They can help define or amend the custody schedule between you and your co-parent in your child’s best interest.

Don’t Suffer in Silence

When your co-parent constantly bad-mouths you to your child, continuously interferes with your communications, and/or attempts to convince your child to “pick a side,” it’s a form of emotional abuse called parental alienation. Your child has essentially become a pawn, or weapon, within your divorce.

Not only does parental alienation negatively impact your child’s bond with you, but the false sense of neglect they feel will affect their mental well-being. If left unchallenged, the impacts are far-reaching and could turn dangerous.

You don’t have to accept or ignore poor behavior from your co-parent. Use a parenting app for divorced parents to document and store interactions and behaviors efficiently. Also, enlist the assistance of a mental health professional and legal counsel for quality support.

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