Parental alienation is an unfortunate outcome of divorce. If at first your divorce is amicable and then suddenly turns sour due to attorney involvement (attorneys can plant the seed of alienation even if it is not happening) or the jungle of emotions that naturally occur with divorce can inadvertently make the children pawns. Sourness can happen, no divorce is immune.
Parental alienation will not happen if both parents are invested in seeing their children persevere through their divorce.
In some situations, one parent can be the extremist and abduct the children or constantly miss visits and taint the children’s ears with lies and/or truths that negatively impact the other parent in the children’s eyes (this occurs on both sides: custodial and non-custodial). This emotional abuse, will lead to the child or children externalizing or internalizing problems. The most bitter and vengeful parent will use anything in their arsenal to punish the other parent (this could be the same behavior that existed before the divorce – poor married behaviors become exaggerated in divorce).
No matter what, your children need both of you. They need to know you are listening. They need to know that you care. Constant conflict between divorced parents hurts the relationship on both sides. Once your children are in college, you don’t want to be the parents that only get phone calls for money. Know what to do when you are the custodial parent and when you are the non-custodial parent if a form of alienation is happening.
If you are invested in seeing your children persevere through your divorce YOU NEED TO DO the following if you are the custodial parent:
- Follow the court order. The courts are flawed on many levels and mistakes can happen in the courtroom without a doubt; however, if you are the custodial parent it is your JOB to be the RESPONSIBLE one. No excuses. If the order is wrong you must get it corrected before you change anything in the schedule and you MUST get the other parent’s permission if it is a one-off change.
- Do not engage when the non-custodial parent is mudslinging. It is your JOB to be the RESPONSIBLE one. No excuses. Children can pick up on this right away. Remember children are the smartest in the room.
- Be unbelievably consistent. It is your JOB to be the RESPONSIBLE parent since you have physical custody. If the other parent misses a visit, act as though it was planned or turn it into a better situation by doing something special with the children. If the non-custodial parent has trouble remembering the schedule, remind them constantly with traceable documentation (email, text and/or mobile divorce app) – so there are no surprises. That way if it is the day before your vacation they can’t say, how come you didn’t tell me sooner or I didn’t agree to that.
- Silent coyote when the children are present. Remember, it is your JOB to be the RESPONSIBLE parent. That means no specifics on the other parent while your children are present. Schedule time to get together with friends while the children are in school or make sure the children are occupied in another room out of earshot if you are discussing your feelings about the divorce situation (this goes for family too while you are not present).
- Reverse the damage. If the non-custodial parent is alienating the children from you, address it right away. Do not wait for a better time. Do not rationalize. Do not make excuses for them. Tell it as it is and then move on. Reinforce your love. You are the custodial parent, it is your JOB to be RESPONSIBLE and that includes safeguarding your relationship with the children without engaging in the same scheming tactics as the other parent.
If you are invested in seeing your children persevere through your divorce YOU NEED TO DO the following if you are the non-custodial parent:
- Follow the court order. If it is wrong or you feel there has been an injustice, fight to get it changed, but DO NOT disrespect authority by terrorizing the custodial parent. If the custodial parent is being irresponsible it is your JOB to be the RESPONSIBLE one. No excuses. Custodial is skipping your visitation days, be gracious and then GO TO COURT (get legal advice to steer you in the right direction).
- Do not engage when the custodial parent is mudslinging. Your children need you to be the RESPONSIBLE one, it is your JOB especially since the custodial is stooping to low levels to gain control or punish you. They are not punishing you; they are unknowingly punishing the very people they should be protecting, the children. Take the high road, because your children will notice and when they are old enough they will request to live with you or it could be sooner if you present a strong enough case before the judge (DO NOT manipulate the children to request anything, be kind only and hope for the best).
- Be unbelievably consistent. If the custodial is missing visits, find a way to have constant contact with your children. If your children are in school, do something special for them each week and visit them there. If your children see their grandparents and you still have a relationship with them, try to see them then. It is imperative that you be RESPONSIBLE by maintaining contact. It is your JOB to undo everything the alienating parent is doing and you MUST be relentless.
- Silent coyote when the children are present. If you can’t say something nice do not say anything at all. Children will replay everything that is mentioned in front of them in their heads. Even if the custodial parent has said horrible things, be silent. If the children ask about the things that are said, explain them, refute them, fill their ears with good things and your love and leave it at that. By setting the example you are doing your JOB and being RESPONSIBLE. Document everything.
- Reverse the damage. Since you have less time with them, it is more difficult for this to occur. You must keep fighting to get a court order that gives you time with them. Every time you are with them it MUST be more POSITIVE than negative especially since you see them less. You have less time, so there is no room for stupid mistakes like checking your phone constantly while you are with them. Be grateful for the time you have and show your children you will persevere in adversity. Your strength will encourage them, because you are showing you are RESPONSIBLE and putting your parent JOB as top priority.
Whether you are the custodial or non-custodial experiencing parental alienation, follow the court order, do not engage in mudslinging, be unbelievably consistent, silent coyote when the children are present and reverse as much damage as possible. Coparenting and even parallel parenting requires BOTH parents be RESPONSIBLE. Being a good parent is hard work and being a divorced parent is twice as hard, so take it seriously. Being a parent is as important if not more important than any JOB or career that exists. Being a parent is a privilege. Do not squander the role and most of all DO NOT alienate the very person that your children love the most and DO NOT claim alienation when it is not happening.
Divorce is not pretty. The more time goes on the more terrible the other person’s character becomes. It’s scary. What’s even more terrifying is that you are faced with this new person every time the court forces you to exchange the children. This ache starts to happen in the pit of your stomach, you get a bad taste in your mouth and slowly you can feel your facial expression change from happiness while being with your children to utter disgust and contempt (See the blog: Divorce? Beware, it’s an Emotional Jungle) as your feet take you closer to Jekyll & Hyde. This response is totally natural after any type of abuse has occurred. Luckily the disgust and contempt does not get plastered on your face as a permanent mask, at least this has not happened yet. Faith and forgiveness are the only practices that quickly wash these negative emotions away inside and out.
It would be nice if everything could be washed away immediately, but that is not real life. Imagine having someone verbally assault you every day and then having to face them? Or even worse, that same person comes back the next day and says, “I just want peace and whatever is best for the children. Why won’t you work with me?” The following day the insults come whizzing by your head once again. Every fiber in your body wants to scream out in agony at the pain those words cause. Silence; however, is the only loyal friend in this situation. This silence and limiting communication with the other parent is more accurately called parallel parenting not co-parenting. Without any vocal words, somehow the other person maintains their cool on the outside and the world for a moment feels safe to the one verbally assaulted at least half the time. There is absolutely no one to help in this situation, especially after supervised visitation is dissolved. Side note: qualifications are not required to be a supervisor of visitation other than a simple completion certificate, but the service still costs an arm and a leg to maintain. Supervised visitation is a story for another day.
Co-parenting with a Jekyll & Hyde type is rough. When days seem to get better this type of person wheels you back to their shadowy world with very little effort. Could be like quicksand; although, once quicksand consumes you, there is no coming up for air after. It is more like a turbulent ocean. On some days the serenity and calmness take you back to a place of peace; however, once the tide changes and the weather shifts things can get quite dangerous and you wonder if you can survive another day of chaos. Is this the happy co-parenting image that people are preaching about in the divorce industry? This is what really happens in a high conflict divorce, but I do not hear the courts or anyone else talking about it. Attorneys and the courts put fuel on the fire. Be extremely thankful you are not in a divorce with a Jekyll & Hyde person, it’s really difficult. Faith and forgiveness are the only practices that help co-parenting or parallel parenting in this type of relationship.
If your divorce has lasted longer than a year, you will eventually stumble upon divorce agony. There are so many emotions that are wrapped up in divorce. I have described them as an emotional jungle and the 5 stages of grief, but once your divorce hits the long-term divorce mark such as over a year you will eventually reach divorce agony. When you have been in a period of prolonged pain that twists your insides into new shapes, this feeling is agony. The pain is intensified if the estranged spouse is an abuser (neglectful, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, etc.).
Divorce agony is like a wild horse confined to a cage and looking out to see a beautiful green pasture beyond its reach; the longing to be free is a desire that goes unsatisfied. Confinement creates a sense of claustrophobia. Things are cramped. Space is closing in. Turning around and around, but there is nowhere to go, but to stand in the same place looking out from the same viewpoint. Sweet scents come in on the breeze which provide some minor relief; however, no real resolution to the situation. There are moments when freedom seems obtainable; maybe someone from the outside looking in gives a glimmer of hope, however the moments are short lived and quenched quickly with reality.
Divorce with children is that reality in a contested divorce. Divorce with children are those steel bars that do not seem to go away. Children themselves do not create the steel bars that pin in the wild horse that longs to be free, the courts do. The divorce industry calls these steel bars coparenting. These steel bars are the constant reminder of the divorce state of your life. The issues that caused the divorce in the first place are still active and relived through coparenting and regular interaction with the person that caged you in the first place which creates agony. Coparenting itself is not the problem; however, the system does not customize coparenting according to relationship challenges. Happy coparenting cannot and will not exist in a contested divorce, do not be fooled. Also, it is common for a divorce to morph from an amicable divorce to a contested divorce very quickly when emotions run hot, be very careful there is no way to predict the outcome or plan for this switch.
Everyone will respond to divorce agony in their own way. If you are susceptible to substance abuse, stay clear of any situation that will expose you or tempt you. Do not let divorce agony impact your relationship with your child or children. If you can afford counseling consider it and schedule it. If you cannot afford counseling find an outlet, so that you are not facing this dreadful emotion alone. By joining a divorce group, talking with friends, starting a new hobby, writing or journaling you can better cope with divorce agony and tame the wild horse.
There are countless resources that falsely explain that divorce can be better for the children, because the children won’t be exposed to as much conflict or the children will be shielded from the parental relationship problems or co-parenting strategies minimize the effects of divorce for children. Yada, yada, yada. The ONLY scenario where it’s better for the children is when there is abuse; however if there is no probable cause against the perpetrator, there’s no guarantee of protection.
Relationships are not easy. A divorce relationship with children is probably one of the most difficult relationships that exist. Not only did the divorce happen in a public forum, family court, but the children are unknowingly catapulted into a world that’s ready to feast on their every vulnerability from the experience. The person that files for divorce does not have this insight beforehand, because the person that files is thinking only about their own circumstances and how the divorce will be an instant solution to whatever is going on in their relationship. There are countless resources that falsely explain that divorce can be better for the children, because the children won’t be exposed to as much conflict or the children will be shielded from the parental relationship problems or co-parenting strategies minimize the effects of divorce for children. Yada, yada, yada. The ONLY scenario where it’s better for the children is when there is abuse; however if there is no probable cause against the perpetrator, there’s no guarantee of protection. Any other excuse for the divorce being better for the children comes from rationalization which softens the blow of truth.
It’s a fact, relationships aren’t easy. The people who’ve mastered relationships are good at recovery. The people that have broken relationships struggle to master recovery. Any relationship without some level of conflict isn’t an example of a real relationship with real people. Every person that starts a relationship has a point of reference. Often the point of reference can get lost if you track the point of reference back to childhood. When people experience extreme circumstances they often block it out; who wants to be reminded of bad memories? Human brains don’t, at least not intentionally. In some cases this blocking of memories is defined by psychologists as Dis-associative Amnesia. These bad memories shape how you operate under stress and how you relate to others. When you divorce with children, you are placing them into this dangerous arena. Their brains are chemically changed during a divorce, because they are forced to experience ADULT emotions and deal with ADULT problems. Divorce emotions are a thing to be reckoned with as ADULTS; most ADULTS can’t handle the emotions much less children.
It’s a fact, by divorcing you’re making it that much harder for your children to navigate relationships, plus facilitating a number of side effects. Children that grew up with parents that kept things behind closed doors struggle immensely with conflict resolution as adults. Children in a divorce struggle with the same thing! Children learn by watching, hearing and experiencing. Stripping your children of your relationship takes this opportunity away from them and maybe they will eventually see healthy conflict resolution if someone remarries and STAYS MARRIED; however, the statistics don’t look good for second marriages.
It’s a fact, there is NO WAY to shelter your kids from the divorce storm. There are helpful resources like counseling, communication strategies and so on; however these are no substitute for a loving relationship between the people that your children love the most – you and your spouse. Finding a good qualified counselor is critical. If you don’t see results from going to counseling within the first month, find someone else. Find a counselor that is educated in the Gottman principles of relationships. If you’re considering divorce, but haven’t taken the plunge; please consider counseling. Take it seriously. Act as though the counseling is the next step in a business deal, career advancement, self-actualization discovery, living life to the fullest, whatever it may be. Be an active participant, instead of a spectator – you won’t regret it.