The ‘Rejected Parent’…does this really happen?
By Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
Dr. Richard Gardner is the founder of the term parental alienation syndrome (PAS). His original definition of PAS in 1987: “a disturbance in which children are preoccupied with deprecation and criticism of a parent-denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated.” Richard Darnell, Ph.D. is placing more emphasis on the brainwashing process while Dr. Gardner’s definition goes one step further to explain that the term is similar in meaning to brainwashing except that he adds the additional component of the child becoming active participant in discrediting the targeted parent and aligning with the favored parent. In effect, the child has been successfully brainwashed (Gardner, 1987; Darnell, 1997). “With either definition, the motivation for the alienating parent has both a conscious as well as “a subconscious or unconscious” component (Darnell, 2009).”
The children themselves may have their own motivations that will make the alienation worse. Their need for immediate gratification or their desire to avoid discomfort from the alienating parent makes them vulnerable allies for aligning with the alienating parent. “The children become an advocate for the alienating parent by becoming the spokesperson for their parent’s hatred. They become the soldiers while the alienating parent is the general directing the action in the background against the targeted parent. The children are frequently unaware of how they are being used. It is most important to understand that if the child is angry and refuses to visit the targeted parent because of actual abuse or neglect, the child’s behavior is not a manifestation of PAS. This is why the issue of false allegations is so important (Darnell, 2008, 2009).”
Not all children are being alienated by one parent when the children claim they ‘do not want to see rejected parent’’; there are few children and adolescents that may have good reasons as to why they don’t want to see the rejected parent, and the ‘favored’ parent has nothing to do with the child’s decisions. In fact, most of these parents encourage their children to see the ‘rejected’ parent and may be blamed for alienating their children/teenagers for ‘keeping’ the rejected parent from seeing their children/teenagers. Dr. Darnell points out that not ‘ALL’ children are victims of parental alienation, in fact, some children have decided to ‘reject’ one parent due to some of the reasons below. Professionals must be aware of what is the difference between parental alienation and children deciding they do not want to see their own parent for reasons explained below. Parent Alienation is real and a form of emotional child abuse from the alienating parent that can be very severe and result in your children being alienated from the ‘target’ or ‘rejected’ parent.
Some may ask, ‘what are good reasons’ for children to decide not to see their ‘rejected parent?’ Good reasons children ‘may’ chose not to see one parent may be due to witnessing recent (not coached or here say) violence in the home, witnessed substance abuse, child abuse to the child (physical, sexual, and/or emotional), the rejected parent has a mental illness that has been professionally diagnosed, may be not be supportive in their daily lives routine such as after school activities, and/or sports, etc. Other reasons children may ‘reject’ a parent may be due to emotional and physical neglect. This is different than PAS, and professionals must treat these issues differently. Parental Alienation is real, and is another form of emotional abuse inflicted from one parent onto the child toward the ‘rejected’ parent. In the past, PAS has focused on the custodial parent, however, non custodial parents are equally guilty in alienating their children. These children fear the alienating parent by not wanting to hurt their feelings, being manipulated by the alienated parent, that this parent will no longer love them if they show love towards the ‘rejected’ parent, or possible fear they will take them away from the ‘rejected’ parent if the child doesn’t show they love the alienated parent more. This fear is real to the child, and most children do not know how to voice these fears (unconscious), or want to tell a professional in fear their alienating parent may find out. After time, children defer to the alienating parent because it is ‘easier’ and after time these children begin to believe the ‘alienated parent.’ This cycle of PAS is detrimental to children and families.
Let’s face it, majority of the parents that either separate and/or divorce with children, are good parents and love their children. Unfortunately, the approximate ten percent of parents that are in the high conflict category attempt to alienate their children from the ‘rejected’ parent. This may cause long-term serious emotional trauma to these children. Most parents that alienate their children from the ‘rejected’ parent truly believe they are the ‘best’ parent and the children do not need the ‘rejected’ parent in the children’s lives. The ‘good’p or alienating’ parent usually justifies in their mind that the children are better without the other parent, and look at the ‘rejected’ parent as the ’cause’ of their children’s emotional issues. However, this is not usually the case in these situations. The emotional issues the children display are most likely due to the high conflict situation, not having the ‘rejected’ parent a part of their lives, and feeling in the middle of the conflict.
The ‘alienating’ parent has been able to persuade (brainwash) the children into believing the ‘rejected’ parent is bad, and eventually the children will believe what the ‘good’ parent is saying. For example, the ‘good’ parent may say “when you were 9 months old, your mother threw you down the stairs and always yelled at me.” The child will believe this story because this is a true story coming from the ‘good’ parent. This child will repeat this story over and over to friends, professionals, etc. in a matter of fact way, and believe what they are saying. This child will not realize that it is impossible to remember these detailed events at 9 months old. Nine month old babies developmentally do not recall their infancy, nor would they remember such details.
Here is an example of an 8 year old boy that believed his dad ‘good’ parent that his mom was ‘bad.’ (Names and all identities are changed for privacy purposes):
Kevin, 8 years old, lived half-time with dad and half-time with mom. Mom divorced dad two years ago because of the dad’s lying and infidelity. Dad was very bitter about mom leaving and he felt abandoned. They had one child, and his name was Kevin. For the first five years of Kevin’s life, his parents cared for him and equally shared responsibilities. Although, his mom divorced dad did not mean she divorced their son, Kevin. Mom and dad were able to agree on a parenting plan, and had a civil divorce. Kevin was a happy kid, no problems at daycare or school, and was attached to both parents. About one year ago, mom met another man, and recently got married. Kevin was excited for his new stepdad, however his dad was not. Kevin’s dad began to ignore the mom’s phone calls when she called Kevin during dad’s residential time. Kevin had a routine where he would speak to both parents on the phone before bed. During dad’s time, this routine was going away. Kevin would ask to call his mom, and dad would say “she must be busy since she didn’t call you,” or pretend to call her phone and tell Kevin she wasn’t answering. When Kevin would see mom, he would ask ‘why didn’t you call?’ Mom would answer, “I did call.” Kevin was confused because his dad said she didn’t and mom said she did. Who was telling the truth? As time went on, Kevin started to play sports. Kevin loved sports, and enjoyed playing. On dad’s time, dad would tell Mom that the sport event changed times, so she didn’t show up until that time. Kevin wondered why his mom was not coming to his events. Dad told Kevin, “your mom probably forgot.” Kevin would cry, and his dad would say, “it’s okay, I will always be here and never forget about you.” These subtle messages continued until Kevin was very mad at his mom, and by the time mom realized what was happening, Kevin was rejecting her. Kevin starting acting out with mom, and telling her he hated her and she was mean. Although mom continued to be there for him, Kevin distanced himself and sided with his dad. Kevin began to see his dad as all good, and wanted to be with him more. Kevin’s dad began to attend separate school conferences, etc. so he could tell professionals how terrible Kevin’s mom was. Mom was involved in Kevin’s school, such as PTA and volunteered in the class, and mom began to feel the ‘cold’ shoulder from the school and PTA. Mom didn’t realize what was going on, until Kevin’s dad filed for a modification of the parenting plan. In the dad’s declaration, he clearly stated mom’s home was unsafe because of the abuse she received from her new husband, and how this impaired her ability to parent Kevin. There were also declarations from teachers, and other people stating how she was neglecting Kevin. Although the mom thought this was ‘crazy’ people believed Kevin’s dad, including Kevin. Kevin told the Guardian Ad Litem he hated his mom, and didn’t want to see her anymore. The GAL issued Kevin to live primarily with dad, and that mom attend counseling and parenting classes. Mom was obviously shocked, and could not believe this was happening. Every other weekend when Kevin would come over for his residential time, he was distant and played video games. Mom would have planned activities and he would act out or tell her he didn’t want to do it. The mom was looking for help and kept meeting dead ends. She could see what was happening and the dad would block the attempts to get help for her son, and herself the professional help that was necessary. The father denied they needed help, and said ‘she needed the help.’ Eventually, as time went on, Kevin didn’t want to spend time with his mom any longer, and mom continued to force her residential time to spend time with her son; and their relationship became more estranged. Eventually mom won a motion in court for Reunification Therapy (RT), and Reunification Therapist recommended a change in custody because through the assessment phase, the RT found apparent parent alienation from the dad, and Kevin needed time with his mom to heal and move forward.
This is an example of many where parent alienation is witnessed. The family court system continues to struggle with this term, and fails to see this form of abuse happening. This includes the court appointed Guadian Ad Litems (GAL), family attorneys, family judges/commissioners, and court personnel. The only way this form of abuse is going to be recognized in our courts, is when the judges are fully educated on parent alienation, and what it looks like. Parent alienation is direct, and powerful. Research has proven the only way to ‘reverse’ the alienation is for the alienating parent does not have custody of the children. The child may not wish to have contact with their ‘rejected’ parent, and the only way for the child’s mindset to change is when the child is placed in the care of this parent. The child must be educated about the ‘rejected’ parent in a loving parent that cares about the child and not about alienating them from the other parent. The child must be made aware that the alienating parent that spoke negatively about the ‘rejected’ parent, or made it clear the ‘rejected’ parent didn’t care about the child is a form of abuse, and in fact the opposite is true. The child must be aware that both parents love the child, and that it is okay for the child to love both of their parents. The Reunification Therapist must go back in time with the child when the relationship between the ‘rejected’ parent, and child was positive, and reinstate those memories and bring them to the present. Finally, the Reunification Therapist has to ‘un-brainwash’ the child, and place the child in a neutral location with the ‘rejected’ parent where the hostility of the alienating parent is not present, and the parent and child can re-establish a positive relationship again. Additionally, the Reunification Therapist or another highly trained Therapist will also work with the alienated parent about the abusive nature, and help this parent see the wrongdoing toward the child. The RT will help the entire family heal, and move forward with the family on reintegrating in a healthy manner.
If this cannot be achieved, and the alienating parent continues to ‘brainwash’ the child, or attempts to, this parent should not have contact with the child. Although this is not what is ideal, it may preserve the child from more abuse, and negative repercussions. It is always best for professionals to focus on what is truly best interest of the child and be guided by these basic principles.
This type of therapy is non-traditional, and takes special training, resilience, courage, and integrity to be able to provide Reunification Therapy. Reunification Therapy (RT) is a specialized therapy, and only trained Reunification Therapists should provide therapy to these cases. Additionally, family court judges and commissioners must court order Reunification Therapy to provide the opportunity for a successful reintegration.
Darnall, D.C. (2008) Second Edition, Divorce Casualties: Understanding Parental Alienation. Roman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Lanham, Maryland.
Darnall, D.C. ( Fall, 2009) Beyond Divorce Casualties: Reunifying the Alienated Family. Roman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Lanham, Maryland.
Gardner, R. A. (1998), Recommendations for Dealing with Parents Who Induce a Parental Alienation Syndrome in Their Children. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage , 28 (3/4):1-23.
Warshak, R (2010). Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing (updated edition).