by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
What exactly is parental alienation? “Parental alienation when one parent alienate the affections of the children so the child does not want to be with or spend time with the other parent.” (Darnell, D. 2007).
Parental Alienation is not for those parents who have been estranged from their non-favored parent due to domestic violence, abuse, un-treated mental health issues, substance abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, etc. Parent Alienation occurs when parents who were once involved in their children’s day to day lives, has an emotional connection with their child(ren), does not present any of the above issues and were close to their child at one time in their life; especially during the first seven years of their lives (Bowlby, 1998).
High conflict parents (HCP) already struggle with co-parenting and/or parallel parenting. When parenting alienation occurs, either overt or covert, this shuts down the communication further between the HCP. Unfortunately, children and teens are left in the trenches of this psychological trauma. Children love both parents and should feel free to express their feelings and emotions towards either parent, unfortunately this is not the case when parent alienation is present.
Some signs parental alienation is present:
1. Children (includes teenagers) state they are ‘scared’ of their non-favored parent, however unable to articulate the reason(s) of this fear. They outwardly show disdain and hatred toward this non-favored parent, not fear to speak to them. For example, I had a 10 year old and her mother in my office working through their relationship when the 10 year old stated she was scared of her mom and then five minutes later this same girl who said she ‘feared’ her mom began screaming and hitting her mom stating how much she ‘hated her mom.’ When children are truly afraid of their parent, they do not act like this.
2. Children erase the good memories and distort or remember only the bad memories. When children are shown pictures of their non-favored parent enjoying their time with their children, children make statements such as “he/she must have cut and paste this picture,” “this event never happened,” “see how crazy they are to create made up photos,” etc.
3. Children parrot (repeat) their favored parents wording and explanations as to why they do not ‘like’ their non-favored parent. For example, a 7 year-old may say “My mom has schizophrenia and is not taking her Haldol as prescribed so she is not safe.” Or “My dad killed our cat so he is a psychopath and scary.” What 7 year-old explains their reasoning this way? Few, if any. However, when professionals interview the favored parent, the same comments above are made during the meeting. These are big adult wording, not from a 7 year-old. Additionally, when children are asked to explain more about the situation, they usually say “I just know” or repeat themselves. There is very little substance to the child’s allegations.
4. The residential parent provides a non-working phone number, a message only phone, does not allow any communication between the non-favored parent and child. This also includes throwing away snail mail, deleting messages, blocking the other parent from any communication. However, it may look like the favored parent is supportive of communication and just doesn’t understand why the non-favored parent doesn’t contact their children.
5. The child/teen asks to change their last name because they don’t want to be associated with the non-favored parent.
6. The child/teen has no interest in staying in touch with your side of the family; i.e. grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This is especially true when the child/teen was once close to your side of the family and now they don’t talk or want to see them.
Ways To Cope With Possible Alienation:
1. Seek Legal consult with an attorney well-informed of parental alienation immediately.
2. Continue to see you child/children if you are ‘allowed’ to. Don’t give up. Continue to write to them, call them, and/or begin a blog on the web so they may see it and help you feel part of their lives.
3. Seek professionals to help yourself and children. Make sure the professionals are educated in high conflict child custody. Ask questions about their professional background and methodologies working with PA (parental alienation).
4. Try not to let this go on too long. The longer the child/teen goes without contact the less likely the child/teen will want a relationship with their non-favored parent. Unfortunately, family court may take awhile so do your best to have assertive patience (be patient, however ensure the process is moving forward).
5. Self-Care. Take care of yourself, seek out self help groups, counseling for you, exercise, sleep, taking a walk, journaling, drawing, seeing friends/family, whatever soothes you. Stay healthy mentally and physically. This is not an easy time, some say one of the hardest. Self care is essential!
Remember if your family is suffering from PA, the children are the ones in the middle. These children are not the ones to blame or get mad at, these children are in pure survival mode. These children have learned to appease their favored parent and not ‘rock the boat’ with them or there will be conditions/consequences they will need to deal with if they go against the favored parents wishes.
Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
- Serve and return. (n.d.).
- Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. New York: Basic Books.