Relationship struggles occur all around the world. Parental alienation is no different.
Parental alienation happens when one parent uses their relationship with their child to reject the other parent. There are other names for alienation including pathogenic parenting, restrictive gatekeeping, cross generational coalition (when the parent aligns with the child against another parent), and psychological, emotional abuse (due to one parent using their relationship with the child as a way to get control and force the child to choose one parent over the other).
The goal, of course, is that children need both parents, even when the parents do not like each other. Children should be free to love and have as many people in their lives as possible. When we teach children who they can and cannot love, we are teaching them that love is limited.
Love should not be limited.
Adding people into our lives and retaining old relationships are both important.
Despite having the best intentions for your children, it’s easy to slip into a pattern where your children find themselves in the middle of a conflict between you and your co-parent.
This can make an already difficult situation harder on your child while simultaneously alienating you or their other parent. Learn more about the hardships and repercussions of parental alienation in Dr. Jennifer Harman’s TedTalk.
Recently, parents around the world honored April 25th as Parental Alienation Day, and I want to share tips on what you can do when you feel that the other parent might be targeting you.
How To Navigate Co-Parenting Without Feeding Into Parental Alienation
When you feel that your ex or co-parent is manipulating your child to reject you, it can stir up a lot of painful emotions. However, maintaining your child’s well-being should remain the goal. Rather than getting defensive or explaining that your child’s other parent is lying or being unfair, take a pause. Read on for 3 tips to navigate these often sticky co-parenting situations.
1. Avoid Bad Mouthing The Other Parent Even When They Are In The Wrong
Have you felt the gut-punch of your child returning home to say, “Dad said X, Y, and Z about you” or “Mommy says you’re messy and don’t take good care of me”? These are hard things to hear, especially when it comes from your child.
For most of us, the first thought in our minds is what in the world is the other parent thinking? Why would they say that to our children? That isn’t okay. And you are right, it is not okay. But what doesn’t work is to begin defending yourself or talking badly about the other parent. So the next time you are surprised or hear your children saying things that make you upset, feel crazy or are hurtful, we want you to do something different. The overall goal is to, instead, acknowledge what your child(ren) say.
By using this approach, you are setting an example of how to deal with hurtful words. More importantly, you exclude your child from the harmful back and forth of parents bad-mouthing each other.
Are you struggling to find the right words when your child’s other parent is constantly bad-mouthing you? Reach out to The Bridge Across to learn the right tools to de-escalate and protect your child-parent relationship.
2. Don’t Dismiss Your Child When They Bring Up Issues They Shouldn’t Know About
Children are in such a rush to grow up. Your child may like it when the other parent overshares with them or involves them in adult decisions. This makes them feel like they are being respected, even though it also drags them right into the middle of the conflict between you and your ex.
If your child comes to you and says, “Mom says you’re not being fair about visitation,” don’t be quick to react. While it may be true they are too young to understand the hardships of court proceedings, they certainly don’t feel that way. Responses such as, “you’re too young to understand” or “your other parent should not be sharing this information with you” diminishes their feelings and will cause them to be defensive with you about themselves and their other parent. It will also reinforce to them that you don’t think they are as grownup as their other parent.
In instances like these, the other parent is already treating the child as more of an adult. While you may not agree with this choice, it’s happening and they may be bonding a little more because of it. Diminishing their newfound “adult” voice may send them back into the arms of the other parent while your own parent-child relationship suffers.
If you find yourself in this situation, I have a response for you to keep in your back pocket. You may want to take a screenshot of this one:
“Gosh, I really appreciate you telling me how you feel about this. I know you want to be involved, and I understand you are growing up and getting bigger. Unfortunately, the situation is more complicated than me just giving you an answer because there are other people involved.”
With this response, you are first respecting your child by acknowledging they are growing up. Then, you are also telling the truth. The people involved in a divorce could include an amicus, attorneys, a judge, a therapist or two, and more. This is a win because you are not diminishing your child’s perspective and you’re not reinforcing what the other parent told your child about you not taking the child seriously.
3. Refrain From Calling The Child Out For Repeating What Other Parent Says
Children can be like parrots sometimes. They repeat what they hear, even if it’s hurtful. When your child says something that you’re sure they heard from their other parent, it’s easy to brush it off. Unfortunately, it may be tempting to tell them they’re just repeating what your angry ex is saying.
Although what you’re saying may be true, it’s not the best or most helpful response. Being told they’re just repeating something will feel disrespectful and dismissive to your child (and will reinforce that you don’t take them as seriously as the other parent).
Have you ever been in a situation where someone states that what you’ve said isn’t how you really feel and that you’re repeating what you heard somewhere?
Most of us have that experience and it’s not a good one. It doesn’t make us feel good.
However, for your child, it may be doing even more harm than just hurting their feelings. If the child hears and believes that you don’t pay enough attention to them, a brush-off response only reinforces the negativity.
It is not unusual for parents who are difficult to persuade or convince the child to do very hurtful things to the other parent- even when the child doesn’t really want to. The child often thinks if they do this, it will take the pressure off of them. Unfortunately, difficult parents only increase the pressure. If your child has done something hurtful to you that was engineered by the other parent, it can cause a strain on the relationship. This is especially true if you are getting caught in blaming the child for doing their other parent’s bidding. If you believe the worst in your child (instead of understanding that they are being used by the other parent, this actually pushes them away from you and and closer to the other parent.
Instead, say this:
“I know how hard you are trying to be a good son/daughter. I understand that you are dealing with a lot here. No matter what has happened, I want you to know that I love you.”
While the above words may be hard to say, they can be magic for a child who is caught in the middle.
Does this sound all too familiar to you? Remember that you’re not alone and there are tools to help you through these hard times. Contact The Bridge Across for a free consultation and put some new go-to responses in your toolbox.
Moving Forward Without Triangulating Your Child In The Drama
Divorce, separation, and co-parenting can all be challenging. Yet, it’s important to remember that the only person you have control over is you. And at the end of the day, you want to protect your child(ren) from harm.
Although you may need to ease up a bit when your child is suddenly talking about adult subjects, you can still maintain a healthy relationship with your child. This is possible, even if the other parent is driving you crazy.
You want to truly help your child the most for now and in the long run. So don’t triangulate them into any anger or resentment you may feel towards their other parent. No matter how old children get (even teens and young adults), they don’t really want to hear negative things about either parent. It creates an unnecessary strain that can snowball into other areas of their life. In the end, they just want you both to get along.
The Bridge Across Can Help You Navigate Through Co-Parenting Struggles & Parental Alienation
You’ve got a hundred things on your mind at any given moment of the day. Life is hard enough without the other parent unloading their grievances on your child.
At The Bridge Across, we understand how frustrating it can be to charter these waters. We have our own experiences with divorce, single-parent life, re-marriage, and becoming a stepparent. I have learned that doing some of the things I’ve recommended often feel counter intuitive, but they are successful. It took me years to figure out some of these things, but there is no reason for you to go it alone.
Through research and personal experience, we know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s hard to see at this moment. We specialize in helping families through these trying times. Most clients see an improvement with the tools they learn after just one session.
If you’re ready to take your life back and really enjoy your parent-child relationship, schedule a free consultation today.