We all thought the process of getting divorced was the hardest, most difficult, and emotional part, but that is not always the case! For those parents that are suffering at the hands of the other parent post-divorce through manipulation and control of the child(ren), this tends to be the most excruciating part to endure. Parental alienation, as it is commonly known, is defined as a set of strategies that a parent uses to foster a child’s rejection of the other parent and in doing such, their goal is to develop within their kids a feeling of hate, fear and rejection of the targeted parent, as someone who is unworthy of having a relationship with them. It is conceivable that on moving forward in their lives due to hate, dislike, falling out of love with their former spouse is one thing, but to lose one’s kids because one parent is using them as pawns in their game of thrones is unfathomable.
The signs of this syndrome that are most prevalent is when the former spouse tells your children details of the divorce, makes up false allegations of domestic violence and or criminal activity, speaks badly of you in front of the kids by making defamatory statements and your children feel guilty spending time with you to cite a few examples of such. Consequently, the obvious questions are why a former spouse indoctrinates the children’s minds against the other parent and what can you, as the parent, do?
To understand this better, the parent that is sabotaging the relationship with the other parent, does so because they want to be in control, much like they did during the marriage and manipulate the children by enacting revenge and hurting their ex in the process. This narcissistic approach by the manipulative parent is the psychological manipulation of the child by the alienating parent, which typically results in the child’s rejection and lack of empathy towards the targeted parent.
It is a form of abuse, similar to a cult, that has long term effects on the child(ren), even more so than the targeting parent and what they are doing is actually hurting their child(ren) by taking away their loving parent from their lives. Unfortunately, all that time has been lost that can never be recovered and or even worse, where the parent is no longer in the picture, where the child(ren) will have a lot of regret, which most definitely entail years of therapy. Additionally, it can cause detrimental long term effects, such as low self-esteem, hatred, depression, trust issues and forms of addiction. Children will lose the capacity to give and accept love from a parent, or future relationships, which even therapy might not be able to cure. It is only days, weeks, months or years, that these children realize the long term effects.
The parent that is causing this wedge is usually jealous of that other parent and blames themselves internally for the shortcomings in the marriage and why it failed and or their current unhappy life. Instead of taking responsibility, they blame the other side and use the children as ammunition in order for them to sleep peacefully at night and feel better about themselves.
Although not easy, the alienated parent must work to maintain a positive, loving relationship with the child(ren), in order that the child can feel safe with you. Try to speak to the other parent about behaviors you have noticed without pointing blame, although that will probably not be successful, because that parent will naturally deny their involvement. Do not attack the other parent, as much as you want to, and get into the game they want you to engage in. If unfortunately, the alienation continues, then one should highly consider therapy for both you and the kids, as well as perhaps parenting classes.
One can always go to court, where the courts do not look fondly upon this and can modify the physical or legal custody arrangement and or reduce visitation accordingly, if they believe the alienation is causing harm. This is always a last resort. Focus on what you as a parent can and cannot control. Remember children are children and not adults, regardless the age. They are impressionable and vulnerable and when one spouse speaks ill about the other, they believe it is true and no matter what you say to combat it, you will not win. Do not address the lies, the manipulation and bad mouthing, but rather sit back and say nothing, other than I love you and will always be your mommy and or daddy. Do not fall prey to the parent that is alienating you from your children and play their game of control. Be there for your kids, even from afar and encourage them to speak directly to you, if they desire, no matter how much the pain you are enduring and feeling in the moment. Tell your kids words of I; “I love you; I miss you; I am here for you.” Text them daily “Good morning and or Good night. Email them short concise questions such as ‘How was your day?” Did you go to the mall?” How was basketball practice?” Realize you may not get a response, but never give up and do not get angry at them.
Furthermore, one needs to manage their emotional reactivity and not jump at the kids, but rather be patient. Blaming the child is not the answer, as the child is only following what was implanted in their brains, as unlawful and convoluted as that is. Repeat to yourself, it is not their fault and in time, if you give them their space, they will come around and realize who the loving, dotting parent is. You want them to figure it out on their own, which they will if you make it about them and let them come back to you. Making it about you, and your needs and desires will almost always fail. You, as this targeted parent can only understand the effects of alienation, when you come to the realization that imposing the same type of unhealthy behavior on your ex only further perpetuates this cycle of hurt for your child. One needs to give them their time, while validating their feelings, regardless if you know they are being controlled by the other parent and let them come back when they feel safe again. Just do your best to let it go in the moment and let the kids know you love them and will do everything, even if they are not under your wings like you are used to. Breath, exhale, keep fighting and know Hashem always has a plan and a reason for everything and as painful and as arduous as it is, keep your head held high and never ever give up losing sight of the ultimate goal!
Brad Berfas is a Partner at Berfas & Associates, P.C. He can be reached at (917) 515- 0822 or at BradBerfas@gmail.com.