By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
Divorce conflicts between parents can get ugly. And too often parents tend to vent or share this anger about the other parent with one or more of the children involved. The results can be devastating – not only for the “target” parent, but for the children, as well. This is just one form of parental alienation, which is a persistent and very complex set of behaviors designed to break the bond between the targeted parent and their children. Most significant is that the behavior usually feels totally justified by the alienating parent.
The problem is that your innocent children are caught in the middle, and often quite upset and confused about being told disrespectful things about their other parent. Not only is this hurtful for them, the reaction can cause havoc in the family. Alienated children can learn to manipulate both parents in ways that are destructive for the child’s socialization and ultimate wellbeing.
When any parental disagreements reach into your children’s lives, you are treading in dangerous territory with long-lasting consequences. How you handle the situation could play a crucial role in determining the ultimate outcome for your family – and how your children learn about coping with conflict.
If you feel you are being targeted for alienation, here are some important strategies to consider, suggested by divorce coaches and therapists, to open the door to healing or renewing your relationship with the children you love:
- Strive to maintain contact with the children in every possible way. Take the initiative when an opportunity presents itself.
- Remember, your children are innocent. Don’t take your frustrations out on them by losing your tempter, acting aggressively, shaming or criticizing them.
- Never reject your children in retaliation. Threatening that you don’t want to see them if they don’t want to see you only adds fuel to the fire.
- Stay empowered by not allowing the kids and your ex to determine the parameters of your contact with them. Avoid waiting until the kids “feel” like seeing you. That time may never come. Step up and schedule your time together.
- Don’t waste precious time with the children discussing or trying to change their negative attitudes toward you. Instead, create positive experiences together that speak for themselves.
- Avoid impressing or “buying” the kids’ affection with over-the-top gifts and promises. Spoiled children create a life-time of parenting problems for everyone down the road.
- Never dismiss your children’s feelings or counter what they say – even if they admit they are angry at or afraid of you. While you may be right, the children will more likely feel you’re just not listening or don’t understand them.
- Temping as it may be, refrain from accusing the children of being brain-washed by their other parent or just repeating what they were told. Even if this is true, chances are the children will adamantly deny it and come away feeling attacked by you.
- Don’t ever bad-mouth your ex in front of the kids. This only creates more alienation, along with confusion and further justification of your negative portrayal to the children. Be the parental role model they deserve and you will be giving them valuable lessons in integrity, responsibility and respect.
It makes sense to reach out for professional support from a therapist, coach or parenting group so you don’t feel alone when coping with these challenges. No two situations are identical, but the pain related to parental alienation is universal. Having a support system is crucial for your own mental health.
Parental alienation behaviors are not turned around overnight. But by following these suggestions you are moving in the most productive direction you can on behalf of your children and laying the foundation for keeping your relationship as positive as possible.
* * *
Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Divorce & Parenting Coach, Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of the internationally acclaimed ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! For Rosalind’s free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right! and other valuable resources for divorced parents, go to: www.childcentereddivorce.com.
© Rosalind Sedacca All rights reserved.