Dara reached out to me this past spring with a parental alienation story that I hear time and time again. Like all targeted parents, Dara came to our coaching session anxious, tearful and hopeless.
Dara was confused why her 14-year-old daughter, Olivia, refused to abide by the 50-50 shared custody arrangement that Dara and her ex-husband had agreed upon during their recent divorce. Dara and Olivia had always been close, so Olivia’s sudden refusal to be with her mother was extremely upsetting to Dara. She had heard of people having alienated children, but she never thought she would be one.
Hoping that Olivia’s rejection of Dara was a passing phase, Dara spoke with several of her friends to find out if they had similar experiences with their teen aged daughters. Each one assured Dara that what she was experiencing was typical teenage behavior.
While Dara wanted to believe that her daughter was going through a normal phase of adolescent development, she had a nagging feeling that something more sinister was brewing. This was due to Olivia’s claims of negligence and abusive actions by Dara; citing events that never took place. In addition, Olivia was emboldened to call her mother names and even became physically violent with her on several occasions.
During one of Olivia’s refusals to leave with Dara for their scheduled week together, Dara noticed that her ex-husband was standing outside of the kitchen door while Olivia spewed venomous accusations at her mother. With a smirk on his face he said, “I can’t make her go with you Dara. Olivia knows what kind of a bitch you are. Why would she want to go with YOU! You are garbage” His words confirmed what Dara already suspected. He was the mastermind behind Olivia’s hate, distrust and rejection of her mother.
Dara and her daughter were clearly victims of Parental Alienation. Parental alienation occurs when one parent uses a series of tactics including coercion, threats, promises, fear, or bribes in exchange for the child’s discard of the other (targeted) parent. Alienated children are victims as is the alienated parent. It is the alienator’s psychopathology that gets in the way of acting in the best interest of their child which is to allow the child the right to have a relationship with their other parent. Instead, the alienator is willing to gamble with their child’s emotional well-being in order to coerce the child away from their other parent. The win for the alienating parent is the harm that this creates for their target. In this case it was Dara.
Parental alienation deems the targeted parent almost helpless when it comes to parenting their own child. This is due to the unhealthy enmeshment that takes place between the alienator and the child, along with the alienator’s permission for the child to disrespect, disregard and harm the targeted parent.
The insidious side of parental alienation is that it looks the opposite of what is really happening. To the lay person as well as to judges, attorneys and therapist, the child appears to have a wonderful relationship with the parent with whom they have aligned themselves. The alienator presents themselves in what I call the five C’s – calm, cool, collective, convincing and conniving. Why wouldn’t they appear well put together? They have what they want and that is the child.
On the contrary, the targeted parent usually has an anxious, angry, and frightened presentation which often appears compatible with the accusations that have been slung at them by the alienator and the child. It is the outward appearance of the alienator versus the target that often lands the child in the full custody of the alienator; a scenario that can have tragic underpinnings.
After working with hundreds of targeted parents, I have found there are Five Strategies to Effectively Parent an Alienated Child with whom the targeted parent still has contact. Keep in mind that these strategies are not designed to change the child’s thinking, nor will they impact the alienator’s behavior. These methodologies help the targeted parent achieve some semblance of decorum amidst the whirlwind of verbal attacks made by their child. Additionally, they help reduce the frenetic anxious demeanor that is common to most targeted parent.s
The Five Strategies to Effectively Parent an Alienated Child are:
The Five Strategies to Effectively Parent an Alienated Child are:
- Stay to true to your parenting style; the one you have always implemented with your child. You don’t need to defend your position as the child’s parent. You are still your child’s parent no matter what the alienator or your child tells you. Neither one of them is The Decider.
- Do not give attention to false accusations your child or ex-spouse have waged against you. The more you attempt to defend yourself the deeper the hole you dig. When you child accuses you of something that has never occurred, let them know that you understand how they feel but that their accusation is not true and leave it at that. You don’t need to explain any further. Doing so lends credibility to their statements.
- Your child may blame you for the breakup of the marriage, the loneliness of their other parent, or the current living situation they don’t like. Let them know that you are sorry they are sad about those things, but their parents (you and your ex-spouse) are doing your best to make their life as happy as possible. Talk about positive things you can do together.
- Do not discuss any legal matters with your child. Alienators often share legal documents with the child to further denigrate the targeted parent. If you learn that your child has been apprised of legal documents, do not allow them to interrogate you regarding the narratives they have been given. Tell them that legal documents are for adults and too complex for them to understand.
- Show empathy for your child. No matter how many accusations your child may make against you, it is important that you maintain a calm demeanor when you respond to them. Always remember that they have been used, abused and brainwashed by the alienator.
Parental alienation turns your world upside down. There are days when you don’t know if you can take it anymore. Other days you will be a fierce warrior to fight for your child. It is a roller coaster ride that no one ever wants to get on. It is something you never imagined would happen to you, your child or your family. Yet, this is your life.
During my career, I have had the honor to speak with over 200 adults who were alienated as children. Each one was clear that they knew what was going on at the time they were alienating their parent. They were too young to articulate their situation to anyone. Even more striking is that each person with whom I spoke told me that they aligned with the parent who they were most afraid of because the alienator came with threats either real or implied.
The guilt of what they had done to their targeted parent was palpable with every person who told me their story. Some have been able to rekindle a relationship with the targeted parent later in life. Others were not. Either way, these individuals have lived lives full of regret, fear, anxiety, and guilt. That is the legacy that an alienator leaves for their children.
If you are a targeted parent and still have contact with your child, The Five Strategies to Effectively Parent an Alienated Child will help you navigate turbulent parental alienation waters. Should your child become more distant or refuses to see you at all, it is time to reach out for legal help immediately. Alienation gets worse with time. The sooner you act, the higher rate of success you will have in diffusing and possibly eradicating parental alienation.
There are attorneys, in the United States, who specialize in parental alienation. A good parental alienation attorney will help you take legal action against the alienator as well as locate a reunification program or therapy for you and your child. Always remember it is in your child’s best interest to have you in their life no matter what the alienator or your child may say.
When I asked formerly alienated children, who are now adults, about any advice I could give to targeted parents their answer was to never give up. No matter what your child says to you and how terrible it may be, they do love you. They never wanted or asked for any of this.
From Housewives to Wall Street to Congress and everything in between, Susan Shofer, CDC Divorce Coach, PI, MBA, has helped people around the world navigate their divorce using humor and a straightforward approach. She believes that “Divorce Should Not Be a Full Time Job.”
Susan’s specialties include Parental Alienation, High Conflict Divorce, Divorcing a Narcissist and Dating After Divorce. She has given a TEDx talk about the effects Parental Alienation on the child and extended family. Her TEDx talk has been used by child advocacy groups, legal and mental health professionals around the globe.
Susan is a member of the Parental Alienation Study Group and is the Director of the Baltimore/Annapolis/DC/Northern Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Divorce Professionals.
Currently, Susan has three books available on Amazon – The Divorce Recovery Ladder, No One Wins, and Burner Phone: Running from Monstrous Dates.
Susan’s services include individual coaching and online courses. She is also available for speaking engagements.
Susan holds a Bachelor’s Degree from University of Maryland and an MBA from Johns Hopkins University. She is the mother of two young adult children.
Revolutionizing the conversation around Divorce, one internal narrative at a time.
DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.