Children of divorce want and need to maintain a healthy and strong relationship with both of their parents, and to be shielded from their parents’ conflicts.
Some parents create an expectation that the children choose sides, which results in parental alienation. Parental alienation is the psychological manipulation of a child by one parent into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards the other parent. The primary cause is a parent wishing to exclude another parent from the life of their child. These actions drive a wedge between parent and child. The alienation usually extends to the non-custodial parent’s family and friends.
Divorce often brings out the worst in people and unresolved issued with the other parent can lead to parental alienation. Parental alienation occurs in 11-15% of divorces involving children. Most parents would not intentionally harm their children, but your behavior regarding the other parent can be just as detrimental
Children’s views of the targeted parent are almost always negative, to the point that the parent is seen as bad or evil and often leads to an irreparable breakdown in the relationship. Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to a child, but rather it has to be taught. A parent that would teach a child to hate or fear the other parent represents a grave and persistent danger to the mental and emotional health of that child.
It is possible for either parent to be on the receiving end of parental alienation. It often starts with one parent, harboring contempt against the other parent, either obviously or quite subtly begins making derogatory comments about the targeted parent. Alienation often starts while the parents are still together.
Parental alienation can be mild, moderate or severe. If it is mild, you may not even realize you are doing it. Many of us have been angry at a former spouse, and It is easy to speak out negatively in our frustration. STOP BEFORE YOU SPEAK. These tirades are harmful to your child.
The effects of parental alienation on children can be quite severe including low self-esteem, self-hatred, lack of trust, depression and substance abuse.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Do not speak negatively about the other parent in front of your child.
- Do not make your child feel guilty for wanting to spend time with the other parent.
- Do not make your child feel like they need to choose sides.
- Do not say or do things to turn your child against the other child.
- Do not interfere with communication between your child and the other parent.
- Think before you vent. Remember who is listening and watching.
- Do not allow your children to talk negatively or disrespectfully about the other parent.
- Do not use the child as a courier, messenger or spy.
- Do not share the details of the divorce with your child.
- Statements like “Your father doesn’t give me enough money to. . .” are not okay.
- Do not ask your children to lie to the other parent or betray their trust.
- Do not give your child decision making power about spending time with the other parent when no choice exists.
Regardless of how we feel, as hard as it may be, we should show respect to our ex and remember that this person is a part of our child. We must remember to put our children and their needs first. Loving our children is more always more important than trying to hurt an ex-spouse.
Article written by Laura Tweedt, Paralegal at Moore Family Law Group