September 16, 2009

Parental Alienation: Struggling to Be Right, Or Appearing Righteous?

--image from

Something happened today that reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with someone who became a friend.

Caryn (not her real name, and no, not me) was struggling with maintaining her relationship with her adult daughter.

After surviving a painful divorce, struggling to maintain herself and her daughter financially and emotionally, and returning to school to study in a field she'd always loved and wanted to pursue, things were beginning to fall apart for what seemed like the last time.

Her comments ended with something like this: "I am the one who has done the right thing, struggled to keep a good home for ------, raised her and helped her through school and college, and now she has no respect or appreciation for me as a person, or as a mother.

Both women and men can be victims of parental alienation. I posted about parental alienation here earlier this year. Learn more by visiting

What I finally said to her was this (and I am amazed I can remember it so clearly after all of this time): "there is a difference between being right and appearing righteous."

Often the person doing the right thing is struggling with more burdens, more stress, less support, more self doubt and angst, less of a clear pathway to follow than the person concerned with appearing righteous to others.

It's one thing to keep your image up. It's another thing to create goodness out of pain, fear, and uncertainty.

I empathized as Caryn described how her daughter saw her as weak, less knowledgeable, and less deserving of respect because Caryn, along with her daughter, was the one who was "left", the one who was seen struggling with paying bills, keeping the heat turned on, the one who was heard crying late at night because the next day seemed too uncertain or frightening to face.

It's always harder to be right than it is to seem right. And sometimes, you have to choose.

Relatives often implied to Caryn's daughter: "if your mother had just kept her mouth shut, tolerated what we all have tolerated from time to time, everything would have been OK and your lives would have been a lot easier." Sounds like parental alienation to me. You don't have to be six or twelve years old to be a victim.

Caryn and I lost track of each other. I don't know if the wounded relationship was healed or restored.

What I tried to share with her in a moment when I think it mattered was this: if you're going to walk the higher path, you need bigger muscles. When you excel, or when you won't tolerate what is clearly wrong and harmful, someone will say you are the problem.

It may take many years for Caryn's daughter to realize the difference between being right and appearing righteous.

Only if you have done the right thing can you truly and sincerely teach someone else how to do the right thing.

Wouldn't it just be wonderful if we could always be right and appear righteous at the same time? Sometimes, though, it's just not possible. When it isn't, choose to be right. Truth crushed to earth really does rise again--even if it takes a long time--and someday, perhaps, someone you love will seek you out because they remembered you cared more about being right than appearing righteous.

LISTEN to deborah evans read an audio version of this devotional here.

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