April 24, 2010

Parental Alienation 101: Beware The Unexpected Alienator

Sunday, April 25, 2010 is Parental Alienation Awareness Day.

Parental alienation happens when any trusted adult (ex husband or wife, former lover, aunt, uncle, grandparent, family friend, caregiver, etc.) carries on a campaign of words, attitudes, or actions which undermine a child's love and respect for a loving, well-meaning parent. This may happen in high conflict divorces in which one parent wants to appear to be "the good one" or wants to rearrange a court ordered custody arrangement.

There is an ongoing debate about whether parental alienation is a syndrome. I am not entering that debate here. It is certain parental alienation is a process and creates a result of disturbed and damaged relationships between children and the targeted parent (the parent who is the object of denigration, ridicule, exclusion, or unjustified anger).

Commonly, the "ex" in a relationship is the one who engages in trying to "win over" a child by alienating that child from the other parent. Here are some typical indicators of parental alienation:

* Children perceive one parent as causing financial problems of the other parent
* Children appear to have knowledge of details relating to the legal aspects of the divorce or separation
* Children show sudden negative change in their attitude toward a parent/guardian
* Children appear uneasy around target parent - they resort to "one word" answers and fail to engage openly in conversations as they previously have done
* Children are uncharacteristically rude and/or belligerent to target parent
* Access time is not occurring as agreed upon or court ordered - visitation is being unilaterally cut back by the other parent
* Hostile Aggressive Parent (HAP) parent undermines the other parent or speaks disparagingly about other parent in the presence of the children
* HAP parent starts making reference to other parent as being abusive and a risk to the children with no apparent good reason
* Allowing children to choose whether or not to visit a parent, even though the court has not empowered the parent or children to make that choice;
* Telling the children about why the marriage failed and giving them the details about the divorce or separation settlement;
* Refusing the other parent access to medical and school records or schedules of extracurricular activities;
* Blaming the other parent for not having enough money, changes in lifestyle, or other problems in the children's presence;
* Rigid enforcement of the visitation schedule for no good reason other than getting back at the other parent;
* False allegations of sexual abuse, drug and alcohol use or other illegal activities by the other parent;
* Asks the children to choose one parent over the other;
* Reminding the children that the children have good reason to feel angry toward their other parent;
* Setting up temptations that interfere with visitation;
* Giving the children the impression that having a good time on a visit will hurt the parent;
* Asking the children about the other parent's personal life;
* 'Rescuing' the children from the other parent when there is no danger.

(List is from the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization's website)

If you recognize these indicators (as a group) in your experience, you are either an alienator or the target of alienating behavior. Be aware, seek help if needed, and act effectively to save your relationships. If you are an alienator, STOP. You are harming the child you claim to love. If you feel a parent needs help, help the parent without involving the child in your actions, comments, or concerns. You also risk losing all access to that child if a parent becomes aware of what you are doing. Children are not emotionally equipped to handle adult issues or conversations.

When I began to learn about PA (parental alienation), one factor often missing from discussions on this subject was the "unexpected alienator." The unexpected alienator may be someone you trust, but that person is in fact carrying on a campaign of attitude transfer and actions which undermine your relationship with your child or grandchild.

Clues for identifying unexpected alienators:

Be careful when someone you have not previously had a close relationship with steps up and says something like this: "If there is anything I can do to help, just let me know. I want to be there for you at this difficult time." Unexpected alienators sometimes seek to exploit a vulnerability. Who isn't vulnerable when going through a high conflict divorce, or beginning to heal after such an event? If you do not have a well-established and positive history with someone, be careful of how much access you grant them at a time of change and transition.

Be careful
if you have in your circle of family and friends someone who has unresolved abuse/neglect issues from their childhood. It is a fact that those with unresolved issues in this area often project their perspective into situations where no abuse has occurred. Because in their own experience a parent did not protect them, the unexpected alienator attempts to "resolve" this issue by "saving" another child from a "bad parent."

Be careful
of someone with unresolved grief over never having been a parent. Please note: I am not saying be careful of someone who is not a parent. Be careful of someone who has unresolved grief over this issue. Many people who are "child-free" are perfectly happy and do not feel sadness over their life experience. For others, as time goes by, resentment about not having children sinks in and expresses itself in their projection of your "failure" or "unworthiness" as a parent.

Parental alienation is serious and destroys relationships. I am not referring here to a casual comment or misstatement about a parent, or a slip-up in which someone says something not intended to be heard by a child. That is not parental alienation. Parental alienation is a process in which someone attempts to weaken or destroy a previously loving relationship between a parent and child. Women or men can be the targeted parent.

It happens because children are incredibly impressionable and want the approval of important adults in their lives. It hurts because children need and deserve the love and affection of both parents. Children see themselves in both of their parents. When that connection is unnecessarily disrupted, a child is injured unnecessarily and possibly permanently.

For more information on parental alienation, go to paawareness.org.

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