August 31, 2014

Failed Reunion After Parental Alienation? What's Next?

Failure. Loss. Short end of the stick. Fruitless endeavor. Heartbreaking. Hurt. Pain.

These are some of the thoughts and emotions associated with parental alienation. Gather those feelings and multiply them by ten or twenty. You will then know how it feels to accept a “failed reunion” with your child after having battled parental alienation.

If you are looking for a formula to help you determine if your reunion with your child has failed, I have no formula to offer you. Only you know when to declare the reunion a failure.

Some parents may refuse to ever declare the reunion a failure. These parents may accept mistreatment, financial and other types of abuse, or visible disrespect for an indefinite period of time. They have convinced themselves if they tolerate whatever happens in the relationship with their child, a reunion of sorts has occurred and healing is underway

I don’t think that is a very healthy perspective. I have some personal experience with reunions after parental alienation, and I offer my viewpoints for your consideration.

You can still be a good parent even if you cannot restore the relationship in the manner you originally hoped for and intended.

Why do some reunions fail? Parental alienation changes the child more than parental alienation changes the adults involved. 

What does this look and feel like?

Perhaps you will not have the family weekends and vacations you dreamed of enjoying together. Perhaps family meals will be quieter, tenser, or less chatty than you hoped they would be. Perhaps you will have to accept your child’s new values, which may be quite different from yours.

If your child is making sustained progress toward independence and is not engaged in inappropriate behavior, try to work with them and don’t insist on creating a closeness your child doesn’t welcome.

Don’t allow yourself to make comparisons to those who have not experienced the trauma of parental alienation. You may have to lessen your exposure to Facebook or Instagram or other media where you may be bombarded with the happy faces of relatives or friends enjoying family outings, events, or vacations that are not currently a part of your life.

Toss out the “Pity Pot” and be grateful you endured the court battles and legal drama of parental alienation while staying reasonably functional and healthy. That is no small achievement. 

 Having your child back with you is what you fought for, right?

What is a “failed” reunion? It can be many things.

You find out your ability to live comfortably with your child has not returned, even though they have been with you for months, or even years.

You find out their respect or love or appreciation for you has not been restored.

You find out your child is not able to process or clear their minds of the negative, angry, or contradictory messages they have absorbed about you.

What’s next?

1.    Accept that you are starting over. You are not, however, starting over with a clean slate. You are in a hole, and must spend time, energy, and perhaps resources digging yourself and your family out of that hole. 

2.    Don’t sacrifice every other relationship in your family (nuclear or extended) for the sake of “fixing” your relationship with the returning child. Don’t sacrifice your marriage. Don’t appear to be willing to sacrifice your marriage. Schedule time with your spouse and have regular (safe and fun) activities with your other children. In short, do not make the returning child the “ruler” of your home by allowing their needs and priorities to dominate everyone else’s needs and priorities.

3.    Do not hide your challenges with your returning child from extended family and friends. Don’t disappear from all of your regular social groups and activities. Cut back, if need be, but don’t abandon the social life you have already established.  Participating in a healthy support network will demonstrate for your returning child how emotionally balanced people live and interact with each other.

4.    If violent or criminal actions are a part of your returning child’s character, be willing to get help or remove them from your home if necessary. Be completely willing to call the police and file a formal report. Keep a journal of what’s going on in your home---and keep your journal in a secure place. A journal may help protect you if your child turns the tables and accuses you of abuse or mistreatment.  Allowing yourself to be mistreated will not raise your child’s desire to love or honor you. You and anyone else living with you deserve to have a reasonably peaceful home. Also, keep in mind your minor child’s unchecked criminal actions may create legal liability for you as well.

5.    Remember this: good parenting is not about guaranteeing good results, or good children. Good parenting is about consistently showing love, care, protection, support, and guidance. If your child is unwilling to accept these things from you, their unwillingness does not make you a “bad” parent. Their unwillingness does not make you a”failed” parent.

6.    Allow yourself a safe time and space to grieve the loss of what once was. Unaddressed grief will poison every other relationship in your life. It may take a long time to resolve the grief, but do not leave it unaddressed. Yes, it’s unfair that you have to do all of this to move forward, but you must. Work slowly and consistently on addressing and resolving the sadness that comes from this type of loss and this type of change.

If you are experiencing a challenging or failing reunion with your alienated child, stay honest with yourself and everyone else involved. Take good care of yourself and your household. Stand ready to take all necessary steps to direct and care for your entire family, including the returning child. Allow yourself to feel grief and work toward resolving how these changes will fit into your life as you move forward. 

Yes, you are going to move forward!

 As always, don’t forget to pray and listen for the still, small voice of God to guide and inspire you.

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