Being an alienated parent means that your ex is trying to turn your kids against you by essentially brainwashing them to believe that you’re dangerous and unfit. Although your natural inclination is to fight for your children, some of the means you might employ could actually make matters worse. Read on to learn common mistakes alienated parents make, and how to avoid them.
Trying to reason with the alienating parent
Mistake: High conflict alienator parents lack the personality traits and motivation required to be reasonable. They see things in black and white: they genuinely believe that you’re The Bad Parent, and they’re The Good Parent. That’s why imploring them to “put the children first” won’t work; they do think they’re doing the right thing by rescuing them from your evil clutches. Because they demand total allegiance from the kids, alienating parents have no incentive to support your relationship with them.
Tip: Save your energy and accept that you can’t change your ex, or control what they do. Instead, educate yourself on the process of parental alienation, which is a form of brainwashing. When you stop wasting your time trying to reason with someone who’s inherently unreasonable, you’ll be able to focus on developing strategies to protect your relationship with your kids.
Losing your cool
Mistake: Being an alienated parent is traumatic. You may find it difficult to manage your emotions. But if you do anything to appear unstable – yelling, crying, appearing agitated — in front of your ex, your children, or family law professionals, you will just confirm your ex’s propaganda that you’re unfit.
Tip: Take care of your mental and physical health so you’re better able to regulate your nervous system. Make sure you get enough sleep and eat properly. Utilize coping skills such as exercise, journaling, deep breathing, and mindfulness. If you feel shame from being an alienated parent, you may be tempted to withdraw from others, but this will make you feel even worse. Be sure to seek support from friends, family, and therapy.
Assuming your kids will “figure it out”
Mistake: The standard advice for divorce is never to say anything about your ex for fear that it will triangulate the kids. However, this conventional wisdom works only for amicable divorces, not ones in which parental alienation is present. If you don’t actively respond to the alienating parent’s brainwashing, your kids are likely to keep believing it.
Tip: Develop an appropriate strategy to talk to your kids about parental alienation. Don’t speak ill of, or diagnose your ex, but do tell them your side of the story. If they insist that your ex is right, explain that different people have different perspectives. Teach them critical thinking skills by talking to them about ways people form opinions. Your ex’s brainwashing will be less effective if your children learn to think for themselves.
Pulling away from your kids
Mistake: If your kids refuse to show up for your parenting time, and reject contact with you, you may become so discouraged that you withdraw from their lives. But this will “prove” the alienating parent’s assertion that you’re a terrible parent. Studies of adult children of parental alienation show that, no matter what they say, or how many times they push you away, children want to know that you love them and won’t abandon them.
Tip: Continue showing up for your parenting time, even if your kids reject the visit. Maintain contact by emailing, texting, or calling. If they won’t respond, save emails and take screen shots of texts so you can prove that you tried to reach out.
As hopeless as you may feel, it is important to remember that nothing is permanent. When children get old enough to separate psychologically from the alienating parent, they often end up resenting that parent and reconnecting with the targeted parent. Make it your mantra: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
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