When you’re trapped in the vicious cycle of parental alienation, how do you break the cycle and reconnect with your kids? Read on for important tips to help you re-establish healthy, loving relationships with those most dear to you: your children.
Parental Alienation (PA) occurs in high-conflict divorces when one parent turns the children against the other parent. Parents who do this are called Alienating Parents (APs), and they often are not aware that their personal feelings about their ex are not reality. APs are generally stuck in anger and look for a target to blame for their problems and painful feelings. In the case of divorce, that target is their ex, or Targeted Parent (TP).
Trying to parent a child who has been conditioned into believing you’re bad or worse is challenging. What do you do when your child appears to hate you, or refuses to see you? Here are five ways that Targeted Parents can reconnect with their kids.
Address lies and bad-mouthing. Conventional wisdom to “say nothing” in the face of bad-mouthing does Targeted Parents a huge disservice. You MUST stand up to propaganda. You wouldn’t smile and say nothing if you were accused of murder, so why should you remain mum when your child tells you: “Mommy says you wanted the divorce because you don’t love us?” Don’t respond in kind, but DO state the facts in an even-handed tone: “I’m sorry Mommy told you that because it’s not true. The divorce was a grown-up problem and had nothing to do with you. I will always love you and I will always be your daddy.” Be prepared to repeat this often. [We are using “Mommy” as an example but this could also be “Daddy.”]
Encourage your child to speak to you directly. Parental Alienation functions like a cult. The Alienating Parent (AP) isolates the child from the Targeted Parent (TP) so they only hear the AP’s skewed reality and come to believe that’s The Truth. How do you combat this? Tell your child to come to you if they have questions about anything they’ve heard about you, or something they believe about you that worries them. All children, be they children of divorce or in tact families, need to learn to speak to parents directly instead of using the other as a go-between. Your child might not believe you, but at least they are getting the opportunity to hear your side of the story – a story which might seem more reasonable to them as they mature and develop critical thinking skills.
Manage your emotional reactivity. It’s normal to feel angry, scared, and defensive when you’re continually being insulted and slandered by an ex who cannot manage their emotions. But it’s imperative that you do your best to manage your own emotions when you’re around your kids. If your ex tells your children you’re scary and then you act scary (because you get so frustrated you blow your top), you will just confirm your ex’s twisted version of the truth. If you find yourself flying off the handle, get help: therapy, meditation, exercise, journaling, etc. And repeat this mantra: what my ex thinks about me is none of my business.
Continue reaching out. If you no longer have child custody, or if your child refuses visitation, don’t stop trying to have a relationship with him. E-mail, text, send a birthday present, call, show up at school events. Don’t expect to get a civil response, or any response at all. However, don’t interpret a lack of response as a sign that your child doesn’t care that you’re invested in trying to be his parent. Even if your kid says he hates you and doesn’t want to see you, he probably does and is trying to test your commitment. When adult children of PA reconnect with a Targeted Parent they often ask why that parent disappeared, and admit they were hoping to be “rescued” from the AP. When you weary of your child’s rejection, remember: focus on your intention, not the outcome.
Be patient. Rebuilding your relationship with your child is a marathon, not a sprint. It could take years — even into their adulthood – before you see your efforts pay off. In the meantime, focus on your intention to reconnect and try to let go of worrying about the outcome.
Is parental alienation affecting your relationships with your kids, and your child custody arrangement? Our experienced family law attorneys can help you understand all of your options regarding custody and parenting time and can refer you to other professionals such as family therapist with whom they have worked in the past in cases similar to your own. Please contact us today to schedule your initial, confidential attorney consultation.