She stood in the courtroom, non-plussed. The ground seemed to have shifted beneath her feet. The judge awarded the custody of her 9-year-old daughter to her husband. Before she fainted in the courtroom, the nine years played out in front of her. The arrival of her little girl into the world, the warmth of her tiny body, the intimate conversations enroute to school, the fun times on vacation and the satisfying yet balancing act of playing the part of two parents to the little child, the last 8 years.
The decree enunciated visitation rights – two weekends, alternate birthdays, alternate years for vacation and weekly two-hour visits with one weekend, each month and other do’s and don’ts.
Did she get them? No. The battle for a visit was like fighting an unending and tireless battle. The daughter was told that her mother was ‘too busy making money’ and had no time for her. Or that she was using her money to ‘buy her’ and did not want to take the responsibility of being a full-time mother.
The chasm between the mother and daughter, deepened as the years went past.
Divorce is not easy. In most divorce cases, one parent experiences more hurt and anger at the breakup and with a child involved, the situation is far more challenging. Most often, children become pawns in the vindictive war, waged by one parent against the other.
The child or children may be turned against you by your former spouse. This behavior is called parental alienation. It is a situation in which one parent uses brainwashing and planting negative ideas to alienate, discredit, and distort the perception of the other parent. Studies show that a shift in alienators from 90 percent mothers to a ratio of 50:50 in mothers and fathers, these days. Be as it may, it is the child who bears the brunt and consequences.
What Makes Some Parents Resort to Parental Alienation?
The partner, feeling slighted at the status quo being shaken due to a divorce, is likely to have overcharged emotions of rage and bitterness. This may lead to demonizing and belittling, the former partner trying to showcase themselves as the better parent to be with. At times, the need to punish a former partner can make the narcissistic partner, resort to the use of children to extract revenge.
While the divorce may not be your fault but embroiling children in it, by forcing them to take sides, is.
Ria, a young mother was extremely upset about the divorce and blamed her husband for ‘breaking a happy marriage because he wasn’t into it, anymore’. She would constantly put-down her ex-husband. Her son, Jian was forbidden to even utter his name in the house. At every pretext, she would make disparaging remarks about his father. Jian felt he was walking on eggshells with her and never knew what would tick her off!
She would call over 50 times on his father’s visitation days and would get distraught if he came back saying he had a great time with his father. She, often referred to his father being ‘useless’ and ‘uncaring’. All this, in the attempt to make Jian ‘hate’ his father for the ‘wrong’ he did to her. Ria made matters, worse by threatening ‘self-harm’ if he ever considered going on a vacation with his father.
Jian loved both his parents and could not understand why he needed to choose.
In the years following the divorce, he internalized his pain and concluded that perhaps he was to blame for their fights and unhappiness.
What Are the Effects of Parental Alienation on Children?
- Children manipulated by narcissistic parents are conditioned to replicating their parents’ behavior. They tend to live ‘split’ lives, behaving differently with each parent. An act, seemingly hard to pull off becomes second nature.
- They may go through life expecting little of themselves, and this can lead to difficulties in their future relationships. Like in the case of Jian, the alienation affected his self-esteem and ability to speak his mind. As adults, they may resort to ‘putting down’ or ‘demonizing’ people they feel have ‘wronged them’.
- There are some who go through intense, bottled rage that may instigate them to act, irrationally in common situations. Conversely, they may have little or no tolerance for anger or authority.
- Some may become depressed and demonstrate psychosomatic issues like developing headaches or stomach aches, or even experience changes in their eating and sleeping patterns.
In the battle of parental egos and retribution, children, unsuspectingly are made to play adults while adults, behave like petulant children.
How Do You Stop It?
- As a parent, focus on the positive aspects of the other parent. While you two maybe separating, your children need both parents. If you are unable to say anything positive about the other parent, then it would be best to say nothing at all about them.
- Keep a cool head. Ego will add fuel and not quell the fire. Divorcing parents need to act like adults and communicate with their child/children about the reason for parting ways. It’s important to sit down with someone both parents respect and agree to keep it clean and focus on differences between them instead of dragging the children.
- Stay focused on the best interests for the child/children even though anger, conflict, and revenge may be distracting you. Operate from a higher ground. While no one, truly wins in a divorce, aim to achieve as much of a win-win-win as possible.
- A client once said to me, “I handled my divorce like I was winding up my company that has fallen on bad times.” It had to be done in the most amicable and painless way with each stakeholder being taken care of instead of being torn in half. This makes a whole lot of sense when divorce and children, are involved. Revenge and parental alienation can cost you, heavily.
- Seek therapy for the child as it may impact their emotional and physiological well-being.
- Note down any change in the child/children’s behavior, log in the times when any visitation rights are withheld, record the times when the child/children are used as pawns either through communication or acts.
- Seek supervised visitation
- Seek legal help if children are being manipulated in a divorce. The longer it continues, the more damage, it is likely to create.
The legal system is little equipped to help divorcing parents and child/children on handling parental alienation. It is possible that at times, the alienation may be ongoing and while some children may be eloquent, some bottle things up. Additionally, the counselors themselves are not as well-trained to distinguish estrangement from alienation.
The goal after a divorce, is to move on and be happy. Being vindictive and resentful, will only take you, away from the joy of living life, on your terms. Children with continued involvement of both parents in their lives, tend to borrow the best of both, and develop fulfilling relationships that are fairly, balanced.
The aim is to raise children, who are caring, strong, and can eventually lead an empowered and independent life. Being husband and wife may not have worked out, well however, working on being co-parents can.
Farzana Suri inspires people to unleash their epicness and win in life. A former ad professional, she has transformed her life and has coached over 6000 clients across 19 countries. Her coaching is insightful, and constructive. Her thoughts on relationships are featured across media in India, UK and Spain. www.farzanasuri.com