A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation, follows the story of Mike Jeffries and his family – wife Beth and sons Jared and Adam – as Mike realizes his post-divorce dream of co-parenting his children as they split their time between two households will bear little resemblance to a post-divorce reality consumed with trying to maintain a normal relationship with his 11-year old son Adam in the face of parental alienation. His experience led him to research parental alienation and draw the following conclusions.
I ALWAYS MARVELED AT THE VERBAL switch that gets thrown in parents’ heads shortly after a divorce. Faster than newly divorced parents can say “good riddance,” they typically start disassociating themselves from the other parent when talking to the child they conceived together. “You’ll be spending next weekend with your father” replaces “You’ll be spending next weekend with Dad.” “Your mother is on the phone” takes the place of “Mom is on the phone.” A parent who inserts the word “your” before every reference to the other parent is gently saying, “You’re still connected to him/her. I’m not.” It’s as if the child’s connection to the previously loved spouse should come with a warning label.
While not in the same league as an all-out assault on a healthy parent/child relationship, this subtle change in language is also a form, albeit a very mild form, of parental alienation.
I wasn’t surprised that there are different levels of parental alienation. People typically measure behavior along a continuum. The best behavior is at one end of the continuum and the worst behavior is at the other end of the continuum. In-between the two end points there are degrees of the behavior that people label for easy-to-understand reference points.
Low a.k.a. Appropriate Parenting
Let’s be honest – even a divorced parent-of-the-year candidate will occasionally say something negative to the child about the other parent out of frustration over a disagreement. After all, if the former spouses never disagreed or got frustrated with each other they would still be married.
These divorced parents are low-level alienators because they said something negative about the other parent to their child, regretted the outburst, worried about the effect it would have on the child, and took steps to explain their inappropriate behavior. In short, low-level alienators are human – and good parents.
The low-level alienator recognizes that the child needs to have a normal, healthy, loving relationship with the other parent. The low-level alienator is generally supportive of the other parent and even facilitates the normal growth and development of that relationship. This parent is able to separate the child’s needs from his or her own, and puts aside his or her own feelings about the divorce and communicates with his or her former spouse so the child’s needs are met.
Medium a.k.a. Reactive Parenting
Medium-level alienators fall somewhere between the two parental alienation extremes.
Medium-level alienators mean well. They believe their child should have a normal, healthy relationship with the other parent. But they also believe that normal healthy relationship shouldn’t come at their expense. Nor should their child’s good relationship with the other parent in any way interfere with their life.
This type of alienating behavior is usually short-lived. Medium-level alienators begin the behavior after some real or perceived slight from the other parent. These alienators have a hard time controlling their emotions and their full-fledged parental alienation assault on the other parent will last as long as their emotional reaction lasts. Their actions are brash, foolhardy, hotheaded and ill considered. When medium level alienators get over their anger, these parents stop the alienating behavior and move on. They aren’t actively sabotaging the relationship. That is, until the next time they believe the other parent is doing something that is not in their or their child’s best interests. Then the alienating behavior begins all over again.
High a.k.a. Obsessed Parenting
High-level alienators are alienators with a mission – destroy the previous healthy and loving relationship between their child and the targeted parent. These alienators are obsessed and relentless. They never get tired, stop scheming or pass up an opportunity to reinforce their destructive messages to the child. They conscript friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, police officers and social service agencies into their battle against the targeted parent. High-level alienators manipulate attorneys’, psychologists and judges in order to turn potential “decision makers” into allies. Nothing will satisfy these people short of the total, complete and permanent destruction of the previously loving and healthy relationship between the child and targeted parent.
High-level alienators possess a single-minded sense of purpose only found in the most driven individuals. Their need to destroy the previously loved other parent’s relationship with the child becomes a crusade. This crusade provides high-level alienators with an unhealthy outlet for their emotions.
A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation by Michael Jeffires and Dr. Joel Davies. Published by A Family’s Heartbreak, LLC. www.afamilysheartbreak.com