Because of the illusory truth effect, you and your child can become victims of parental alienation. As a parent you are deprived of doing what you really want to do: Parent your child! You need to speak up, so how do you respond to a lying co-parent? What you want to say involves engaging in a barrage of of accusatory and condescending remarks. Words exchanged will mimic previous conversations of which there was no resolve.
What you could say offers a flimsy and sarcastic response. At least you replied without going on a ranting diatribe, right? What you should say means responding as a caring, loving, safeguarding, and responsible parent.
Why should the targeted parent choose a cordial and non-confrontational method? Seemingly, the only thing worse than one parent chirping in the child’s ear is two parents coming from both sides saying how they should act, feel, and think. Simply put, someone needs to be the parent!
Three Common Scenarios Demonstrating How to Respond to Lying Co-Parents
Illusory Truth Effect Scenario 1
What one parent says about the targeted parent: “Your parent has not called. Your parent does not want to talk to child. Your parent would rather do anything than call the child”.
Truth: Targeted parents’ calls go unanswered, told ‘child is busy’ or messages are not relayed.
What the targeted parent wants to say: You want to think your co-parent will honor your child’s relationship with both parents. And, complying with court orders is a logical assumption, correct?
What this does: Continues the confrontational aggression and blame dynamics. Undoubtedly, a rerun will not yield different results.
What the targeted parent could say: “I did call you. Your parent is just telling you that. Here is the phone bill, see? Look at how many times I called you.”
What this does: Divorce is between the parents. Involving your child will not address the problem. Showing the phone bill is may not be the best option for two reasons. First, the child truly believes the words of their other parent. Reiterating your beliefs onto them insinuates the child is wrong. Their other parent is already making efforts to sway them against you. Two, phone bills are not for children. In essence, this response perpetuates the arguing by creating drama at the expense of your child.
What the targeted parent should say: “That must be hurtful to think I did not call you. I am not sure why your parent would say that. That is not what happened although I understand you think I did not call you. I absolutely love talking with you and always look forward to hearing about what you are doing and what is happening in your life. You can call me at anytime, I am always excited to talk to you, I am always available to you.”
What this does: Demonstrates empathy and concern for what your child is experiencing. Remember, their other parent, who they also love and trust is telling them something else, albeit a lie. Because of the illusory truth effect, even if your child knows a fact to be true or not true, in hearing the fact over and over again they begin to see the untrue fact as the truth. Imagine how confusing this must be for them, which parent do they listen to?
Illusory Truth Effect Scenario 2
Truth: Targeted parents love their child and miss their child very much. (Not to mention that a parent telling their own child such a complete and utter lie is horrible).
What the targeted parent wants to say: Engage in a repetitive conversation filled with accusations and name calling of which no new information will emerge.
What this does: Arguing will not improve this situation. Some parents will never grasp the immediate or long-term ramifications of their words.
What the targeted parent could say: “That is crazy. Of course I care about you. I love you!”
What this does: An abrupt and incomplete response does not address the issue or offer empathy.
What the targeted parent should say: “That must have been confusing to hear. There is nothing farther from the truth, I love you very much. We both love you. Your parent and I are divorced and living in different homes and that has nothing to do with our love for you. I know that you love both of us. I am not sure why your parent would say that. I love you more than anything and I will always be here for you.”
What this does: Honoring their feelings validates their experience. Remaining calm, confident and steadfast is key. This is an opportunity to connect with your child and inquire about their emotions.
Illusory Truth Effect Scenario 3
What one parent says about the targeted parent: “The reason we are divorced is because your parent _____. If your parent wanted us to be happy they would ____. What is wrong with your parent?”
Truth: One parent is attempting to undermine their child’s relationship with the targeted parent: a textbook case of emotional abuse.
What the targeted parent wants to say: Set the record straight.
What this does: Battling comments are a moot point. Parents who engage in these antics are not receptive to logic or reality.
What the targeted parent could say: “Your parent is the one who left us. I am not the one who _____. Your parent is out of control.”
What this does: Escalates confusion and prolongs the feuding.
What the targeted parent should say: “That must be confusing and scary for you. I am glad you shared that with me. I am sorry you had to hear the unkind words. I wish your parent would not discuss adult matters with you. Sometimes people say things that are not true. Your parent and I clash on a few things, however, the one thing we both agree on is how much we love you. Is there anything else bothering you that you would like to talk about? I want you to know that you can talk to me about anything. I will always be here for you.”
What this does: Acknowledges their experience in hearing bitter words about a parent they also love. Validating their thoughts demonstrates regard and respect. This opens the door for asking about their feelings and learning what may be causing anxiety, emotional pain or stress. Focusing on the child’s anger and hurt feelings is more important than proving their other parent wrong.
Remain Calm and Reassure Your Child When Dealing with a Lying Co-Parent
Regardless of the game playing how you respond to the accusations and name calling will make a difference to your child. Will this happen immediately? Probably not. Eventually, your child will reject the overbearing and toxic environment. Overtime your child will come to know the truth and see you as a calm, consistently caring, and thoughtful parent who offers a kind, loving and peaceful home.
Responding in an attentive, loyal and responsible manner allows you to do what you really want: Parent your child!