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Your Divorce Advisor

YDA Newsletter #4

Thank you for signing up for the Your Divorce Advisor newsletter! This is issue # 4.

If you like our newsletter, and if you like our book, please tell your friends about it. Word-of-mouth is important for a book like ours, because helping people with simple, sane solutions and practical, down-to-earth information isn't always splashy enough for TV and magazines.

It's people like you, one at a time, helping one another, that helps to get the word out, and we thank you for that!

Please feel free to forward this newsletter to anyone you think would be interested. We appreciate your feedback and support.

Very truly yours,
Diana Mercer, Esq., and Marsha Kline Pruett, Ph.D., M.S.L.
authors of Your Divorce Advisor

Parental Alienation Syndrome
"My child says she doesn't want to see me. What can I do?" and "If my child says he doesn't want to go with his mother, should I force him, even if he's screaming? I don't want to get in trouble with the court, or with his mom."

These are some of the tough questions faced by parents every day. How much of the stress of the transfer of the child between parents is normal, and how much of it is a result of emotional blackmail by the other parent? And how do you tell the difference?

For the parent who feels alienated, from his or her children, what can you do?

The first step is to be honest with yourself: have you done anything to alienate the other parent or the child? Have you been self-centered, controlling or arrogant about the relationship? Have you considered your child's needs first in all of your interactions with him or her? So many children of divorce later reflect that they spent their youth travelling from one parent to another for the sake of court-enforced visitation rights, and they missed the friendships, sports teams, and birthday parties that make up the childhood memories of children living in intact families.

What attempts have you made to know and understand your child and his or her needs?

It's small comfort, we know, but remember that your child is only in the control of his or her other parent for a short time, considering that the average American's lifespan is expected to reach 85 years. Children mature into adults, and if your ex spouse has truly unjustly brainwashed your child against you, the child is likely to figure that out eventually. A typical reaction is to turn against the alienating parent.

Continue to be a stable, caring, loving, and ongoing force in the child's life, even if from afar. Remember birthdays and special events with cards and small gifts.

Send them even if they are continually returned, and keep the "return to sender" envelopes and packages in a box. If your child ever wants to know if you cared, you can go through and show everything you tried to do to maintain your relationship.

Assuming there is no court order forbidding you from doing so, attend school functions, and maintain contact with the child's teachers. If the child cannot be convinced to see you, even for a short period, do not force the issue, and maintain a respectful distance at these events. Even if you don't speak to your child at these functions, it's important to show that you're supportive and involved.

Consider approaching a mutual family friend, or neutral family member to intercede in your behalf. Suggest that the child attend therapy with you, so that you hear and understand his or her concerns, to work on repairing the relationship. Most of all, be patient.

If you are the parent who grapples with "forcing" a reluctant child to visit with the other parent, what can you do?

The first step again is to be honest with yourself: have you done anything to alienate the child from the other parent? Are you projecting your own dislike for that person onto your child? Remember that the child is ½ you, and ½ the other parent. For you to show disapproval of the other parent is for the child to believe that part of himself is "bad" or otherwise unacceptable.

Have you taken care of your own needs, or are you unconsciously enlisting the child's help in retaliation against the other parent for wrongs against you? Children benefit from contact with both of their parents in the vast majority of circumstances.

They benefit from learning each parent's different outlook on the world, even if that different outlook causes friction between the adults. You picked this person to be the child's parent, after all.

As mentioned above, remember that alienation against parents typically backfires. Once the child realizes what you've done, he or she may hold that against you. You have a lifetime of important events with this child, so don't let short term gratification sabotage your long-term relationship.

Encourage the child to be enthusiastic about spending time with the other parent. Get a calendar and mark it with the days he or she will be with the other parent, and help him or her look forward to the time planned.

If the other parent is having trouble figuring out what the child would enjoy, help him or her—or, better yet, encourage parent and child to talk about activities they'd both enjoy. No, it's not your job to do this, but it is your job as a good parent to foster a relationship between the other parent and your children.

If your child's upset is continuous and persistent, consult with a child psychologist, therapist, school counselor, or the child's pediatrician. Signs that the anxiety reaches beyond the upset that accompanies many transitions includes regressed behavior, e.g., a previously potty-trained child wets his pants, or a talking child falls silent.

If the child is older, suggest that the parent and child attend therapy together to work through their differences. Encourage, but don't force or push the child. Involve the other parent in these decisions so he or she knows you're trying to help the situation.

Remember that when you do not abide by court-ordered parenting time, you risk contempt of court and other civil punishments. If the situation becomes so dire that you cannot in good conscience force the child to go with the other parent, and you've tried all of the above suggestions as well as those suggested by your child's counselor, file a motion to modify the parenting schedule before the situation reaches critical mass.

For More Information please read Chapter 9 "Contested Custody Cases: Hazardous Territory and Loose Footing", starting on page 255, in Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce, available for $11.20 from Amazon.com and $14 at bookstores everywhere.