Alienating the Good from the Bad

Alienation of a parent from a child is a form of loss that we see often.  

One parent is targeted for the loss by the other, but it always harms children.  Occasionally we see both parents engaged in trying to undermine the other, and it causes stress for them and their kids, but that doesn’t mean alienation has occurred.  Real alienation is something that most people have not had clearly defined for them.

We don’t need to explain that this is happening and that it is an overwhelming and horrible problem, but it may help us drive change to better define it, and to outline our options for addressing it.  This is just a starting point, or a landing page if you will, for a discussion that will take shape in the coming months.

Defining parental alienation:

What we see as alienation is when children who are left on their own to decide have no interest in or affection toward one parent.  Some parents try to alienate by limiting access, but that doesn’t mean it is an effective tool.  Others cast aspersions using words, tone, body language or just by showing general lack of concern or disrespect.  If the targeted parent is self-aware, calm, resolved, positive and available to make the most of the situation with their children, true alienation doesn’t have to be the result.

Does it mean you shouldn’t be bothered by and working to address the other parent’s conduct?  No way.  But choose carefully the advisor you listen to and the path you take to address the situation.  

Sometimes something as simple as staying confident and keeping your sense of humor is enough to stop the nonsense in its tracks.

This is “alienating the good from the bad.”

Look for solutions that are positive and don’t get pulled down into the victim-stance and the need to be over-reactive.  [This is much like our coaching tip around realizing you have a really bad attorney; you get to decide whether to stay down or whether you clear your head and find better support.]

Alienation is not an automatic result, and if you are accused of something you didn’t do, or believe your actions are being misinterpreted, it does not mean the other parent is an “alienator” — it can mean they are fearful and reacting the way they’ve been coached to react. You may consider that the better you respond to what is being thrown at you, the better chance you have of keeping communication open, dialing down or avoiding more conflict, and…just maybe you can avoid that worst case scenario of being completely undermined as a parent.

…Of course some parents are just outright vindictive and looking for any advantage they can get.  Contact us if you are in this situation and unsure of how to respond.  Better to think first, locate resources and calm down, and react after you’ve considered your options.

Understanding alienation tactics and creative responses to these tactics are topics our community of professionals and parents is focused on.

From our view, the alienation term is being overused & misplaced.  

But often where it is appropriate as an explanation for trauma to children and parents, it is not given the weight or intervention it deserves.  It seems we all agree that it is a problem for many, that it is damaging to children, and that if common sense and the plain truth were employed we would see less of it.

So let’s see if we can spell this out better.  

How do you identify real alienation from a situation where someone is claiming alienation to avoid consequences for bad behavior?

If a drug addict is using a child to run drugs…are you going to call it “alienation” if you limit the drug user’s ability to exploit the child this way?  No, you’d call it protecting the child from a life of crime.  You would also be protecting the child from the worst that parent has to offer.

That answer is obvious, so let’s try a more complicated scenario.

Another parent, let’s say it’s the mother, has an illness that is rendering her so dysfunctional that medical experts say she should not be driving.  Yet she is driving, and with her children in the car.  She has the children the majority of the time, needs to have someone with her at all times to support both her and the children, but refuses.  She has been made to believe (possibly by an attorney or a misguided friend) that if she accepts help, it will be used against her.  What she has is terminal, and the children are being traumatized because her level of mental functioning has gone down to the level of “retardation,” so she is not interacting with them in a normal way, and they are worried and unsure about what will happen.  

This mother is refusing help, and her attorney is indulging her as long as her father keeps writing checks.  What she doesn’t realize – because she’s being blocked from communicating with her husband – is that he wants her to be supported, to spend quality time with their kids, and is in no way seeking to alienate them from her.  

Considering she will not listen, won’t accept help…if you limit the children’s time with her, are you “alienating” them from her?  No, you are keeping them safe.  You could also be saving her from herself, in the event she accidentally injures her children, and then wants to die from grief and guilt.  Maybe it’s time we address alienation as a tool, as a defense, and help more parents avoid this loss?

This is an actual case in Georgia, and it’s a shame that the father is being kept from giving the mother what she needs in order to give her children her best.  If you want to say there is alienation on this case, it would be the fault of those who are misleading the mother and exploiting her condition.  The father is not the “alienator.”  

But that doesn’t stop the mother’s attorney from calling him that in court.  It also doesn’t stop the expensive GAL from accusing the father and restricting his time and input, asking the judge to give the mother the ability to keep the father at bay “so he can’t alienate their children” from her.

The father is now feeling depressed and angry, because he is being cut out, and he is scared for his children and for their mother.  He blames her father and the attorney and GAL, but he doesn’t know what to do about it.  He knows they are alienating him from his children, while blaming him for something he’s not trying to do!  

It is easy for other fathers who hear this story to identify it with something bad that is happening to them, and they may latch on to the alienation term.  Tossing around a term gives people a focal point or a way to cope with what is wrong.  

* If I can call it something, and blame someone – probably HER – then I can cope with it, right?  Natural response…or it could just be a desire to have strength in numbers.  If we are ALL being assaulted by the same problem, then by sticking together maybe we can fix it!  There’s nothing wrong with identifying and organizing to address a problem, but our experts see this particular term being overused, and being used in situations where it doesn’t apply.  In fact, it can distract both parents and professionals from solving a bigger problem.

Other cases where we see this term misused involve child abuse.  

Any good parent naturally responds to learning their child is being abused by the other parent by seeking to restrain the abusive parent either directly or with help from counselors, doctors, the court or police.  They may try to coax or force that parent to get treatment for what is causing them to abuse, but mainly to protect the child.  

They are labeled “protective parents” and we do have both mothers and fathers in Georgia being protective, and they are justified based on all available evidence and testimony. We are seeing this from all sides, including from the children’s perspective and have been engaged with children over a long period of time who have been coping with the effects of this stress, well before there was a name for it.

Unfortunately it is an easy ploy for causing conflict (and fees) to escalate by calling protective parents “alienators” to distract from the real issue, which is often a criminal act of physical violence or sexual abuse.  What we have learned over time, and with input from many professionals, is that offenders who cry “alienation” are not that hard to identify.  It is just not always in the court’s interests to identify the party manipulating appearances.  

The problem with many cases that wind up being referred to as “alienation cases” is that the Court and certain professionals are not using the evidence to reach an outcome that is reasonable for the family and which provides for the safety of children.  This terms gets overused and waved around as a problem, even where it doesn’t belong.  In enough situations to cause this to have to be debated, real offenders or those committing crimes against children are crying out “alienation!” because they aren’t being allowed to use their children to “run drugs” [or fill in the blank].

In both of the scenarios described above, the parents heard the term through their attorneys, so they are claiming to be “victims of alienation” when they are instead just covering up their own issues – neither of which are good for their children.

There are already enough books and websites and experts on this subject, but our purpose for delving into this here is that we see over and over again how it is misused in court cases, and used as a weapon against a parent who is really just trying to look out for the true needs of their children.  We see this term thrown around in social media, when alienation in its true form is not the issue.

The real alienation issues are on cases where an abusive or “off” parent, which is not limited to a gender or an income bracket or social status, is given too much power or the ability to use the children as leverage or weapons.  Much of this is done intentionally by certain court professionals who want there to be a power imbalance because it keeps the family caught in conflict, and coming back to court in enough cases to make it worthwhile.  It’s like assuring there will be future inventory for the courts, attorneys and custody experts.

The more you empower the abusive or unhealthy parent, the more likely it is they will use this power to cut out the parent who is trying to have healthy boundaries.  Keeping kids away or destroying the bond between the other parent and their children is the best weapon — the best form of revenge.  This is fairly common knowledge; the problem is that certain court professionals are not only working to prevent it, they are enabling it.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t avoid it, or deal with it effectively if you know what to do.  

This starts with self-awareness, and a determination to keep your focus on your kids and to use your resources wisely.  Just because someone is “working against you” does not mean you have to “fight” back, correct?  Alienation is just a form of bullying…so give the bully some other options.  More on this to follow, but taking a bat to a bat doesn’t help your kids score a run.

We don’t hear about or talk about cases where divorce happens with parents who are not “high conflict” or using the kids to hurt or control each other.  Those parents realize they don’t have to end up in litigation.  It helps if one isn’t motivated to pay for the ability to cause harm or get away with some form of abuse.  All it takes is one, but if you know you’re dealing with this type of personality ahead of time you can avoid the worst.  

Parental alienation has become such a big issue because it is profitable.   Profitable for the creator of the problem, and profitable for the “fixer” of the problem.

Sad, but true.  It is gratifying for the parent who is the truly unhealthy parent who feels better by controlling or punishing the other parent.  

This is just not a one-size-fits-all term.

By working together with other groups we can more quickly educate the public about the pitfalls and help more parents avoid this type of loss.  We can use policy reform measures to ensure evidence counts to prevent this foul-play tactic from working so easily.  And, we can put measures in place to hold both parents and professionals accountable for causing this abuse to happen.

 

If you’re a parent dealing with this, keep studying and asking for help.  

Become more self-aware about how you respond to this stress, and focus on what your kids need and be creative in delivering.  In spite of the problem.

Professionals:  we know you see ways to help more parents through this, and to help them recover.  Get involved, please.  Counsel for Change is our professional group on LinkedIn, and this is one of the topics on the table for debate around solutions and prevention.  Do counsel your clients to change their reactions and how they go about getting what they want.  Using children to control or to leverage should never be an option.

Recovery is needed in many families.  We are hearing from good parents that they haven’t seen their children for months and even years. Without any real or valid justification for this loss of time.  Ultimately we want to restore balance and to help kids and parents reunite, and make up for lost time.

Because tens of thousands are struggling due to the enabling of this problem by certain judges and other Family Law professionals, this section will grow and develop into a more useful library of resources to be put to use.

Our focus right now is on helping to restore Georgia parents and children and undoing the damage from foul play and various types of professional or judicial misconduct.  If you have information or wish to contribute in another way, please let us know.