Many parents want what is best for their kids, but what does ‘best’ look like? When parents are caring for their children under the same roof, there is generally an opportunity for the kids to spend time with both of caregivers, however, when the parents decide that they wish to end their relationship, it may be a struggle to decide how to move forward as co-parents. One struggle that may come up is that of alienating the child from one of the parents and this blog will explore what this scenario may look like.
There is no single, universal definition of parental alienation, however it is generally recognised as when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. Due to this, the child may often resist or refuse time with one of the parents after separation.
As we know, children and adolescents also go through their own processes post separation, so how does one make a distinction between the child being manipulated and the child simply needing space from the other parent?
Below are 5 points indicating that as a parent, you may be alienating your child from their other caregiver:
- Criticizing the other parent in front of the child: Examples include telling the child that their other parent is crazy, selfish, should not be loved by anyone and so on.
- Making the child feel guilty for spending time/loving the other parent: If the child is asked a lot of questions about their time with the other parent, asked about who they love more or given excessive, inappropriate details about the parental separation, it may cause a lot of internal stress and send the message that they need to choose between one parent or the other.
- Purposefully reducing the time/ contact with one of the parents: If you reflect and realise that you may intentionally or unintentionally be taking your child late to each sleep over or visit with the other parent, refusing that the child calls or speaks to their parent when they are with you or making excuses to keep the child with you all the time, then you are engaging in alienating actions.
- Undermining the parent’s role in the child’s life: this can look like insisting that your child call a new partner ‘mum/dad’ even though they are a step-parent, refusing to inform the biological parent when it comes to important medical, psychological or educational referrals and even refusing to include the other parent in important events in the child’s life such as concerts, graduations, birthdays and meetings with the school.
- Trying to minimise the child’s relationship with the other parent: the child should still feel that both parents are equally as important. Using the child to get information about the other parent’s life by being a ‘spy’ or encouraging the child to call the other parent by their first name, will create a lot of distance and result in the child seeing the parent in a different light.
While when your child is away, it is normal to feel anxious and worried, it is important to keep in mind that children do not understand the often complex issues of parental relationships and thus should feel safe to love and build a relationship with both parents, regardless of their relationship status. Should you feel overwhelmed by the situation, it is always encouraged to seek help and discuss these issues, in order to be able to have a healthier family dynamic, no matter the status of the parental relationship.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Michaela Pace is a Psychology graduate from the University of Malta. She has worked with children and adolescents and adults within the social sector and currently works as a Triage Officer and Volunteer Manager with Willingness Team, while pursuing a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy.
Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), 2017 https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/divorce-and-separation/what-to-expect-from-cafcass/parental-alienation/
Legal Dictionary, 2017.