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Divorce: The Silent Price – 3 Easy Tips to Prevent Parental Alienation
Let’s face it – divorce is hard. For parents, for children, for families, even for the family pet…divorce is hard. However, turn on any TV show and you will see divorced parents happily raising their successful children – shows where every problem can be solved in 30 – 60 minutes – shows where the child moves seamlessly between two households and where the parents remain the best. of friends and communicate openly while sharing parenting responsibilities.
Communication and collaboration are supposed to be two-way streets, but things don’t always turn out the way they should. Unfortunately, most marriages end bitterly and it takes many years for both partners to come to terms with the breakup and stop punishing each other. Often, however, those years of communication breakdown affect the children deeply.
It is common in single parent households that the custodial parent develops a deep bond with the child. In households where there are still unresolved issues between the divorced adults, the bond between the custodial parent and child could, directly or indirectly, lead to conflicts with the non-custodial parent.
Let’s meet Sam and Amanda
Sam is eight years old. He has an older sister, Amanda, who is twelve years old. Although Sam and Amanda’s parents had recently formally divorced, they had been separated for two years.
During the separation period, things seemed to be running smoothly. The parents shared the parenting responsibilities and dad was lucky enough to rent a house a block away from the kids, so they spent a lot of time voluntarily commuting back and forth between both households. Both parents tried to communicate as everyone adjusted to the fact that Dad was now sleeping in a different house.
When the divorce was finalized, things changed. Within a month of the divorce, Sam began refusing to visit his father. His sister, Amanda, would walk him home from school and then walk to his father’s house to spend the evening with him. Three to four nights a week she ate with her father – just like they did during the separation.
Amanda didn’t understand why her brother didn’t want to join her but she was happy to have dad all to herself and her feelings made her feel guilty when she saw Sam at school the next day.
Sam’s behavior began to deteriorate. His school work began to slip and he exhibited increasingly aggressive behavior on the school grounds and toward his sister.
The nights Amanda was home with Sam and their mother, she would try to talk to Sam to see if she could coax him into visiting their father. Day after day, Sam refused. The pattern continued for a month before Amanda contacted her mother with her concerns. Her mother refused to validate Amanda’s concerns, even stating that it really was best if Sam “stayed away from that man – and so should you. I don’t know why you go there all the time. Aren’t we good enough for you. ?”
Amanda fled the house crying and ran straight to her father. He listened to her as she expressed her grief over the breakup of her marriage and the loss of her best friend, her little brother. Dad listened to all her concerns and then they talked about giving Sam a little more time to adjust to the change. “Even though we’ve been apart for quite some time, the divorce makes it final. There’s no going back now. I know we all wanted things to go back to the way they were before, but the divorce puts an end to all those wishes… for all of us. He’s angry and disappointed that all the wishing and hoping he’s done the last two years hasn’t fixed that.” Dad said. “But it’s not his job to fix this” was Amanda’s response. “I know that and you know that… but you’ve got to remember that Sam was only little when mommy and I split up… and he’s still a little boy. So take it easy on him. Just be there to listen if he wants to. talk and don’t push him to visit. He’ll come when he’s ready.”
After six months, Sam continued to refuse to visit his father, and Amanda, faced with pressure from both her brother and mother, reduced her visitation schedule. Since the father lived in the same neighborhood as his children, he would often see them around the neighborhood. Sam would pretend he didn’t see him and run home to his mother. If they happened to talk, Sam was incredibly rude and belligerent and Amanda was incredibly sad. Sam clearly had little respect for his father and Amanda was clearly conflicted about her continued love for her father when others in her household seemed to have stopped loving him.
Dad expressed his concerns to Mom, who replied “Who cares – what did you do to deserve respect. You abandoned us!” so he turned to outside support. Dad arranged for Sam to be referred for counseling from the school. His aggressive behavior traveled from the playground to the classroom and was disruptive to the other children so the school arranged for him to meet with a counselor. The school also arranged for Amanda to meet with the counselor as she continued to exhibit much confusion over her brother’s and mother’s behavior and struggled with conflicting feelings for both parents.
Through active discussion with Sam during these sessions, it was discovered that Mom often shares her anger and bitterness toward Dad with Sam. She makes disparaging remarks about her father and even started making comments about Amanda during the evenings she spent with her father.
Mom engaged in potential parental alienating behavior with the goal of disrupting the relationship between her children and their father. Her anger and disappointment in the marriage breakup were unresolved issues in her life that prevented her from being able to close this chapter of her life and move forward. And mom might not even be aware of the outcome of her discussions.
Together with the counselor, Dad and Sam bridged the gap through open and honest communication and began to confront some of the negative feelings Sam had inherited from Mom. Amanda was given some coping mechanisms to deal with her mother’s aggressive behavior and the children resumed a healthy relationship with their father.
Here are some tips that divorced parents can use to make sure they don’t engage in parental alienation behavior.
1) Solution: your own feelings about the divorce and life changes.
2) Allow: your children to have a safe space with both parents to communicate their feelings.
3) Never: make your children pay the price for your feelings.
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