For many parents’ going through a divorce and/or separation, the process can be a difficult life change. During this process two households are formed and new decisions need to be made. One key note to remember is to continue to ensure that children are kept out of adult matters. While parents are no longer partners and/or husband and wife, they continue to be mom and dad.
Ms. Logan counsels ages 13 and over to provide aid with this difficult life change. She approaches working with families, depending on their needs, by meeting with the children, the parents, or a combination of the parent(s) and child(ren).
Some common goals to help families and children adjust include:
- Helping children correct unrealistic expectations about one or both parents.
- Removing the child(ren) from parental conflict.
- Improving the child(ren)’s social skills.
- Assisting the family in restoring balance by working with parents, as not to overreact or underact.
- Understanding emotional boundaries.
Sometimes children side with a parent and it may appear as though they are choosing one parent over the other. In other instances, children claim they don’t want to see mom or dad and ultimately refuse to spend time with a parent. Ms. Logan works with parents and children on recognizing that:
- Children during various developmental stages may, temporarily, want to spend more time with one parent over the other.
- There are countless reasons that a parent-child relationship become strained and/or damaged.
- Each child is unique and accordingly will have different ways expressing hurt and frustration.
It is always best to keep children out of the middle of adult disputes. However, there are times in which one or both parents describe that they are not sabotaging the parent-child relationship. These parents report a great degree of frustration and describe that they do attempt to engage the other parent in a child-focused, co-parenting relationship, yet with no avail.
Ms. Logan considers the reality that some couples divorce and/or separate because they have an extensive history of not being able to cooperate. It may be unrealistic and overly optimistic to expect parents, who no longer are a couple, to cooperate. It is not however, unrealistic to work with parents to improve parenting skills, recognize what they can and cannot control, and to aid in recognizing when a child is irrationally rejecting a parent.
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What is Parent Alienation?
Alienation is when one or both parents are manipulating the children against the other parent, or other family members such as a stepparent, aunt, uncle, grandparents, or extended family members. Usually, but not always, parental alienation occurs when parents are engaged in a contentious divorce. Alienation can be intentional or unintentional and can be mild, moderate, or severe. The mild phase, a child may make inappropriate comments that they have overheard. Also, when alienation is mild, it is usually temporary in which a normal parent child relationship will often continue. In mild cases of parental alienation, parents often benefit from parenting education classes and subsequently favored parents will stop engaging in alienating behaviors once they realize that negative comments about the other parent are harmful. In moderate cases, parents may be stuck in their anger and the child may feel forced to "choose" a parent.
Although moderate cases are akin to a tug-of-war, parents can still benefit from training and may cease alienating behaviors once pointed out. Severe cases are more resistant to change due to the child’s visitation refusal or extreme defiance towards a parent.
Some favored parents suffer from personality disorders and some fail to comply with court orders. They may spend their waking hours finding ways to exhaust the other parent emotionally and financially. They are determined to damage the relationship with the other parent and want to "win" at all costs. Unfortunately, the children are deprived of the loving relationship with the other parent.
A more formal definition of Parent Alienation is when a child "sides" himself or herself strongly with one parent (the preferred or favored parent) and rejects a relationship with the other parent (the alienated or rejected parent). As a caveat, it is vital that parents recognize their child’s unique needs and stage of development. For example, a teenager who desires to spend more time with his/her friends, and does want to spend parenting time with one of their parents, does not mean that the other parent is engaging in alienating behaviors.
It is essential that parents do not make negative comments to their children about their co-parent. Children should not be privy or burdened with adult matters, such as mortgage, child support, nor should they hear negative sentiments about the other parent, such as he/she cant hold a job, are lazy, or that they "cant stand" their new relationship. A parent should not tell a child that they cannot afford something because the other parent does not provide enough money.
Alienating Behaviors and Attitudes
Below is a list of key alienating behaviors and attributes that serve as red flags when identifying Parent Alienation. There are however other alienating behaviors and attitudes and this list is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather informative.
When one or both parents magnifies flaws.
When one or both parents refuses to have pictures of their co-parent, or extended family in the child's bedroom.
When one or both parents changes their language, referring to their co-parent by his/her first name.
When one or both parents utilizes guilt and manipulation, such as, "I feel so sad and lonely when you are with your mom/dad."
When one or both parents interferes during parenting time by making excessive phone calls to "check" on the child.
When one or both parents tell the child that the other parent is an alcoholic (due to the parent having one drink during the Holidays).
When one or both parents allows the child to speak negatively about the their co-parent.
Alienated Children: Behavior, Emotions, and Impairments.
Monika Logan, M.A., LPC, LSOTP
Alienated children are impacted in three domains: behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively.
Behavior of Severely Alienated Children
- Have polarized views of their parents.
- May refuse to spend parenting time with the rejected parent and the parents extended family.
- They re-write historical events. For instance, an enjoyed trip to Disneyland five years ago is now described as a miserable experience.
- Can be destructive. Some alienated children when they are with the rejected parent may break family heirlooms, steal property, or trash items in the home. Usually the child’s destructive behavior is only witnessed by the rejected parent, consequently the child’s undesirable behavior goes unnoticed by others. To a therapist, the rejected parent does not present as well as the favored parent due to the frustration of not feeling understood. The clinician that is unskilled in working with these cases may perceive that the favored parent should take anger management classes or require additional sessions in order to teach them emotional control. While learning coping techniques is worthwhile, it is unhelpful to place blame on the rejected parent when it has been established that the favored parent's antics played a large role in the child's irrational rejection.
- Alienated children will use adult like language. In my clinical practice, I once heard a 10 year old describe in referring to the favored parent, “we have the right to establish domicile.” On another occasion, a 14 year old proudly stated, "we are getting full custody." Alienated children may sound like miniature adults. The ten year old that I worked with did not know the meaning of "domicile", but instead was repeating what the favored parent discussed with them.
- Alienated children may receive student of the year at school, but when spending time with the rejected parent their stellar behavior is soon absent. Alienated children are social chameleons; they may behave well as school, church, and other settings, but will revert to their worst behavior when with the rejected parent.
- Alienated children will struggle to express positive feelings towards the rejected parent. They often appear to lack any guilt or shame when treating the rejected parent with disdain.
- Alienated children may have irrational fear reactions. As an example, I worked with a child who avoided speaking to or being near the rejected parent after spending a lengthy parenting time with the favored parent. The rejected parent had extended family visiting, but who were not privy to child alienation or alienation dynamics. The family members witnessed the child’s behavior such as physical distance, and inquired to the rejected parent if there had been a family quarrel prior to the child’s time with the favored parent.
- Some children will have false memories. Dr. Warshak provided an example when one child suddenly remembered; while when he was younger, his mother touched his genitals as she was tucking him into bed. These cases add additional stress due to sorting out bona fide abuse from false allegations.
- Alienated children lack critical thinking skills. They exaggerate flaws and use trivial human frailties (such as a rejected parent’s minor shortcomings) to justify their rejection of the parent. For instance, if the father was not much of a handy man, the child may tout he is absolutely good at nothing. Or, as another example, if the mother burned dinner on two occasions, the child will not recall any favorite dinners, but on the contrary will recite to all who will listen that the mother cannot cook.
- Alienated children often feel sorry for the favored parent. Favored parents will emotionally dump their financial worries or emotional woes upon the child. In turn, alienated children become extra sensitive to the needs of the favored parent. Upon first glance, outsiders would describe this parent child relationship as healthy because their behavior appears to one of a “close bond.” Alienated children struggle to develop a sense of independence and healthy self-esteem.
Resource: Parental Alienation: Overview, Management, Intervention, and Practice Tips. 2015. Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Volume 27. ~ Richard Warshak, PhD
Restoring Family Connections
Monika Logan is pleased to offer the Restoring Family Connections program (RFC) developed by Parental Alienation specialist, Dr. Amy J.L. Baker and colleagues, through Texas Premier Counseling Services. The Restoring Family Connections program is a specially designed program to help targeted parents and their adult alienated children repair their broken or damaged relationship.
Who the RFC Program is for:
Restoring Family Connections (RFC) is for parents and their adult children who suffered conflict and or a breach in the relationship, due primarily to the undue influence of the other parent. Children must be at least 18 years of age (although some exceptions for mature younger teens could be made). The program is not a court-ordered reunification program for targeted parents and their severely alienated children. Parents and their adult children voluntarily agree to participate in the RFC program.
Purpose of the RFC Program:The purpose of the RFC Program is to help parents and children:
- Process the breach in their relationship
- Develop a vision for a better future
- Identify triggers
- Share missed memories
- Re-establish trust
- Improve communication
Structure of the Program:
- Initial sessions with each participant alone
- Out-patient setting
- 13 weeks of joint sessions
RFC was developed by as a joint project of Amy J.L. Baker, Paul R. Fine, and Alianna LaCheen-Baker.