Let’s face it: divorce is hard. For parents, for children, for families, even for the family pet … divorce is difficult. However, turn on any television program and you will see divorced parents happily raising their successful children, programs in which all problems can be solved in 30 to 60 minutes, programs in which the child moves seamlessly between two homes and where parents are still the best. of friends and communicate openly while sharing parental responsibilities.
Communication and cooperation are supposed to be two-way streets, but things don’t always go the way they should. Unfortunately, most marriages end bitterly and it takes many years for both partners to accept the breakdown of the marriage and stop punishing each other. However, many times those years of communication breakdown deeply affect children.
It is common in single parent homes for the custodial parent to develop a deep bond with the child. In households where there are still unresolved issues between divorced adults, the connection between the custodial parent and the 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 have just formally divorced, they have been separated for two years.
During the separation period, things seemed to run smoothly. Parents shared parenting responsibilities, and Dad was lucky enough to rent a house a block away from the children, so they spent a lot of time voluntarily going back and forth between the two homes. Both parents made the effort to communicate as they all adjusted to the fact that Dad was now sleeping in a different house.
When the divorce was final, things changed. A month after 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 night with him. Three to four nights a week, he dined with his father, just as they had 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 demeanor began to deteriorate. His school work began to decline and he displayed increasingly aggressive behavior on the school grounds and towards his sister.
On the nights Amanda was home with Sam and her mother, she would try to talk to Sam to see if she could convince him to visit her father. Day after day, Sam refused. The pattern continued for a month before Amanda approached her mother with her concerns. Her mother refused to validate Amanda’s concerns, even stating that it really is better for Sam to “stay away from that man, and so do you. I don’t know why you go there all the time. Aren’t we good enough for you?” ” ? “
Amanda ran away from the house crying and ran straight to her father. He listened to her as she expressed her sadness over the breakdown of the marriage and the loss of her best friend, her little brother. Dad listened to all of their concerns and then they talked about giving Sam a little more time to adjust to the change. “Even though we have been apart for quite some time, the divorce makes it final. Now there is no going back. I know we all wish for things to go back to the way they were before, but divorce puts an end to all those wishes … for all of us. He’s angry and disappointed that all the wishes and hopes he’s been making the last two years haven’t fixed this. ” Papa said. “But it’s not your job to fix this” was Amanda’s reply. “I know and you know … but you have to remember that Sam was little when Mom and I parted … and he’s still a little boy. So watch out for him. He’s only there to listen if he wants to talk. and not pressure him to visit. He’ll come when he’s ready. “
After six months, Sam still refused to visit his father, and Amanda, facing pressure from both her brother and mother, cut her visiting hours. Since the father lived in the same neighborhood as his children, he often saw them around the neighborhood. Sam pretended he hadn’t seen him and ran home to his mother. If they did talk, Sam was incredibly rude and belligerent and Amanda was incredibly sad. Sam clearly had little respect for her father and Amanda was clearly in conflict 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 responded, “Who cares? What have you done to deserve respect? You have abandoned us!” so he resorted to external support. Dad arranged for Sam to be referred for counseling by the school. His aggressive behavior had traveled from the playground to the classroom and was disruptive to the other children, so the school arranged a meeting with a counselor. The school also arranged for Amanda to meet with the counselor, as she was still showing much confusion about her brother and mother’s behavior and was struggling with mixed 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 comments about her father and has even started making comments about Amanda on nights spent with her father.
Mom was engaging in possible alienating parental behavior with the goal of breaking the relationship between her children and their father. Her anger and disappointment over the breakup of the marriage were unresolved issues in her life that prevented her from closing this chapter of her life and moving on. And Mom may not even have realized the outcome of their arguments.
Together with the counselor, Dad and Sam bridged the gap with open and honest communication and began to counteract some of the negative feelings that 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 divorced parents can use to make sure they don’t engage in parental alienation behavior.
1) Resolve: your own feelings about divorce and life changes.
2) Allow your children a safe space with both parents to communicate their feelings.
3) Never: make your children pay the price for their feelings.