A single parent writes: "I am the custodial parent of a son. I am having trouble with how to deal with parental alienation syndrome, being inflicted upon him by his father. It is causing our son trouble everywhere he goes, especially at home and school."
Here are some thoughts regarding Parental Alienation Syndrome:
There are many reasons that a Parent disconnects from the kids.
1) The parent is irresponsible.
Comment: Relationships end usually with conflict. It's common for judgments to be thrown back and forth. So when Parental Alienation occurs, the non-offending parent can point to it as evidence of the other parent's irresponsible or immature behavior. And that's right.
If the goal is to help the kids, don't stop with this observation. Look for an underlying cause and address it. If the underlying cause is not dangerous to the kids
(underlying dangerous causes include: a drug problem or another addictive/compulsive behavior or mental illness), then try to help the offending parent to separate their unmet need from the need of the kids to feel that parent's love and attention.
2) The parent was not emotionally connected with the kids while still living under the same roof with them.
It helps here, to understand a little about Life scripts. A Life scripts principle is: However we are raised is normal. So a person raised by emotionally unavailable parents adapts to that and operates with that as the normal behavior of parents. The person may talk about how much they disliked it. But they'll probably react to it as parents themselves in one of two ways: Either they'll become enmeshed with their kids and too connected, or they'll reflect their own upbringing by having trouble connecting with their own kids.
Understanding this dynamic and working through it usually requires Insight Work. Help the offending parent by providing books on the subject of Lifescripts. Hugh Missildine (sp?) wrote a book called: Your Inner Child Of The Past. A good book to start with. John Bradshaw has many books on the subject.
Avoid suggesting that the offending parent seek counseling. That suggestion will probably be met with resistance for the judgment energy that they'll pick out
of it. Instead, pick a good book on the subject and read it (don't highlight anything). Tell them that you learned a lot about yourself from it and ask them if they'd like to read it as well.
3) The parent has an emotional or psychological problem that causes them to isolate and withdraw from their relationships.
Operating from a Lifescript that says: "Parents don't connect" is something to work through with the kids being available. Sometimes the offending parent has a problem that they need to address without a lot of contact with the kids. If there is an emotional or psychological problem that manifests itself in areas other than with the kids (such as violent behavior with you, an addiction or compulsion, Manic-depressive episodes... etc) be sensitive to adding pressure on that parent to spend more time with the kids. It may be more prudent to encourage them to look into resources that will help them overcome or effectively manage their problem and reassure them that a loving relationship with the kids is waiting patiently for them. Again, suggesting counseling often triggers resistance. If their problem is obvious to others, as well as to you, then ask others to suggest counseling.
4) The offending parent is using Parental Alienation to punish the You.
Comment: Ever had a terrible headache? Your head pounding so hard that the ancient solution of drilling into your skull sounds like an option. In the middle of a grinding headache, it's tough to do anything other than lay on the couch, including playing with the kids or even helping them with their homework.
Emotional pain often has the same effect. The offending parent certainly
appears irresponsible. But their emotional and physical distance goes deeper than that. You might say: "Well I'm hurt too!" and, of course you probably are. But people express their pain differently. Don't compare your manner with the other parents. It doesn't apply.
Special Note: Men are often socially trained to mask or diminish the expression of their feelings. Men sometimes go into their caves when hurt. A non-custodial parent (often the dad) may feel a horrible
sense of loss because they no longer have constant access to the kids (an everyday, wake up in the morning with the kids, put them to bed at night opportunity).
It takes time, substantial reassurance and consistent contact with the kids to help the offending parent through this phase. Sometimes books on the subject and group work are also worthy recommendations.
The need to punish you or force an ongoing emotional connection with you, however negative, because the non-custodial
parent is in pain is also difficult to get through. The offending parent probably denies that they are using the kids to get at you (who admits behavior such as this?). But if they're trying to make your life as difficult as possible, kids are sometimes a tool. To help the offending parent untangle the kids from their conflict with you, try these steps:
a) Don't engage. Let the offending parent know that the kids miss him/her, but don't express your own frustration or judgment.
b) Acknowledge the offending parents anger, sense of loss, betrayal and abandonment as valid feelings that have their own phase of healing. A phase that the family must get through so that the two of you are able to become cooperative parents.
Ask the other parent to make a list of punishments that they would like to use that will help them ventilate their pain and accept the new family design.
Sometimes this suggestion helps a person who needs to punish look at their
actions and begin to moderate them, without your having to be set up as a martyr.
Be sure to set boundaries if they do want to create a list of acceptable punishments: For example, they don't get to set you on fire.
Suggest a group for them to join that focuses on grief, lose and transition. Suggest a letter writing campaign that lets them ventilate their feelings directly to you (but with the condition that, if they actually send the letters to you, you won't be expected to
In all cases: Try to consider Parental Alienation Syndrome as a transitional behavior. Try not to put too much energy into eradicating it before it's time.
The more energy that you put into something, the more power it has.
As far as possible, love and reassure the offending parent through their conflict so that the two of you can establish an effective coparenting relationship and move into a new, healthy, family design.
Remember, the best parent is usually both parents.
For more on this, and related, subjects go to: http://www.Solesupportonline.org and browse the Brainfood Page.
By Rudy Garcia: Sole Support: The Single Parent Family Network
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