I have been extremely lucky with my blended family situation, although we have not always had the relationship we do now. We began as most families do, with hard feelings of jealousy, anger, pain, and resentment. The difference was, we decided not bad-mouth one another to the children or participate in the behavior described below, for two reasons. The first and most important reason being, we wanted to put our children first, and felt they deserved to be able to love both parents , period. The second reason was simply, none of us wanted to deal with more drama and emotional stress than we already had. All four of us, my ex-husband, his wife, Molly, my current husband, Bob, and myself all came from divorced parents. None of us wanted our children to grow up in two households where the adults fought constantly, nor did we want two marriages of emotional turmoil resulting from fighting of the two households.
After I began writing about my experiences, other moms and step-parents contacted me; sending me emails, Facebook and Twitter messages, not to mention, friends and acquaintances have also contacted me for advice.
There have been many families with different situations, and multiple variables, however, many of the details stay the same. One parent refuses to comply with the other parent, continuously tearing the other parent down in front of the child/children.
Two actual recent situations described below:
One reader sent me a message asking for advice regarding a situation regarding her step-daughter, her husband, and his ex. They were moving across the globe, and the biological mother refused any sort of visitation whatsoever. The stepmom who messaged me was beside herself, because she and her husband were also expecting their first child together. She truly loves her stepdaughter, and her only wish was for the child to be able to love both her mother and her father freely. The stepmom wrote that she assisted the mother with her daughter on several occasions, and had made multiple attempts to make a fresh start. No matter what she said or did, the other woman told the child negative things about her father and her stepmom. She also refused to be flexible in the parenting plan, refused mediation, and anytime they attempted to even try a business-like relationship, her behavior became worse. The stepmom was at the end of her rope, because they were moving across the globe, and the mother decided the child would not be allowed to fly out to visit her father and stepmother at all. Unfortunately, all of my advice and all of their attempts at a peaceful relationship were thwarted, and they ended up seeking legal necessary council. She updated me in letting me know after they moved, the mother had even refused to allow the child to call or Skype for weeks, and ignored their messages.
The second situation was another father, who had remarried, and they had other children together. He had one son from a previous marriage. Recently, his ex met another man who found a job out of state. This father shared with me that his son came home on multiple occasions after being at his mother’s house with bad things to say about his father, that he had heard from his mother. The next thing he knew, she changed his son’s school suddenly, without consulting him. The final straw was when his son came home upset because his mom informed him they were moving to another state to follow his mother’s new boyfriend. This father had to consult an attorney to keep her from taking their child out of state.
Unfortunately, these are not the only stories I have heard. They are far too common.
Some of the symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome:
- Over-scheduling the child with activities, so there isn’t time to visit or refusing to be flexible with the parenting plan
- Not allowing the child to have photos of the other parent in the other household
- Telling the child they have to choose one parent over the other or making them feel bad for caring about both parents
- Fueling anger toward the other parent
- Sharing inappropriate details about either the past or current marriage relationship, such as why the marriage did not work out or what is wrong with the other parent. The goal is to make the child feel differently about the other parent.
- Telling the child/children the other parent is responsible for breaking up the marriage, cheating or for financial problems
- Not allowing the child to bring their belongings back and forth between houses or have a their own room in each house
- Asking the stepparent to adopt the child without consulting the biological parent
- Not allowing the other parent to have access to pick the child up at school, to have medical or other records
- Having the child spy for a parent or grandparent
- Asking the child to choose one parent over the other
- Involving other family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles) in bashing the other parent
- Scheduling functions (parties and other things) that impede with the other parent’s visitation schedule
- Acting upset when the child has fun with the other parent
- Not allowing the child to talk about the other parent in the alienating parent’s presence
- Talking bad about the other parent’s friends, job, lifestyle or living arrangements (attacking their character)
- Making the child think they need to fear the other parent
- Purposefully keeping the child from the other parent in any way
- Questioning the child on their visit with the other parent or listening to their calls
- Alienating the stepparent is also common
- Keeping the child from calling the other parent
- Quizzing the child about the other parent’s personal life
- Going against court orders
- In some of the ugliest cases, false allegations of abuse
It can be difficult understanding the reasoning behind the behavior of the other parent. There can be many things motivating the feelings. Perhaps they feel threatened by the other parent, especially if the alienated parent thinks the child loves the other parent more or equally. They often need to be validated. Sometimes new spouses or other family members are the motivators. Alienating parents often have unresolved feelings from the failed relationship toward the other parent and/or the new spouse for what they considered as unfair treatment. Others might have unresolved childhood issues they project onto the current situation. The alienating parent can misplace those feelings for parenting mistakes.
What Parental Alienation is not:
We are all human, and it’s normal to argue with the other household on occasion. There have been times when we were not on the same page, especially in the beginning. I know I have slipped on and said something I shouldn’t have at times. The difference is, I can name them on one hand, and I always talk to my children about what happened. I apologize, and explain why my behavior was inappropriate. The same goes for the other parents, and the grandparents.
Some ideas to counteract:
I always suggest to everyone dealing with someone high-conflict, do not engage them. Meaning, if they say something mean to you, they are trying to bait you. The other parent wants you to fight back, then they have something else to use against you. If you refuse to fight back, eventually they will tire of the game. I also suggest you write everything down. Get a small planner or journal, and keep track of dates, times, details. Do not ever confide in your child, no matter what age they are. It’s tempting sometimes, but they are not a friend. If the child relays information to you from the other parent, even if negative, respond with a positive. If you are unable to think of something positive, say something like, “I know your mom loves you so much. I know I do.”
Then when your child returns, there will be nothing negative to report. I also suggest finding legal help if there is a threat of taking your child out of state where you might not be able to see them. Anytime you could lose control over your child, I would seek legal council.
The bottom line is, your children deserve the freedom to love both parents.
Some Helpful Links:
National Parents Organization-An organization dedicated to shared parenting.
Breakthrough Parenting-A website with online classes to help parents with techniques for PAS.
Parents Against Parental Alienation-A Facebook group dedicated to supporting those against parental alienation.
Time to Put Kids First-Is a great website that lists dos and don’ts for divorcing and divorced parents.
Parental Alienation Success Stories-When facing day after day of opposition from the other household, sometimes it can seem hopeless. This website is proof that things can be turned around.
Parental Alienation Support-Another great resource.
Smart Stepfamily– This site has some useful books.
Adult Children with PAS-Adult children who grew up being alienated and still need support, this one is for you.
Moving Past Divorce-Terry has a wonderful website, with a wealth of information.
Hey, Who’s In My House by Erin Mantz-is an anthology written from the perspective of stepkids, and I happen to have an essay in the book. There are some great examples of good and bad stepfamily relationships.
Trish Eklund is raising her two daughters of thirteen and sixteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife. Trish is the owner and creator of Family Fusion Community, and Abandoned, Forgotten, and Decayed, a photographic adventure in the abandoned and the forgotten. Trish is also regularly featured on Huffington Post Divorce, Her View From Home, The Mighty, and Making Midlife Matter. Trish also has an essay in the anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz. The first book telling the story of blended family life from the perspective of the stepkids. Trish’s photography has been featured on Only in Nebraska. Follow on Instagram, Facebook, Facebook-Family Fusion Community, and Pinterest.