Divorce is an emotional time, especially if you’re a parent. Ideally, parents would be able to set their personal feelings aside for the greater good of their children. The reality is that human relationships are messy. Sometimes, one parent may negatively influence a child’s view of the other parent. This is a phenomenon known as parental alienation.
Recognizing the signs of parental alienation
Remember that your children are also experiencing an emotional upheaval as part of the divorce. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell the difference between a child’s natural reactions and the emotions that may be magnified by the other parent. Some of the more common hallmarks of parental alienation include:
- A child’s emotional withdrawal away from you, but not the other parent
- A child who becomes overly protective of the other parent
- A child who does not want to visit with the other parent
- Repeating negative comments made by one parent towards the other parent
Sometimes, your ex may be so bold as to disparage you right in front of you and your child. If you find yourself in this type of situation, do your best to keep your cool. Returning this type of negative behavior may only create a further wedge in the parent-child relationship.
Steps you can take to help minimize the damage
There are certain things you can do to help address the issues caused by parental alienation, including:
- Talking things out with your child: You will want to proceed with caution if you decide to address the offending behavior with your child. Be careful to avoid making negative comments about your ex. Also, you don’t have to go into great detail. Tell your child you’re sorry that they heard something bad about you. Let them know that you and your ex are having grown-up problems. Make it clear that those problems have nothing to do with your child. Make it clear that you will always love your child.
- Be present: Let your children know that you will always be there for them. Let them know that you’re around to answer any questions they may have. You don’t have to probe them for anything negative your ex may have said about you, but let your children know you’re available to address their concerns.
- Keep in touch: If you don’t have primary or shared custody of your children, maintaining some form of contact is important. Wish them a happy birthday. Send them a card on special occasions. If it’s possible, attend school functions or sporting events. You may not be rewarded instantly for trying to maintain a relationship. However, as your children age and mature, keeping a presence in their life will make it easier to reconnect.
If you are concerned that your ex’s behavior is causing permanent damage to your relationship with your children, legal intervention may be necessary. You should discuss potential approaches to the problem with a skilled professional.