Many parents worry about the negative impact their divorce will have on their children. This is a valid concern since children can get lost in the conflict between their parents.
Considerable research that includes longitudinal studies of divorced families has shown that the single best determinant of how well children whose parents divorced will do is the level of conflict between the parents. Parents who can set aside their personal differences and work for the benefit of their children will raise health, well-adjusted young adults. Parents who continue to fight will probably rear troubled children.
Even parents who know this truism may find it difficult to separate their anger with their former spouse. They find it hard to share the children’s time. Making decisions on behalf of the children may be impossible due to the inability of parents to agree on important issues.
Some parents feel such rage at the other parent that they may wish to punish that parent by withholding the children. If the children also wish to be separated from that parent, the job of punishing the other parent becomes easier. Earlier in the literature, this was identified as Parent Alienation Syndrome. This term described the systematic attempt by one parent to turn the children against the other parent. This happens in a small minority of the cases. However when it occurs, it is devastating for the parent from whom the children are alienated. It is also highly damaging for the children.
Divorce lawyers and mental health professionals have tried to find effective ways of dealing with what is now called Child Alienation. In other words, the child is being alienated from one parent by the other parent. In some cases, the child may not have had much of a relationship with the alienated parent when the parents lived together. The alienated parent may have been very busy with work or other interests while the other parent was principally in charge of caring for the child. In those cases, the alienated parent and the child may need some mental health counseling to reconnect. The alienated parent may be well served by taking parenting classes.
If the alienation was caused by one parent abusing the other parent, the alienated parent may have to convince the child that he/she is safe with that parent. Besides rebuilding trust, that parent needs to apologize to the child for the past abuse. Experienced mental health assistance is extremely helpful.
The reasons that children are alienated from their parents vary. It is important that parents work with legal and mental health professionals who have experience in the dynamics of alienation and can work with both parents to establish the needed trust for both parents to be active participants in raising the children.