Parental Alienation.. it’s a term I see quite a lot in fathers rights and Step-Mum groups, although its certainly not just ‘Bio-Mums’ who are guilty of this. Parental alienation has many levels of ‘severity’ and is really just becoming recognised in the UK courts / child welfare systems. CAFCASS are now apparently trained in recognising and preventing parental alienation in their cases, although how seriously this is taken and the potential outcomes are certainly not yet consistent or severe enough. But its not really the formal processes or even the more severe side of alienation I want to focus on…
I think it’s really important to take a wider view point here, its not just parents who can cause and contribute to parental alienation, just as ” family alienation” can be just as impactful and important to a child.
As a Step-Mum, as well as everything in our house – I also have a role in encouraging Monsters relationship with all of his ‘other family’ and when he’s uncomfortable or worried we try to talk it out to alleviate those feelings. We try very hard to make sure Monster knows that we are ok when he’s not with us, we miss him of course but our life continues and we have fun just as we want him to have fun no matter where he is. Nothing will make us happier than him having a fantastic time with us and without us. Sometimes its a little more complicated than this internally, of course but to Monster that is all he needs to know.
Some of these things seem tiny and insignificant but we need to allow our children the freedom to be free from worry and anxiety – to me, thats part of our job as caregivers. Take the process of saying goodbye and hello when your child is spending time with their other parent – do you provide reassurances, such as “don’t worry, I’m here, you can call me any time you need to”, “it’s only a few hours, then you’ll be home with me again”? This may be done with the best of intentions, but notice how they all focus on your relationship and actually cement the idea that the other parent is somehow less… this could be the start of parental alienation.
How about when you talk to your child about their absence from your household, if you describe those periods as negative, lonely, sad times in which you are simply waiting for their return, what impact do you think this has on the child? Is it in their best interests that they spend a day or an evening worried that you are lonely and sad? This type of reaction is very real and can be very significant, particularly if combined with other possibly unintentional alienation, in children of all ages and no child whether 3 or 16 should carry the burden of their parents emotions or situation.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, when you talk about ‘the other family’, be very mindful of who is or could be listening. Children are incredible sponges and whether they appear to be listening or completely engaged in a lego set, they are usually absorbing everything and they must be allowed impartiality and freedom to love. Children do not naturally hate, they learn how to do this from their role models. This same rule applies to parents, grand-parents, friends and other family members, no matter anyones history, feelings or opinions – they should remain exclusively in an adult setting, better yet – they belong in the past and ideally should be left exactly there. The person, people or family you’re bitching about are part of that child’s root system and their trust in that is the most important thing in the world.