We often remind our clients going through divorce with children that even after divorce they will remain co-parents forever. For this reason, we strive for an amicable, efficient divorce, so that the parents can more likely benefit from a civil relationship moving forward after the breakdown of their marriage and the conclusion of their divorce. Nevertheless, this goal is not always achieved.
Parental alienation is the situation where one parent uses strategies to manipulate their child to reject the other parent, teaching the child to fear or hate the targeted parent, viewing them as unworthy of a relationship. While this situation may sound extreme, parental alienation has varying degrees and is recognized by the courts. It typically occurs in situations of divorce or separation, where one parent implicitly or explicitly teaches their child that the other parent is not a good parent. Some examples of this can be through denying that the targeted parent truly loves them, telling the children details about the divorce proceedings, or even making up stories about what one parent has done to the other.
In children, parental alienation can manifest itself in different ways. For example, some alienated children can show outright hatred or fear towards their parent, refusing to speak to them or spend time with them according to their parenting time schedule. Others might show a reflexive support for their parent who has created the situation of alienation and appear rude and spiteful to the targeted parent. Some children even reject the extended family of the targeted parent.
While incredibly difficult for the targeted parent to endure, parental alienation has also been considered child abuse by courts and can have lasting traumatic affects on child wellbeing and development. In response to this crisis, therapeutic centres have opened to offer intensive family rehabilitative therapy.
The Building Family Bridges programs opened in 1991 in California and have since expanded to offering workshops throughout North America. The workshops are four-day intensive programs intended to help children reunite with a parent they claim to hate or fear due to parental alienation while improving the quality of that parent-child relationship. The program is designed to challenge children’s beliefs of different narratives, develop their communication and conflict management skills, and improve critical thinking.
Turning Points for Families (“TPFF”), run by Linda Gottlieb, is a similar program designed to address parental alienation situated primarily in New York City. Ms. Gottlieb has over 40 years working in family therapy and has focused on working with families undergoing divorce and treating cases of parental alienation specifically since 2003. TPFF recognizes the child’s instinct despite their hatred for a parent to be their “co-therapist,” and thus helps appoint the alienated parent as their true healer, using family systems therapy for its principles.
While not perfect and inexpensive, these programs have found success for families experiencing parental alienation. Our firm has also seen firsthand the improvement that these intensive therapeutic workshops can bring to damaged parent-child relationships. When one parent has turned a child against the other parent during a divorce to the point of extreme fear or hate, programs such as Building Family Bridges and Turning Points may help restore family peace.
We encourage you to think about your child, and to protect them, shelter them from this conflict. Your children do not deserve to be a casualty of your separation. Your children deserve to have the freedom to love both of their parents without guilt. These programs listed above are for families that are beyond repair for family therapy or counselling. If you have any questions about parental alienation please feel free to reach out to our team.