Home > Parents > Parental Alienation: Refined, Reformulated & Rationalized: You Might Be An Average, Okay Normal Parent.

Parental Alienation: Refined, Reformulated & Rationalized: You Might Be An Average, Okay Normal Parent.

Parental Alienation: Refined, Reformulated & Rationalized: You Might Be An Average, Okay Normal Parent.

Pray for Alienated Children and their ParentsIt is an unfortunate time we are in when mental abuse of children remains disregarded. Parental Alienation has been described in the literature for at least 60 years (Bernet, 2008). I hope that for the sake of children all over the world, another 60 years will not pass.  The media has distorted Parental Alienation; extremist groups have made attempts to divide the issue into gender wars. I agree with Fidler & Bala (2010), “…the feminist advocates who, in the name of helping women, deny that alienation exists, do a disservice to not only the many mothers who are unjustifiably alienated from their children, and often by abusive men, but more importantly do a disservice to the children.”Probably the nastiest misrepresentations are those that relate Parental Alienation solely to the person who coined the term, Dr. Gardner.  

It is regrettable that many cannot read past Gardner’s finding during the tender year’s presumption and his studies of high-conflict custody cases. It is also fateful that there is not a consensus among professionals; nevertheless, I concur with Bernet (2008) that the proposal should not be rejected due to a lack of consensus. He notes that, “the history of psychology and psychiatry is full of disagreements over causation.” Luckily, there is an agreement that parent-child alienation is a common and serious problem for some [italics added] separating parents (Jaffe, Ashbourne, & Mamo, 2010). This group designated as “some”, is the group I would clearly identify as high conflict. According the Center for Divorce Education, this group of divorcing parents consists of 10%. These authors also point out, that the current debate is centered on extreme cases. Commons sense tells us these extreme cases merit attention. It seems reasonable that Parental Alienation is considered “high-conflict.” I am not aware personally, or in literature reviews, of divorced couples that co-parent affectionately while simultaneously slandering each other in the presence of their children.

Out of a response to criticism, Parental Alienation has been refined, reformulated, and at times, rationalized. I am appreciative that professionals in the field are working on this dreadful issue. Nevertheless, in light of all the connotations, an extensive review of the literature reveals that Parental Alienation has been conceptualized similarly by different researchers. Although, as a caveat, most do not openly acknowledge their findings are analogous to Gardner’s. Parental Alienation, as described by Wallerstein & Kelly (1976), is when a child living with one parent who irrationally rejects the other parent and refuses to visit or have contact with that other parent .Explanations come back to Gardner’s original definition of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Gardner in 1985 discussed this high-conflict group and noted, “It is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming parent’s indoctrination and the child’s own contribution to the vilification of the target parent.”  And here is where the problem begins. All of these conceptualizations’ entail what many consider as black and white thinking.  

Is irrational alienation possible? Is it probable for one parent to trigger a campaign against an ex-spouse and align his or her child? According to Fidler and Bala (2010)”this is not an either/or proposition; there are abused children and there are alienated children.” The authors additionally note that to portray rejected parents as victims is to resist “scrutiny of the conduct of these parents.” Clearly, I agree there are alienated children and abused children. And, I suggest, that both issues  should be taken very seriously. These issues however are separate considerations. True abuse and neglect should be ruled out before giving a diagnosis of parental alienation disorder. Gardner and other researches include criteria for differentiating between Parental Alienation and Bona Fide abuse-neglect. It seems likely that experts can differentiate between abuse and Parental Alienation. “Gardner’s definition is clear enough for psychologists to reliably diagnose PAS from case examples” (Rueda, 2004). It also is possible that one parent can develop animosity because of the input from one parent. Without a doubt, …”[sic] it is common for each parent to express negative sentiments about the other parent…” (Fidler & Bala, 2010). However, I think it is possible that one parent can vent to a friend, counselor, or another adult while the alienating parent “expresses negative sentiments about the other parent to the child.” Who do you vent to?

Clearly, educational efforts are needed as some parents do not know that voicing frustrations to their child may not be in their best interests. On the other hand, there are actually parents who appreciate that disparaging remarks about an ex-spouse is not a good idea. But, we ponder, let us get the bottom of our ex-spouses pain, “The real issue which needs to be addressed is the conflict between the parents that prevents the children from enjoying a meaningful relationship with each of their parents post separation” (Jaffe, Ashbourne, & Mamo, 2010). I do not know about the reader, but to get to the bottom of my ex-spouses anger, I would have had to stay married.   Some parents cannot move on past the pain of a divorce, “It is the embattled parent, often the one who opposes the divorce in the first place, who initiates and fuels the alignment (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). What about you, do you as a rejected parent have serious parenting deficits? No worries, you may be average with regular parenting faults, similar to the married population that regularly making parenting mistakes.

Is it not possible that the parent who opposes the divorce could start a campaign of denigration? I know when I initiated my divorce, I was told, “if you leave I will make your life a living hell.”  It is also an immense error to assume that all rejected parents cannot be victims. To think that all rejected parents must have played a role, renders that rejected parents get what they deserve. (Warshak, 2003).  Intent or no intent, some parents spew venomous words and poison the mind of his or her child. I agree that some parents could benefit from parenting educational programs that teaches about children’s developmental stages, birth order, gender identification and the adverse outcome of badmouthing. As a caveat; one has to care. Kelly (2010) points out, favored parents often are noncompliant with court orders. What about your ex-spouse, does he or she comply with court orders? Should valuable workshops that offer services to severely alienated children offer programs for the favored parent? According to Warshak & Otis (2010), favored parents often deny they have a problem [sic] and are unmotivated to change. Years ago after my divorce, I suggested joint counseling, but the suggestion was ridiculed.  What about your ex-spouse? Do they want [italics added] to change?

Do not be surprised if you ex-spouse does not change nor desire to change. A shrewd college professor recently reminded me, of the old adage; leopards do not change their spots. Findings indicate this may be true. As noted by Jaffe et al. (2010), “a minority of parents who suffer from personality and mental disorders may ignore the court and spend their waking hours finding ways to exhaust the other parent emotionally and financially.”  If you are a target parent hope remains. Some research indicates that being an adequate loving parent might be good enough. It may be that rejected parents simply have a difficult ex-spouse. And do not worry; you may also be psychologically healthy (although, getting a little mad at this point is understandable). Contrary to what might easily be assumed by professionals, findings by Hedrick & Dunne, (1994) suggest that PAS does not necessarily signify dysfunction in the rejected parent.  Gordon, Stoffey & Bottinelli (2008) also had comparable findings. They noted that target parents were similar in dynamics to an “average parent”. Target parents,   if you find yourself distressed by your children refusing visitation, sudden hatred, or reporting ideas and notions beyond their years; you may be normal.

There is power in hope; and in knowing you are not alone.  “We consider Parental Alienation Syndrome as a childhood disorder caused by an alienating parent…” (Gordon et. al). Lastly, the magnification of this problem is realized, “if a child begins to develop racial hatred, many reasonable people would consider this a problem worthy of attention. When children suffer from irrational anxieties that interfere with functioning we do not ignore the suffering with the hope that eventually the fears will be overcome” (Warshak, 2003). Once I was reminded that hatred by a child towards one parent is similar to prejudice, and that parental alienation is a social problem.   Divorce is a social problem; creating and instilling fear in the hearts and minds of innocent children and turning them against a once-loved parent is pathological. Which lens do you wear? As I recall, not all social problems resolve without intervention. And please, do not think silence is always golden. Nor is it helpful to count on your case of Parental Alienation resolving by the time your child turns 18; this may not be the case. The fact is, some social problems are internalized [italics added] and subsequently develop into disorders. Without recognition and intervention, Parental Alienation will adversely affect generations to come.

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