Dear Mom and Dad, I am just a kid, so please…
- Do not talk badly about my other parent. (This makes me feel torn apart! It also makes me feel bad about myself!)
- Do not talk badly about my other parent’s friends or relatives. (Let me care for someone, even if you don’t.)
- Do not talk about the divorce or other grown-up stuff. (This makes me feel sik. Please leave me out of it!)
- Do not talk about money or child support. (This makes me feel guilty or like I am a possession instead of your kid.)
- Do not make me feel bad when I enjoy my time with my other parent. (This makes me afraid to tell you things.)
- Do not block my visits or prevent me from speaking to my other parent. (This makes me upset.)
- Do not interrupt my time with my other parent by calling too much or by planning my activities during our time together.
- Do not argue in front of me or on the phone when I can hear you! (This just turns my stomach inside out!)
- Do not ask me to spy for you when I am at my other parent’s home. (This makes me feel disloyal and dishonest.)
- Do not ask me to keep secrets from my other parent. (Secrets make me feel anxious.)
- Do not ask me questions about my other parent’s life or about our time together. (This makes me uncomfortable.)
- Do not give me verbal messages to deliver to my other parent. (I end up feeling anxious about their reaction. So please just call them, leave a message, or e-mail.)
- Do not send written messages with me or place them in my bag. (This also makes me uncomfortable.)
- Do not blame any other parent for the divorce or for things that go wrong in your life. (This really feels terrible! I end up wanting to defend them from your attack. Sometimes it makes me feel sorry for youand that makes me want to protect you. I just want to be a kid, so please, please stop putting me into the middle!)
- Do not treat me like an adult, it causes way too much stress for me. (Please find a friend or therapist to talk with.)
- Do not ignore my other parent or sit on opposite sides of the room during my school or sports activities. (This makes me very sad and embarrassed. Please act like parents and be friendly, even if it is just for me.)
- Do let me take items to my other home as long as I can carry them back and forth. (Otherwise it feels like you are treating me like a possession.)
- Do not use guilt or pressure me to love you more, and do not ask me where I want to live.
- Do realize that I have two homes, not just one. (It doesn’t matter how much time I spend there.)
- Do let me love both of you and see each of you as much as possible! Be flexible even when it is not part of your regular schedule.
Thanks, Your Loving Child
I have made the discovery over the last few years that an alienating parent with narcissistic tendencies will often try to throw some “bait” at the target parent (usually right in front of the children). What is “bait”? Any kind of challenging comment that when responded to can ignite a conflict. It is often very difficult to take the “high road” on that and let it go, but it is usually the better way to go.
I heard a great comment not too long ago in a parenting group made by one of its participating members: “Well, I don’t know how to make it better with ………….., but I DO know how to make it worse!” Now, I consider this to be a statement with a rather powerful message. The message being that you, and you alone makes the decision on how a person with a narcissistic personality disorder affects you.
People like this will always try to throw bait out in order for you to grab it and more often than not their anger and disappointment increases if you don’t, but at least you are not part of it. Anger and resentments are horrible burdens to carry around. If you are not convinced about the devastating physiological effects emotions like anger, fear and resentments can have on the human body, I encourage you to read some of David Hawkins’ books.
So, TRY NOT TO TAKE THE BAIT !!!
Just to put my disclaimer upfront, the following post is just an opinion, based on multiple books and publications I read and seminars I attended.
I firmly believe that PAS/HAP parents have never left the “Egocentric Stage” , which is the very first stage in child development, where survival skills are learned. This stage usually lasts about three to five years in children, after which they move on to the “People Pleasing Stage” and the “Fairness Stage”. Many adults however never move out of these primitive stages of child development. To the parents still stuck in the first stage, having complete control over their child or children is a life and death matter. Since they don’t know how to please people, every attempt to do so comes with strings attached. They usually feel very uncomfortable giving, but will readily take. They usually don’t obey the rules and may not obey any court order.
My observations have lead me to the conclusion that such parents are usually unable to “individuate” (see children as separate humans from themselves) and usually become overly enmeshed with their children.
Many psychologists diagnose such people as narcissists, a condition of self-centerdness, where they believe that they are entitled to whatever they want. These people are also often called “sociopaths”, which is a person who has no moral conscience. These people are unable to have empathy or compassion for others and are usually unable to see a situation from another person’s point of view.
The severe PAS/HAP parent usually has a very poor prognosis. It is unlikely that they are ever able to “get it”, and it is even more unlikely that they will ever be able to stop the alienation process, because after all it is a survival issue to them.
The victimized children however, are being heavily abused by such behavior. They end up in a double bind. Their instincts and genetics tell them to love the target parent, but they also figure out “which side the bread is buttered on” and their survival needs push them into an unnatural and uncomfortable, not to mention confusing direction. That is why Parent Alienation is considered a severe form of child abuse by many psychologists.
Most psychologists will say “NO” to this question, because these originate from two different areas of our brain. Rationality originates predominantly from the pre-frontal cortex, whereas emotions, such as anger, fear and resentments originate from the more primitive limbic system, the latter one usually winning out over the former one when it comes to a response.
How does this tie in with parent alienation? Well, my greatest struggle is understanding how one and the same person (the HAP parent) can be a scientifically trained person, accepting nothing less than empirical evidence when it comes to making professional decisions or decisions for the general health of his or her children, yet at the same time can act in a manner which has been proven through empirical evidence to cause a great deal of psychological harm to children.
Is it because the emotions of anger and resentment (which are really just fear-based sub-emotions) are so strong that they literally shut down the rational thinking process, or is it perhaps that the satisfaction of the ego is at that moment more important than the possible negative effects that behavior might have on children? What about when the conflict started over 6 years ago (as it is in my case)? Does the brain not engage into a natural protective mode, where it down-regulates such emotion over time, because it is unhealthy to the human body to live with such resentments over long periods of time? Or is this perhaps a pathology in itself?
What exactly is the mechanism that allows an otherwise rational person to become suddenly emotion-driven and act in the most irrational way to the point where children are being abused (I do consider parent alienation to be a form of child abuse)?
These are a lot of questions, which I try to find answers to. Perhaps answers to these questions will allow me to pave a better substrate for a psychological ecology that is healthy for my children. I will continue to scour the psychological literature until I find a satisfactory answer to these questions, and when I do, rest assured, I will be the first one to share them with the rest of you!
Can children recover from the symptoms left behind by the hostile-aggressive parenting strategies of one parent? The answer is: I don’t know. Actually I wish I knew! If you have any experiences in these type of scenarios, please share them with all of us.
What is known is that psychological damage will eventually arise in children consistently subjected to PA. This cluster of symptoms is formerly known as PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome) which, by the way, will most likely finally be included as a pathological behavior syndrome in the next edition of the DSM-IV.
My sentiment on the recovery issue is this: It takes a lot of energy and effort to coerce a child or children into denigrating against another parent, because it is not within their genetic repertiore to do so. It is therefore extremely difficult to force a child against its own natural instincts. However the more successful the denigrating parent becomes in his or her effort to do so, the more damage is also done to the child.
Now, the good news is that I have heard of many cases like that to have been successfully reversed with proper therapy. Perhaps it is easier to fall back into the state of genetic normality (which is to allow the child to love both parents) than it is to move away from it, however it is the deep-rooted underlying damage that was done in the process, which I am concerned with and have no answer to. A sudden reversal of symptoms in the children is to be taken cautiously, because this may just be a temporary veneer of behaviours that still have the actual deeper-rooted problems underneath it. A HAP parent can easily convince the children to show affection and niceness to the target parent just to offer the appearance that the children are fine, however the psychological issues more likely than not are still present and need to be dealt with properly.
Divorcing spouses today contest few issues more bitterly than child custody. This was not always the case. When a married couple petitioned the courts of ancient Rome for a divorce, any disputes over which parent would retain primary physical custody of the children were easily settled, because there were no disputes. In the eyes of Caesar’s jurists, children were property owned solely by their fathers. The legal rights of mothers were limited since the courts also considered them to be the property of their husbands.
This custom eventually spread around the world and continued well into the 19th century. Under English common law in the 180Os, this practice became virtually self-perpetuating. English property laws decreed that once a man lost title to his assets, in this case his children, his financial responsibility for them also ended. Since few women of that time possessed the resources to support a family on their own, the courts remained averse to awarding custody to the mother even if the children stated a strong preference for living with her.
A gradual shift in custody decisions occurred as the courts entered the 20th century. Historical trends forced a division of family responsibilities, leading fathers away from the family home and into roles as wage earners, while mothers stayed behind as caretakers to the children. This division of roles, as well as an increasing interest in children’s welfare, led to a shift from paternal preference to maternal preference in custody decisions. The Tender Years Presumption suggested that children under the age of 10 could not attain normal emotional development without the continual influence of a maternal presence. By the 1920s, tender years became the standard in 48 states. Over time, it became the father who seldom retained custody of the children, even if the children were adolescents and presumably beyond the consideration of any tender years’ standard.
As time went on and men demonstrated parenting skills comparable to women, judges became less reluctant to award custodial rights to fathers. Fathers began to seek primary custody more often, at times even claiming sex discrimination in custody proceedings. Gradually, court rulings and statutory guidelines awarded more rights to fathers. In a landmark decision in 1981 in the case of Devine vs. Devine, the Alabama court asserted that the tender years presumption represented a form of gender bias against men and violated the Fourteenth Amendment by denying fathers “the equal protection of the law.”
By the 1970s, most states had substituted the tender years doctrine with the “best interests of the child” standard. This standard compelled jurists to award custody based on what is best for the child considering the particular circumstances, rather than simply the gender of the parent. The acceptance of the best interests standard led the way to the development of joint custody in divorce proceedings. Parents argued that it was in the best interest of the children to have access to and rearing from both parents. Child welfare experts began to uncover evidence that access to both parents is critical to a child’s self-esteem and coping (Lewis, 1978; Derdeyn and Scott, 1984; American Psychological Association, 1994; Ackerman and Ackerman, 1997; Herman, 1997). In 1979, California became the first state to enact a joint custody statute. At this time, nearly all states have adopted joint custody statutes or recognize the concept of joint custody in case law. To this date, virtually all states will take the “best interests of the child” standard as the base of their decision making, and rarely will a state cite the Tender Years Presumption as a basis for awarding custody to the maternal side.
As I have already alluded to in the last post, the Parenting Plan is probably one of the most important elements in a custody evaluation or custody court case in general. The more thorough the parenting plan, the better your custody evaluation will be and the more respect the judge will have for you as a parent. Most importantly though, the children will have the benefit of having two parents act according to a well organized plan and schedule.
The problem is that most parenting plans are very poor in their design and content and leave many questions open, prompting more court visits in the future. Please contact Jayne Major at Breakthrough Parenting Services to obtain a great book on how to design a great parenting plan !!
If there is a dispute about the physical (and sometimes legal) custody more often than not the judge will order a Custody Evaluation, a.k.a. 730 evaluation (as in Family Code Section 730). The reason for this is that judges don’t usually want to make decisions over custody without the input and report from a qualified psychologist who can examine the situation based on his or her expertise. During the trial, judges will usually give a lot of weight to the report of a custody evaluator, especially when the evaluator has a good and long standing relationship with the court system. Now that being said it is of vital importance to be very (no, let me actually emphasize this a little more: VERY) prepared for this evaluation appointment. This is an important point, since a private evaluation can cost in the vicinity of $10K and is your one-time shot at present yourself as a good parent. Here are a few tips on how to prepare:
Enroll in a great Parenting Class if you can. This will give you great insight in modern parenting concepts and might actually make you a better parent. What this will do for sure is tell the evaluator that you are approaching parenting with the necessary dedication.
Learn everything there is to know about child development (their stages) and maybe even a little bit of developmental psychology. Much of the information you will be getting is derived from Piaget’s original work, but there are also some newer classifications which are worth exploring.
Make your home child friendly. This is a very important step. After all, you want to offer your children a home they can call their own. This includes furnishing them a nice and functional room, and definitely childproofing for the appropriate age category. Custody evaluators will look at your home very critically and take pictures. Make sure that you present yourself as a clean and organized parent.
Prepare your moving papers for the evaluator. This step cannot be underestimated! Don’t let your attorney do this step. Make sure you put this together and let your attorney proof it. This is your chance to tell the evaluator why you think your proposal is in the best interest of the children (notice how I did NOT say “in your best interest”). You need to present everything as an advocate for your children. Be factual – in other words only present evidence that can be substantiated. Finally, do not “sling mud” – even when the other side does it. Custody evaluators generally don’t like that. They would rather see that both sides come to an agreement, but if this is not possible, be respectful towards the other parent. This shows the evaluator that you have accepted the other parent as a functional part of a “reorganized family”.
ATTACH A THOROUGH PARENTING PLAN !! This step is very important. The parenting plan is the unequivocal “rule book” when it comes to custodial sharing of children. It needs to include everything, from visitation and holiday schedules to the toy distribution of the children. Judges and attorneys can’t think of every little parameter which may come up between the parents in the future, but you can, so it is important that this parenting plan becomes part of the judgment in the end. It is a living document, which will have to be updated at least on a yearly basis or as the circumstances demand. Hope this helps a little. Please feel free to post a comment or question if you feel like it.
I spent another day in family court yesterday and as I was waiting for my case to be called it became very transparent to me that many people are confused about the definition and ramifications of legal and physical custody. So here is the Judge’s input on this (which I think makes it very clear):
Physical Custody – is the percentage distribution of time a child spends with either of the parents. In other words, it is a predetermined measure of how much time a child will spend with one parent in comparison to the other parent. It is often being used as a fractional multiplier to calculate child support.
Legal Custody – is different. There is usually not a sliding percentage scale. There is either shared legal custody, full legal custody or no legal custody. Legal custody is all about making major decisions for a child or children. Major decisions include (but are not exclusive):
- Medical and dental care that is not emergency care
- Psychological evaluation and treatment
- Issuance of a driver’s license
- Issuance of a passport
- Religious education
- Name changes
- Change of the children’s residency
- Body piercings (including ear piercings)
Shared legal custody means that NONE of the above mentioned areas can be decided upon without the consent of the other parent. I have seen judges overrule such decisions when made without the consent of the other parent.
I just started to add an archival category, which nt will eventually amount to a collection of examples which are considered “Parent Alienation”. I will also entertain any examples you might want to share and include those.
Remember – Parent Alienation is any type of behavior, whether verbal or non-verbal, which mentally manipulates a child into believing that a loving parent is the cause of all their and the hostile parent’s problems, and that the same parent is the enemy which needs to be feared, hated, disrespected and/or avoided.
So, an example of Parent Alienation is… THE RESTRICTION OF COMMUNICATION !!
- If you find yourself calling your children on multiple occasions per day during pre-arranged times and the phone rarely if ever gets answered – THAT IS PARENT ALIENTATION!
- If you are the only one trying to call your children and the other parent never calls you on the children’s behalf – THAT IS PARENT ALIENTATION!
- If you try to call your children and the other parent is giving them verbal assistance on how to get rid of you or allowing them to simply hang up without calling you back – THAT IS PARENT ALIENTATION!
- If the children are discouraged to reveal any information to you about their daily lives with the other parent – THAT IS PARENT ALIENTATION!
- If the children are allowed or encouraged to lie about their daily activities with the other parent – THAT IS PARENT ALIENTATION!
I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift. Please feel free to add your experiences and comments to this post.