How do I respond to parental alienation?

What can a parent do if, after the divorce, the other parent who has custody of the child turns the daughter against that parent?

A parent in this situation can DO a lot of things, but the question is not what the parent can do, but whether the parent should do certain things, and if so, what those things are.

Each child and each parent-child relationship is different, so—as you no doubt already know—it’s impossible to give a parent in your position a sure-fire to-do list of effective steps. So instead, I will start with a few encouraging truths I have learned over the course of my career.

  • Children of divorce who have been fooled by one parent into turning against the other parent often (even usually?) come to figure that out, and when they do, they resent being duped and manipulated. They will then come to the rejected parent feeling embarrassed and ashamed and asking for your forgiveness and acceptance. So while there are no guarantees, still your greatest likelihood of success lies in conducting yourself honorably and honestly and in living the Golden Rule. Be the kind of parent your kids believe will forgive them if and when that day comes. It’s worth it (there will be days, months, and years when it doesn’t feel that way, but it’s worth it).
  • It’s incredibly hard not to fight an alienating parent’s fire with alienating fire of your own, but that only ends up burning the whole family. Do right by your kids, even when the other parent isn’t. Even if the kids never come around, you will have been the best influence you can on their upbringing and their moral character.
  • Do not let your children’s rejection consume you. Easier said than done, but no less necessary to do. Remember that your children will likely come around, so in the meantime, find joy and fulfillment in this beautiful world and the people in it. Hike to a waterfall. View a sunset. Take your Dad or sister to lunch. Take pride in your work. Enjoy a vacation. Develop your talents. Join a club or support group. Serve others. These kinds of things may not perfectly heal the wound, but they will ease the pain, bring you relief, and help you heal eventually.
  • Go to church. Bring your kids with you, if they are willing to come. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating brainwashing or indoctrination. I’m talking about the simple, honest to goodness value of being taught love, hope, and encouragement. Humility, repentance, and forgiveness. You need this. Your alienated kids need this too, probably more than you do, frankly. Your kids may resist going to church. They may mock you for it. They may even claim that going to church pushes them further away from you. Nine times out of ten, however, the kids don’t really mean it.
    • Church inoculates us against future adversity, and kids of divorce are—at some point in the future—going to face adversity unique to kids of divorce. And in those moments of fear, temptation, confusion, shame, anger, etc. nothing is more comforting and encouraging than the basics: you are a child of God, you are loved, your life matters, tomorrow is a new day, you can change and get back on track, you can overcome with God’s help.
    • Church provides you and your kids with good examples in the pastors, teachers, and congregants you associate with. They are a support network who may be able to provide the help your kids need or listening ear that you, at times, cannot or should not.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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