Anna speaks quietly in the Peace after Divorce group at her church…
My son doesn’t speak to me since we separated. He lives in my house but doesn’t want anything to do with me.
Can you relate? Are you facing the agony of being rejected by your child on top of the grief of divorce? If the problem is new, you likely feel confused and anxious about how to handle it. But, if you’re facing parental alienation that is spurred on by a malicious and vindictive former spouse, you may find yourself feeling desperate and totally out of control,
Reasons a Child Rejects One Parent
Normal challenges are to be expected when a child is adjusting to divorce. A variety of frustrations and perceptions related to the divorce may cause a child to distance from one parent. Here are a few to consider.
The Child may…
- Blame the rejected parent for the divorce.
- Be siding with the parent they feel has been wronged.
- Bond with the parent who is less available due to unmet needs.
- Feel unwelcome in the rejected parent’s home.
Situations become much more complicated when your former spouse feeds into the rejection. Sometimes this happens when a parent simply doesn’t recognize that their own negative comments and attitude about their ex are doing harm to their child’s need for a relationship with both parents.
The more difficult situations arise when one parent is manipulative and intentionally hostile toward the child’s other parent to the point of creating parental alienation. You can’t reason with a person like this because their goal is to create damage. (If you are dealing with intentional parental alienation, see the section ‘When You Can’t Work with Your Ex’ toward the end of this article.)
No matter what is causing your child to push one parent away, be proactive and address the problem as soon as it starts. The earlier the better. To get you started, below are some general tips.
Don’t give up on your child. Giving up closes the door to any hope of a better relationship. Put yourself in your child’s shoes and try to understand what your child is experiencing. If your child blows up at you, don’t respond in kind. Blowing up yourself only escalates the situation. You can’t force your child to relate to you but you can create an environment for safe communication. Patience will win out over anger.
Invest Time. Don’t ignore your child when he or she is with you. Being with your child is the only way to repair a damaged relationship.
Have empathy. Recognize that the unfamiliar can be scary for a child. It may take a while for a child to feel at home in a new household. You can help this transition by working to create a sense of belonging for the child in your home. Establish routines and create a space that the child can call their own.
Be okay when your child spends time with the other parent. That person doesn’t stop being your child’s parent just because he/she becomes your ex. A child needs to feel free to love both parents.
Become aware of age-related developmental issues. Teenagers are at an age where autonomy and identity are big developmental issues. Spending time with peers becomes more important than spending time with parents. Work with this reality to schedule your time with your child. Trying to work against this reality will only frustrate both of you.
Get support. Give yourself and the child time and resources to work through the divorce experience. Build a support network of family and friends for yourself and your child. Remember, if you’re not able to resolve problems on your own you may find it helpful to seek counseling for yourself as a parent, as well as for your child.
Working with Your Ex
Most parents understand that children need a positive relationship with both parents. Yet, anger and frustration can easily result in an otherwise well meaning parent losing sight of how their own emotions toward their ex impact their children’s feelings toward their other parent.
If you find yourself dealing with an ex that fits this description, here are some pointers that may help:
Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t be quick to blame your ex for your child’s behavior. If you do, you will most assuredly reduce that person’s willingness to cooperate with you. The other parent may not be intentionally driving a wedge between you and your child.
Keep your focus on the well-being of the child. When you talk with your ex about the situation, keep your focus on the well-being of the child not your own emotions.
Be civil to your child’s other parent. When your child sees that you two can get along it will lessen his need to choose between you. Plus, badmouthing the other parent can backfire and drive the child further away from you.
When You Can’t Work with Your Ex
Some parents are so angry with their ex that they intentionally and maliciously act to create division between the children and their other parent. This can be even more difficult to deal with when your ex has mental health issues.
If you are the rejected parent and the situation is progressing you may see a child developing a pattern where he or she:
- Expresses defiance exclusively toward you or about you.
- Loses sight of happy memories of time spent with you.
- Avoids contact with you for no apparent reason.
- Stays aloof when with you.
- Verbalizes hate toward you.
- Offers ambiguous reasons when asked about his or her anger toward you.
- Rejects anyone viewed as an extension of you, for example, your friends and family.
- Chooses to always side with the other parent when that parent is in conflict with you.
When your ex is sabotaging your relationship with your child and refuses to stop, seek help. As previously suggested this is especially important if your ex has been diagnosed with a mental health issue. Counseling can educate you on how to best deal with the person and help you grasp what will and will not be effective in your own coping given the specifics of your situation. One organization that offers education to parents who are victims of parental alienation is listed at the end of this article.
Help for Victims of Parental Alienation
Visit https://www.familyaccessfightingforchildrensrights.org/ to learn about their complimentary seminar calls for alienated family members. Advanced registration is required and participants can generally send in questions in advance.
Note: www.familyaccessfightingforchildrensrights.org is not affiliated with or endorsed by After Divorce Ministries, LLC or the Peace after Divorce Support Group.
Parent-child relationships are complex even without divorce. Separation and divorce can increase the complexity so early intervention is important. The good news is that if a child rejects one parent there are many things willing parents can do to help a child adapt positively to the changes of divorce.
But, sometimes both parents aren’t willing. Intentional parent alienation rises to a different level. If you are unable to gain cooperation from the other parent, professional help may be in order.
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Post revised and updated on March 20, 2020
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