For The Family - Alienation Red Flags
I know I took last week off from reaching out to you. What can I say? I needed the break and maybe you did too. I don't want to overwhelm anybody.
I'd like to talk a little more about Parental Alienation. This subject is close to my heart because of my job and what I see happening under the appearances people try to put out as truth. As a member of your community I truly hope if you hear someone blasting their Ex at a little league game you do your best to either soothe the person into stopping their tirade or you walk away and display your discomfort with what they're doing non-verbally. Especially if the kids are in earshot.
More importantly, know the signs that you may be unknowingly participating in Parental Alienation.
The top 2 signs that I have seen are:
1) You used to be friends with both mother and father but since their break-up you have chosen sides because you feel disgusted, angry, or confused by someone's actions towards their spouse. Chances are, you've chosen the side of whoever looks like the injured party. You found out someone had an affair or did something you don't approve of and now you're not speaking to them even though your children are friends with their children.
**BEING A BAD SPOUSE IS NOT THE SAME THING AS BEING A BAD PARENT**
2) You are extended family and you used to have close relationships with the kids but since the divorce you have backed away and stopped engaging. Maybe you're related to the non-custodial parent and you're angry. You feel victimized. You never liked that other parent anyway and now when you see the kids you feel the need to tell them how much they've hurt your family member and, by proxy, you.
OR - You are the extended family of the custodial parent and you dislike the Ex. You spend a lot of time helping out your family member and maybe you even live together because after the divorce they couldn't afford their own place. Maybe you feel like your relative is the victim and the Ex is a scum bag. Maybe they don't even pay their child support on time if at all.
**This? Is not your business. You have zero place telling kids no matter the age that they are awful or mean to their parent. You can certainly address issues of blatant nastiness or issues that come up if you are care-taking but that's where it ends. Statements such as "UGH! You're just like your father/mother!" Are not okay. Nor is "You know you really hurt your mom when you didn't come see her." Or, "You don't deserve how good your dad is to you." Any combination of the above statements is harmful to the kids. It creates a toxic environment for them where they feel unheard, disappointing, guilty, confused, and hurt.
The absolute best thing you can do for kids caught between two warring parents is create a safe zone where they can be supported and listened to. They can say whatever they need to say about either parent but your job is to teach them how to deal with those feelings. Don't teach them to blame and hold grudges.
Mentally prepare yourself to hear things you won't like. Divorce creates new situations that nobody is prepared for. When kids go back and forth between homes, inevitably, things are going to happen. One parent may let them stay up late playing video games, the other parent may be Captain Structure with every moment of the day planned out. Remember that when kids come to you with questions, they are looking to you for lessons on how to deal with things. They don't know what to do so they are looking to you to show them. They may even say they want you to intervene, take the reins, and make it go away. Don't fall for it.
Teach them how to deal with conflict. Teach them that you see what they're going through is hard but that there are ways to deal with it without losing a parent or an entire half of their family. Imagine if you were in their shoes how confusing and scary it would be to be taught they are powerless and everything they are going through is the fault of someone they love. Teach them that people are not perfect and disappointment and heart break are a part of life.
Teach them to deal with their feelings and the situation from an empowered place - from their higher selves - and give them the best possible chance to grow up into healthy, balanced adults.
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By Lisa Owen