This week we have been getting our new project ready for launch and as we do so we have been thinking about the people who live with alienated parents; the loved ones who have to watch as this horror unfolds and takes a stranglehold of the family. For those people who have to stand helplessly by, this one is for you.
Being a partner or husband or wife to someone who is being alienated is a little like watching someone being tortured to within an inch of their lives on some kind of medieval rack. Alienation is a horrible thing to witness in a child and when their behaviours become cruel, cold or mirroring of the parent they are aligned with they can turn into people you wish you could shut the door on forever.
But how can you shut the door on these beloved children of the person you love. If you are a mother or father of someone who is being alienated, you yourself are likely to be targeted and your own heart will ache with the pain of the alienation against you as well as the knowledge that your own child is suffering. If you are the partner or husband or wife of an alienated parent you will witness their grief and suffering, their loss and their pain AND the frustration that comes from witnessing the child behave so badly. In short, to witness alienation brings its own suffering and those who stand by whilst it is happening are not often able to reach out and find the help that they need to keep on supporting the people they love.
In second families alienation is a doubly dangerous thing because it can tear the relationship between partners apart. it can creep into the seams of the bonds that you are building in your new family and it can seep into the very fabric of the lives that you live. Children who are on the alienation spectrum who are transitioning in and out of step family lives can bring with them the clouds of the alienating parent’s resentment, dislike and hatred and determination to destroy anything good about the world. Arriving in gloom and cold indifference, these children can set about attacking the peace and quiet of the world you are building until they manage to drive a wedge between you and their parent that feels like a canyon you might drop into at any moment. Alienated parents, sensitised as they are to the terror of losing their children, can turn from loving patient people into wreckages of fear and blame, seeking to put you in the wrong and their children in the right in an effort to hang on to their approval. As alienated children lose perspective, driven into this place by a pressurising parent, alienated parents begin to lose theirs, falling down into a place where they are terrorised and terrified to the point where all normal life stops and the family grinds into crisis mode. Soon you begin to find that the revenge of the alienating parent begins to filter through into your everyday lives as you begin the battle with the ghost of the parent who was once but who no longer is, in your place. Not long after you may find yourself wondering whether all this is worth it. Especially if you have younger children, especially if they too begin to be affected by the alienating behaviour of their half siblings.
There is a way out of this however and the way out is not the way that the alienating parent wishes you to take. This way out is, like all of the routes out of alienation, counter intuitive and it is often the very last thing that the alienating parent feels able to do. Nor is it something that you are likely to feel able to insist upon but insist upon it you must if you are to help your partner to build a way out of the bind that they are caught in. The way out of this is to begin to insist that your relationship with the alienated parent comes first and that your relationship is built into the foundation stone of the new family life that children are expected to live in. This is not an easy thing to do, especially when the drive in your partner is to put his/her children’s demands first but do it you must if you are to survive as a new family and to offer your alienated step children anything of value in the years to come.
Because alienated children need normality. They normality more than they need anything else. They need a parent who is not afraid of them, they need a parent who is loved and happy and whole and they need a place where they can go where stability is guaranteed and the world is a predictable place. If they find that in your home, even though they are angry, uncertain, foul tempered or cold and cruel, it is an antidote to the chaotic emotional and psychological place they live in with the parent who is alienating them. Your first task is to convince your loved one that you are not the enemy, your second task is to persuade them that working together as a team you can tackle this problem.
When you work together as a team it means sharing values, expectations, rules, ideas and concepts about what a happy family life looks like. It means being clear with each other on how you will tackle the alienated child’s behaviour and how you will support each other if that means that the child refuses to come to your house. In many cases children who are transitioning but finding it difficult, will respond well to a unified approach from their parent and step parent. Providing it is the parent who is doing the bulk of the parenting with you as a firm and present back up, many children will reduce their negative behaviour and come back into line. Those who do not, who are already on the way to an alienation reaction proper are not going to be rescued by the two of you arguing over the matter. Alienated children do not care whether they fracture your relationship or not, they do not care whether they make your day good or not, they do not care whether you are even present or not, they are simply only able to act in one way and that is rejecting and difficult. So you may as well make sure that your relationship stays strong and intact because whether it is or it is not is not going to change an alienation reaction in a child when it really takes hold.
Supporting someone whose child has finally or suddenly withdrawn is a long term task and it is important you are up to the job because for you it is a matter of watching someone being eaten away by worry and loss, itself a corrosive life experience. The key factors in this are to be sensitive to the changing moods of an alienated parent who will occillate between fear, anger, loss and grief for many months and perhaps years before being able to assimilate in some fashion (though never accept) the changes that this brings. Your role in this scenario is to reflect back on a constant and unchanging basis the fact that nothing they could do would change the outcome and that their parenting of their child and their love for their child is not in question. It is likely that you will have travelled a long way with your loved one before the alienation sets in although some will meet an alienated parent after the loss has occurred. At all times remember that this person is a mother or father, that that aspect of their life is not dead and neither is their child. Make room always for the child or children to return and keep open the possibilities for your loved one to talk about their child. Ask to see photographs if you never met the child, keep pictures of the child around the house. On birthdays and special days give a flower, a card or plant something symbolic, when you eat meals say their names, wish for them to return soon, make the children who are not with you welcome always.
Never forget to nurture yourself, love the children you have without hesitation and give your loved one the gift of patience and endurance. Have courage to demand love between you is not diminished by the absence of the children, never let the alienating parent win.
We will soon be launching our new project for everyone affected by parental alienation, when we do all of the information about alienation on this blog will be migrated to a new home where you will all be welcome. I will continue to commentate on all matters related to families and family policy here and we will link up all of our projects together so that wherever you visit us you can get help to understand, cope and heal from alienation. Watch this space.