Justified Rejection versus Parental Alienation

Hurtling as we are to the Christmas break I have just enough time and energy to write a couple more pieces for you before I collapse in an incoherent heap for my annual shut down and recovery slot.  As I myself come from not only one but two separated families, one of which is also separated on the vertical axis (my parents are not together), piecing together a jolly Christmas can feel at times like trying to finish one of those 3D Jigsaws, great in theory, impossible in practice without something crashing down somewhere. Forgive me then if this one is short but it is to the point. I will be interested to read comments and thoughts as this is a difficult subject for many.

Justified rejection is the term which is given to actions by a parent which have caused a child to refuse to see that parent because of things that have been done.  Examples of justified rejection in my experience are all based around poor or negative parenting and can be listed (not exhaustively) as follows.

  • Being incapable of parenting due to drinking or drug use
  • Physically violent parenting, hitting and harming a child
  • Emotionally violent parenting, using shaming, name calling, undermining behaviour
  • Psychologically violent parenting, attempting to undermine the other parent, align the child against a parent, reduce the love a child has for a parent
  • Cold or distanced parenting, making a child feel unloved and unwanted
  • Excessively punitive parenting, making the child responsible for things that go wrong and punishing them unduly

In my experience cases of a child who is rejecting a parent which have one or  more of the above in the mix are usually considered to be within the hybrid category.  That is to say that the cause of the alienation reaction can be seen as the responsibility of both parents.  We are however, currently working on refining the hybrid category along a spectrum because there are many cases in our experience at the Clinic, where the cause of the rejection is not alienation (understood to be the child’s UNJUSTIFIED rejection of parent) but something which is justified and justifiable.  Which in our world is a good thing (because it is not alienation and can therefore be more easily remedied) but in the world of many of the parents we work with is a bad thing indeed.

Which makes me think harder about why it is a bad thing for a child to be able to justify their rejection of a parent.  Is it because the child should not have a voice at all?  Is it because the justification is only so in comparison to the other parent’s behaviour – ie one parent is very empathic and caring and the other one is cold and so becomes rejected – in this situation who should be the parent to change their behaviour?  Or is it because for some parents, it is far easier to point the finger at the other parent and say ‘alienation’ than it is to remedy the things one is doing to cause the rejection in the first place.

Perhaps it is an amalgamation of some or all of those things.  Whatever it is, whilst there are many families who come to us saying that their child is alienated, some of the cases we see at the Clinic involve a child’s JUSTIFIED rejection of a parent. It is the work we do to differentiate between the justified and unjustified that helps us to work out the treatment route and get it right for the child.

I am aware that this discussion is risky on many counts.  Risky because the automatic route taken by most Social Workers is that a child who is refusing a relationship with a parent is doing so justifably.  Risky because many CAFCASS Practitioners assume all cases of alienation are hybrids.  Risky because there are therapists out there who believe that any rejection must be caused in the relationship between parents, all of which is nonsense and yet all of which has a kernel of truth to it.  Such is the complexity of the world that we work in.  Which is why differentiation routes and assessment protocols are essential in working with cases of alienation and why you should not trust your case to anyone who does not understand the difference between Justified Rejection, Hybrid and Pure cases of alienation.  If in doubt, ask your practitioner this – what is the difference between a child who is justifiably rejecting a parent based on events that actually occurred and which have not been exploited by the aligned parent and a child who is alienated.  The answer is not very much at all on the outside and to the untrained eye, but the practitioner who is skilled in assessing for alienation will be able to spot the alienated child within seconds of meeting the child and will say so.  The unskilled practitioner will simply treat what the child is saying as the truth and base all of their actions and recommendations upon that, which is great for those children who ARE justifiably rejecting but appalling for those who are not.

But what about those children whose rejection IS justified but who are considered by a parent to be alienated?  Those children are, in my experience, just as vulnerable as those who are alienated but treated otherwise.  A child who IS refusing a relationship because of something a parent has done to them needs to be heard.  For all my concern about the elevation of the voice of the child as the driving factor in decision making, I know for certain that a child who is being harmed by a parent and who is trying to speak about it and not being listened to, is not being properly served by practitioners. Neither is that child being safeguarded and we should remember that safeguarding children in these circumstances is as core part of our role.

I am not going to entangle myself with the lobby against Parental Alienation and neither am I going to give that group evidence to uphold their blanket belief that PA does not exist because it does and I work with it every day.  What I am going to do however is acknowledge that there are circumstances in which a child refuses a relationship because of something that has happened.  That something usually involves the child being harmed in some way or neglected or treated in ways that erode trust.  When it has happened it is relatively easy to spot because of the presentation of the child AND the parents involved.  When we see it we name it and we categorise it as hybrid with elements of justified rejection involved.  That does not allow a parent who has exploited events to point the finger but it does require that a parent who has acted in ways that are harmful towards a child to clean up their act and change their behaviours in the treatment programme.

So what do you think?  Justified Rejection versus Parental Alienation, it always causes controversy, I would be interested in your thoughts and reactions on this subject.  If you comment, it would be useful to know if you are a mum or dad and a bit of your background, are you coming from a father’s or mother’s rights perspective or the perspective of the child.  A difficult subject but one which is worth a good discussion.  As we head up to the Christmas break, if you have the time and energy, I would be interested in your views.


    1. speed of onset depends upon the situation, the factors pressing down on the child and the attitudes of those around the child. Many children are pushed into a full reaction by the professionals around the family upholding the actions of the aligned parent, others are pushed into it faster by the angry reactions of the rejected parent. It very much depends upon the family, the child involved and the way in which the court system interacts with what is already present. The key to predicting it is in assessment protocols. you might find Bala and Fidler’s most recent handbook for professionals useful to look at this closer. K


  1. I thought all alienation cases were the same. I’m a mum and I believe we have a pure alienation case. Since I’ve been involved in support groups I can see the difference easier when both parents cause the conflict ie and it would be considered justified to reject that parent. It is obviously a spectrum like so many problems and so I can see now how each case is so different. Yes everyone needs to self reflect but only those without the personality disorder will be open to and effective in doing so. Therein lies the diagnostic tool.


    1. we use a three stage differentiation route which we are refining more closely now. All cases of alienation are alienation if they are the child’s UNJUSTIFIED rejection, whether a child is justified in rejecting depends upon the behaviours of the rejected parent which would, in our experience, need to come within one of the groups I have outlined, otherwise it is unjustified. And we have to remember that children who are abused by a parent will often blame themselves before they blame their parent. It is the clear and distinct separation into all good and all bad that indicates to us that the child is unjustifiably rejecting based on pressures around them. K


  2. Truly it is important to find a professional that is trained in the area of Parental Alienation and not one that disregards it as being untrue. The Social Worker involved with a Parental Assessment done had no experience with PA and was an arrogant one. He believed he knew what he was talking about and completely missed the signs that were so clear to me. He was a bit of a bully himself and as I said he was arrogant. He is dead now and my children will never be able to tell him how his lack of education and experience in this area completely ruined their teenage years. My four children are not speaking to me right now but I write to them every week. I tell them that I love them, miss them, I wish they would speak to me. I tell them to be kind people, to take care of themselves. I say I hope that they are happy. I have read that my e-mail to them might be leaving a path for them to escape the corner they have worked themselves into. I love them with all my heart and have never been angry with them no matter what they have done to me. I believe they are being abused and you would never get angry at a child who is being abused. I guess I just distance myself when they do things to hurt me. I’m not speaking about the issue written about in the article so I will end now. I wish I could know how long I have to go through this before my children come back, how long they have to go through this. I am convinced they will come back. I have done nothing wrong and as the last article said a narcissistic father will do the same thing to them.


    1. How common a story that social workers do not understand, some do but many do not and those who do not can cause such pain and suffering.

      Someone wise said to me today that one must never back anyone completely into the corner but must always leave a road open for the person to edge their way out and that that is the skill of a diplomat and I agree. Keep giving them the road home, keep the doors open, keeping laying out the welcome mat, they will come home, they do come home, be well and there when they do. Sending my support .K


  3. Not an expert on relationships, but it seems obvious. Any organisation or social worker needing to deny P.A will also need to deny the reality of power within relationships. By so doing deny it everywhere else in life too. This particular ‘blind eye’ is itself the use of power, power to achieve what organisations or social workers want to achieve rather than deal with what is before them.

    People are people is the scientific consensus? I’m pretty certain about this. The reality of the work placed before social worker or organisations is scientifically understood- differing power balances, (for good or bad) differing justifications, differing drives, negatively impacting on children from small to huge. Science also has not found a favoured Gender for parenting so why do ‘blind organisations’?

    I’m not so kind to organisations or social workers with the get out of them being ignorant. I do understand they are as good a group of people as anywhere else but- The understanding of relationships and the spectrum of personality types- from balanced to extreme is understood, the use of power in relationships experienced by everyone .

    The ‘blind eye’ organisations if the were medical staff-

    Patients/parents with various and sundry damage to either leg (or hybrid for that matter). Severity? ranging from severe gangrene to a grazed knee to healthy. (15 possible combinations?)

    A ‘blind eyed’ surgeon brought in to heal.

    However the surgeon always amputates the left one.

    This leaves a child at best -a one legged parent, just as likely however – a one legged parent with gangrene.

    Alternative treatments left in a cupboard, locked away, able to restore two legs fully, two partially or at the very worst remove the correct gangrenous leg.

    It’s a real mystery why a blind surgeon is defended let alone fully employed?


  4. I am a mother of 4 children from whom I have been badly alienated. My children are now 20, 19, almost 17 and 14 ( 2 boys and 2 girls). I separated from my emotionally abusive and bullying husband 4 years ago and our divorce went through 16 months later. During this time I was emotionally forced from my home which I carried on paying for together with all the bills for 2 years. This is due to my ‘ex’ refusing to work and then claiming he could not work due to depression!…I digress. Take it from me it was highly acrimonious. From the very start e would chant at me ‘don’t think you will have the children’…’not until we are all said and done’. ‘over my dead body you won’t have the children’. He set out on a path of severely alienating the children, refusing contact, failing to allow them access, refusing their home telephone number when they moved house where there was no internet access nor mobile phone signal; bad mouthing me; my dying father and their Granny. He bad mouthed my sister and family, he told the children deeply personal and private matters about me such as ‘your mother was anorexic as a child’; use your mother’s Maiden name from now on and also referred to my mother (their maternal Granny, by her first name). He told them I had cheated and lied to them; that I’d been having an affair. He told them it was my fault the house had to be sold and I was selfish and no longer cared about them. and not to trust me….the list goes on.)
    For those readers who have just started to share some of my experiences I would imagine you may well hold a poor view of me.(much like my children). They treat me as though they have JUSTIFIED alienation. Please believe me when I tell you there could be nothing further from the truth. All those children knew up to the point I separated from my ‘Ex’ was a fun, loving Mum who worked hard to provide for them and spent every possible moment with them, taking them to sports and dance classes, school events etc…..I am a good mother. I am a retired Police Inspector who ironically spent some time working on child protection matters. My parents are well-rounded; loving medical professionals who love their Grandchildren. My father has since died and my Mother went 2 years without seeing her Grandchildren. She’s not seen my boys for 3 years.
    My alienation is completely PURE UNJUSTIFIED. My ‘ex’ continues to alienate and typically states ‘the children make their own minds up’….well, blow me down with a feather!!….Not sure I would want to see my mother if I’d heard half of what my children have been told.
    The quandary I hold is what to say to the children. I keep trying to contact via text and email and always always keep it ‘light’ and positive…..It is SO tempting to point out to them what is happening to them, but I am not sure that would be the best thing to do??…would it push them away?…push them further into denial? I fear I might be seen as trying to get back at my ‘ex’ and I’ve been very careful to not fall into the retaliation trap.
    I think I may have gone off the point, for which I apologise, But I can see how children reacting from JUSTIFIED alienation may actually be easier to communicate with than children in my case who have never been able to tell me why they don’t want to see of talk to me. I would at this point say the girls have communicated much more than the boys, apart from the last 4 months since I remarried. I more than suspect my ‘ex’ has somehow got to them when he heard I was remarrying, which has suddenly and inexplicably caused them to withdraw. Apologies for the length of me email, but I have actually tried to keep it very brief!
    Thank you and I look forward to any comment please.


      1. Karen, you know my story all too well so I won’t reproduce it here as I don’t think it will add anything further.

        However, there is an interesting overlap here with polly in that my children are in the same age bracket and a fairly similar amount of time I haven’t had a relationship with my children too.

        Polly mentioned at the end about the further rejection of her by her children upon being “informed” by her ex about polly’s remarriage.

        When you respond go polly, will you be able to also shed more light on that point? I ask because on the one hand I accept my children have gone past any care of my remarrying/moving-on, but there is still more than a niggling fear of further and possibly permanent rejection by them were I to do the same. Any further thoughts and comments by you?


    1. can’t work out what you are saying AV – if you tell them the truth and they reject you is it justified? is that what you mean? No in my view it isn’t, it is a sign of their being trapped.


      1. my alienated estranged defathered children suffer pa-pas very much, steven pont lectured once that there are 4 stages of detachment, each supported with a dozen criteria, that fitted best contrary to what many pa-pas experts are selling.


      2. yes there is AdVader, you are just fixed in your thinking. Some children who have been abused by parents are justified in their fear and there is nothing you can do to change that because some children are abused by parents. Unfortunately it happens, it is not possible to change that, I wish it was.


      3. i reckon u’re projecting, systematically justifying ur profession with children as weapon&shield, to talk right whats wrong? void ab initio! btw divorce is (systematical) child abuse, what about that! never give up on recovery and reunification, never ever!


      4. it’s life as they know it for a lot of people AV, we just have to do what we can within it, you cannot turn the clock back, yesterday is gone, tomorrow isnt here yet, all we have is now and making now the best we can for each other where we can is all we can do. People have to come to their own awakenings….


      5. its being lived karen, and not about asif progressive “turning the clock back” but about truth, about health, about freedom, collaborating may seem best of worse but is still negative and makes one accessory, justifying an unjust system, void ab initio!


      6. Not really sure what you are talking about AV and still think you don’t live in the world as it really is. Children do and whilst ever they need help, I will be helping them and whatever you want to call it won’t keep me awake at night so long as I am doing the right thing by children. Not sure what your latin refers to and am too tired to look it up but thank you for your comments in 2014, see you next year. K


      7. indeed we exist in this western world, a one new age global disorder, being lived in this postmodern insane reality, in essence defining justified rejection is not helping children, on the contrary, social-societal collaborating in a dehumanizing-enslaving-zombinizing unjust sytem, only elite parasites profit..


      8. AV you have a bee in your bonnet, defining justified rejection helps children because some children are harmed by their parents, end of, full stop.


      9. deparenting is harming&damaging children for life in their being, ‘justified rejection’ is invented to talk right whats wrong, always focus in all means on recovery and reunification.


      10. oh you talk some bananas AV – this is your stuff you are going on about, it is nothing to do with me, I am just being polite letting your comments through…you live in a world of your own, it is not the world I live in, I do not lose sleep in the world I live in because of your comments on here. Your urgings for me to self reflect are interesting, you obviously desperately need me to validate your belief system…..happy to let you keep commenting…cannot give you what you need though 🙂


      11. i reckon we try to understand each other, and i challenge you as no one else does, i recognize ur openmindness, if true, we’ll get along okay, as its about the future of children


      12. and that doesn’t give u the right to compromize me with love, as i don’t comprize either, however, is it possible that females can claim love without submission? and males submitting just like that?


  5. Firstly, you asked for some background. I am a father who has sadly seen two of my children become alienated from me and their paternal family. Whilst I do think fathers frequently get a raw deal from so called professionals, particularly in the Family Court arena, I would not necessarily say that I was coming at this from a father’s rights perspective.

    In my situation I have always fought for what I feel is in the best interests of my children, which is to have full and meaningful relationships with both of their parents, and extended families, nothing more and nothing less, just what I was fortunate to have in my own very happy childhood, and what most professionals agree is the ideal situation for children.

    You asked for thoughts on Justified Rejection v Parental Alienation. I believe my personal experience is of the latter, and almost certainly pure, although I cannot be completely sure of that in the absence of proper analysis by a professional such as you who has the requisite knowledge, skill and experience to make the distinction between pure and hybrid.

    It seems clear from my own experience of the so called professionals encountered within the Family Court arena and elsewhere that to most this is a one sided match. In the eyes of those professionals, Parental Alienation failed to field a team, and in the absence of any opposition, Justified Rejection automatically gets a bye into the next round.

    A few in that arena do at least seem to acknowledge that Parental Alienation made it out onto the pitch, but always disallow any goals (evidence) scored by it for being offside due to a complete lack of understanding of the rules.

    I believe it is perfectly possible for the alienated parent to be standing in an offside position, (not to have necessarily made the best choice of how to handle a given situation), yet not be deemed interfering with play, and thus not a contributory factor to their rejection. I have frequently been put in difficult situations where none of the options on how to handle things seem ideal. I just had to pick the option which seemed like it would be the least detrimental to all concerned, and on hindsight I did not always get it right, if there was even a right choice?

    I apologise for the terrible analogy, which is probably due to wondering who my teams will get in the 3rd round FA Cup draw later! However, the point I am really trying to make is that due to an almost complete lack of training, thus knowledge and understanding of parental alienation, most of the professionals I encountered were reluctant to even use the words parental alienation.

    They appeared to prefer to make a double substitution and use the words high conflict instead. Despite making no attempt to delve into the nature and cause of that conflict, like football managers they would trot out the same old clichés claiming children withdraw from contact to avoid conflict, and their rejection of one of their parents is simply a survival tactic, and as such is justified.

    I think the difficult thing about that is that at face value it is probably true. Children do not like conflict, what decent person does, and it would not be unreasonable, nor unjustified, to think that they would want to avoid it. Equally it would not be unreasonable to think that if a truce were called, then children would be able to emerge from the trenches from where they have gone to hide, just like we are told they will (by the same people that refuse to accept parental alienation exists).

    That of course ignores the fact that some players on the field have no conscience, do not play by the rules, and happily commit cynical fouls to cut down opposing players, or dive to simulate a foul on themselves, to get their opponent sent off, the award of a penalty, maintain possession of the ball (kids) and thus a free shot on goal.

    In the same way as football referees need to be properly trained, qualified, and experienced, and have the benefit of a fourth official and goal line technology, so too would the professionals I encountered benefit from proper training so that they can distinguish between Justified Rejection and Parental Alienation.

    They would also benefit from having that fourth official, being the availability of other professionals who specialise in these areas to help them. Proper recording of the outcomes of Cafcass intervention may well be the goal line technology needed to identify whether the ball crossed the line, how many cases do consist of justified rejection, and how many are in fact due to deliberate parental alienation, and how would properly distinguishing between the two benefit the children?

    Despite it being a multi billion pound industry, and bad decisions often being catastrophic for teams at the wrong end of such a mistake, I figure it took long enough for football to realise the need for fourth officials, and even longer to accept the need for goal line technology. I am not therefore surprised that we are still waiting for professionals in the Family Court arena to be given the tools necessary for them to effectively referee in the match, Justifiable Rejection v Parental Alienation.

    Currently the Family Court arena is itself a multi million, if not billion pound industry that does not appear to want to clean up its act, for fear of seeing a drop in revenue. It seems quite happy for Justifiable Rejection to win the match by any means fair or foul, and reluctant to explore and thus understand the offside rule properly, which would be needed for Parental Alienation to stand half a chance of ever winning the match.

    Sadly, due to poor refereeing, and over eagerness to blame high conflict, rather than explore the situation and look for the signs of deliberate parental alienation, two of my children have been deprived of having a relationship with me, and half of their entire family for a large chunk of their childhoods, which is tragic.

    On a lighter not, hopefully the third round draw will be a good one for small non league clubs like our own here, they will get a chance to take on the big boys, and not be disadvantaged by having a bad referee!


  6. Brilliant analogy, I need to read it properly and respond fully tomorrow, will do just that, thanks for posting it it is a great way to think about it.


    1. Thanks, and will look forward to that. To be honest, not entirely sure where I was going with it, but just started to feel that there was something there….particularly in respect of the offside rule, and not interfering with play thing?
      Incidentally, if they win their replay next week, my local team got Chesterfield, not sure if that is good or bad?!


  7. Dear Dr. my facebook page is ADRIAN SPAGNUOLO and my Email
    spagnuoloadrian@gmail.com , in case you need to clarify anything about my coments.
    First of all, I am still surprised to find such a clear, concise and direct approach to my case, you are fantastic. As I have been on both sides of this sad tragedy as a son first and as a father after , I agree with you on every point. My first experience was being alienated by my father against my mother for 22 years because of their 6 years bitter divorce. Presently, my mother is the most supportive and unconditional lover I have in MY LIFE, I am 51 years old and she is 83 years old and very aware of my present situation. I miracolously saved her life from a massive stroke in her brain 2 years ago and she is better than before that event. I state this fact , not only because all the doctors have the same opinion as mine, but also because after that incident she follows all the doctors recommendations and takes her medication regularly and even checks her blood pressure level dayly which is 120-80 most of the time now and that episode eroded part of my self guilt.
    I am separated from my still wife, and a bitter divorce is in progress since 2010. She obstructs any kind of contact with my 3 children aged 16, 14, and 4 years old since then with unproven allegations of psycological violence only, although , we were toghether for almost 30 years and although she is a lawyer and has been on treatment for violent personality and anxiety disorders .Just after receiving a hug monetary inheritance she discarded me of her life at that very exact moment. She first stole all our savings too.
    I was a very dedicated father , to the point of leaving my fulltime job and selling my company to be able to work from home to give our children the first priority in my life and to be able to enjoy their growing up too. I also taughted them foreign languages, sports, music, travelled the world to get them to know other cultures, ballet and the arts. Nevertheless, now after almost 4 years of loosing contact with them although making every legal attempt on Earth to reach them, I start to recognize that teaching them the value of loving themselves as the first priority and live a happy life as Dr. Wayne Dyer says in his book- How to raise happy children. Please note that he is the author of the bestselling book -Your erroneous zones- the most sold in the hystory of mankind, regarding Psychological self help. And I read all his books since I was 17 and even got to meet him in person.
    I recognize that I created the seed of my present state of depression and poverty until the Divorce is settled because my teachings made my children so self confident about themselves and autonomous fully functioning human beings that they will not recognize the alienating moves of their mother for at least a decade or perhaps , NEVER. Thank you and best regards. I would eternally thank you if you could answer me, just to say to me , yes you are probably right or not.


  8. I am a Mum of 3 boys, almost 24 and twins 20. I have been out of their lives for almost five years. The eldest beat me up and we have never spoken again. I let him learn to disrespect me by allowing his father to be abusive on so many levels. The twins and I tried to maintain a relationship but they were used as spies and thieves and one has repeatedly reported me to the police. Two of my sons have been involved in physical fights that ended up in court and those same two have committed white collar crime to aid their father to destroy and hide all that we owned – which was a lot! During the years of marriage, I do remember losing my temper but not swearing, hitting etc the children. They saw dreadful fights between their parents. Everything I have read and learned, and talks with our doctors, psychologist and psychiatrist tell me that ex has a character disorder. BUT… the incidents and mistruths he has fed to the children is to take a tiny grain of truth and build it into a massive story that they fully believe now! So, is this alienation with exaggerated justification? I know I was not a perfect mother but was always loving and kind!


  9. I am a wife to an alienated father of an only child, his son. No real contact for over 2 years now, and contact made very difficult by the mother (and her family) for the 2 years before that.
    My perspective is from the promotion of all parent’s rights (not mother versus father centric); for shared parenting to be the legal basic norm, for a less adversarial system as a default, and for practitioners (especially Guardians) to only be appointed if they have a high level of professional psychological training, and for their actions and reports to be vigorously moderated/reviewed prior to implementation, if non-contact is ever suggested.
    Just as a second doctors opinion is needed before a person can be declared dead, so should a second opinion be required before a parental relationship is effectively killed off.

    The system we currently have is inherently corrupt. It sets parent against parent, with non-resident parents having to ‘prove’ their worthiness, whilst resident parents can act unchallenged, their empty promises to ‘promote the other parent’ un-monitored.
    It sets untrained (in any specialised sense) practitioners up as judges and gives them power to recommend actions that would be far beyond what would be deemed reasonable in any civil court. It allows, promotes and empowers children to take decisions of massive far-reaching consequence, far beyond their years or emotional understanding. It empowers them to wield their own knives to cut themselves off from parents as ‘in their best interests’, but doesn’t monitor the effects of its judgements or seek to see how deep those cuts have gone.

    Cafcass itself no longer measures the outcome of any complaints made to it, and doesn’t even recognise or allow the possibility for any complaints to be ‘upheld’. It acts in ignorance, with impunity, and is unchallenged.

    My perspective is also from the child’s rights. To have their relationship with both parents protected by the court, not cut off because of professional ignorance, or wanting to get cases finished, or at its most basic an over-empowerment of the ‘voice of the child’, without the experience to hear what the child is really saying.
    For myself, as a divorced mother of three, I tried to put my own children’s needs, welfare and happiness at the forefront of any post separation arrangements, as best I could, given my ex and I were jointly taking away the ability for us all to continue living together. I am proud that we have done that, although it was stony and painful between my ex and I at times, but my three children now move between my ex and I with as much ease as could be hoped for. My youngest lives primarily with me and my husband, and lives her daily life easily between her father and her step-father, appreciating more I think each day what they both contribute, singly and collectively, to her life. Along the way I have learnt, from Karen and other resources, how to stop subconsciously giving my children negative messages about their father, even when I thought I wasn’t. I’ve learnt how to accompany my children over the transition bridge, and to empathise with them, and to be a better parent as a result.

    As to ‘justified’ rejection all I know is that in our case my husband’s son once or twice told the real truth of the situation when he let his guard down and said things like “It’s just easier not to see you”. Because for him it was, and is, ‘easier’ not to see his father; ‘easier’ not to have to navigate the transitional bridge between his reasonable loving father and the mother who emotionally bullied and manipulated him (and still does) but who he also dearly loves. His is a ‘pure’ alienation. He speaks in terms of having a ‘perfect mother’ and a ‘perfect (maternal) family’ whilst saying he wants nothing to do with his paternal family, and that his father has ‘done nothing’ for him.
    I can see clearly that his rejection is on some crazy level ‘justified’, as the alternative for him was to be torn howling apart by the conflicting torments his mother’s emotional and psychological demands raised in him (Karen’s ‘cognitive dissonance’).

    I also instinctively believe that on that level his rejection could be ‘justified’ because none of the court officials who have had any contact with him have enabled him to find a path back to his father that would not mean cutting off his mother. He has truly been failed, and further damaged, by the system, and so in that way he is ‘justified’ in seeking to protect himself by showing his mother, whom he loves, what she wants to see, namely that she is the most, and only, important person for him. He has done this (and in doing so justified it for himself maybe) by cutting off the parent he (probably, hopefully) knows will wait for him, and be there for him when he’s grown old enough, and strong enough.

    Karen you said ‘ …there are circumstances in which a child refuses a relationship because of something that has happened. That something usually involves the child being harmed in some way or neglected or treated in ways that erode trust’.
    As a child you instinctively believe that your parents will look after you. What happens to the child who painfully learns that one parent can’t stop the harm of another? My husband’s son has been harmed, and neglected, and treated in ways that erode his trust that his parents will protect him. His mother has done these things to him, and his father hasn’t been able to stop it. The only person who has stopped it is himself, by taking away the source of the pain (his father). So it’s perfectly possible to say, in this crazy looking glass world, that his rejection is justified, as its the only way he’s been able to protect himself.


    1. Brilliantly put CG, I was going to say something very similar about my own son. Although I believe his alienation to almost certainly be pure, and most definitely deliberate, his rejection of me is also justified on the basis you described, to protect himself since no-one else can or will, and because he knows I will be there with open arms and a loving heart when he is old and strong enough to break free from the chains that currently hold him.

      You also touched upon a very important point, which is how will he view my inability to protect him. and ensure he was able to maintain his paternal relationships, when he is older? I can only hope he understands that I was prevented from helping by the broken system you described, and I also have to hope that the damage done to him by that can eventually be repaired and the generational dysfunction will not form another cycle in him.

      I hope you and your husband can remain strong for when his son eventually realises that he needs you both….I hope I can stay strong too!


      1. J,
        My husband talks of how he and his son, when they lived together and for a short time after separation, had an unspoken comradeship when faced with his son’s mother’s moods. He talks of how they shared a look, and protected each other. After separation, and when things were beginning to be difficult, my husband would also talk to his son of how they both loved his mother, and how he (my husband) was trying to continue to take care of her and look out for her. It’s my opinion that my husband’s son absorbed this and his ‘justified’ rejection also reflects his wish (need?) to protect his mother as the adult now in their relationship (parentification).
        I do know that sometimes my step-son’s language has reflected, in my opinion, his real feelings when he’s talked of his father ‘doing nothing for him’, and ‘letting him down’.
        I trust that in time his son will understand/appreciate how hard his father tried to fix the situation outside of any court process, and then when there was no alternative but to engage in the court process he tried to get recognition for what was going on, and tried, desperately tried, to get help for his son. I trust he will understand and appreciate that when it was finally clear that no help was forthcoming (and indeed to continue would almost certainly mean more damage through further exposure to untrained ‘professionals’) his father withdrew from the court process, as it seemed the best and only way to reduce the on-going deepening damage to his son.
        We have a file full of all the documentation. I hope his son never ever reads it; by that I mean I hope he returns to us one day soon, and that we never have to talk again of any of this.
        In the meantime one of the ways my husband stays strong is by living daily in a family situation where my children’s father is welcomed in our house, and is a frequent visitor. We are modelling, and living, how you can come through separation without behaving badly and making the children suffer further for your adult anger and frustrations. How you can, in time, introduce new partners into children’s lives and move forward together as a blended family, stronger together.


  10. Thank you for another thought provoking piece.

    The very thought of “justified rejection” makes feel uneasy.

    What could I possibly do to have my own children reject me and what right would any counsellor or advisor have to tell my children I was not worthy of being their parent.

    Father no: 1

    At the last but one meeting I was struck by the man who sat close to me and said little through the whole proceedings. When he did speak much of what he said was incoherent although he was English speaking. At first I suspected he might have had too much to drink. He was reserved and doleful and when he did contribute it was only when asked directly about his personal circumstances. When it was time to say goodbye he mistakenly left a screwed up leaflet on the table which had been crushed by a tense hand; one of FNF’s publications. Over the course of the evening I had managed to give him another leaflet similar to the one I had been handed by my Doctor some seven years previously; a leaflet which addressed mental health issues.

    Father no: 2

    Recently I met another parent who feared going on the “parenting course” because he thought it was an admission to all the faults his Ex had accused him of. According to his Ex he had sixteen major faults and the Judge had said they were very serious accusations. The consequence was the Judge had arranged for a partition to be placed in Court so that the poor distraught woman wouldn’t have to make eye contact with her former partner. Meanwhile this father hadn’t seen his daughter for over a year. He had heard that his daughter wasn’t settling in well at her new Primary school. From a new address some sixty miles away his Ex had now had his little girl, captivated, along with another older child from a previous relationship.
    As time goes by I fear both these fathers will find themselves on the endangered species list, their children beginning to have justifiable reasons for rejecting them. (i.e. the continued absence of the father).
    At least the second father was able to talk about his predicament.

    Kind regards


  11. I was wondering where all the fine tuning of the definition of “justifiable rejection” by a child of it’s’ parent was leading.

    We cannot choose our biological parents. Like we choose our partners when we get together its’ something we intend to keep for life, “for better or worse” as the saying goes.

    For those parents who are still together the experience of rejection by their child will be par for the course.

    As far as I am aware we do not castigate nor attempt alienation of a parent in these circumstances however poor their parenting appears to be. “More is the pity”, I hear you say.

    Then why do we choose to go all out to analyse, castigate, ignore, denigrate and demolish the parent who has found themselves, post-separation from their partner, in the position of rejected parent.

    I am at times toward my children, cold and distant, verbally aggressive, undermining, sarcastic, inattentive. I am also the most loving, kind, considerate, devoted, sensitive parent you may care to meet. I do not care to have my children excommunicated from me by some trumped up “board of parenting officialdom”.

    Time and again I hear of Court cases where the parent without their children (usually the father) is prevented from parenting their children simply because of a list of issues brought up by the other parent. To stop a parent being a parent or to limit their parenting contribution on these grounds is simply immoral…………..and yet that is what the courts do; nothing short of legalised child abuse.

    It’s taken me a long time, but I have come to accept all my former partner’s faults and triumph in her strengths; I would hope that the same is done for me.

    The best we can achieve for the downhearted and disadvantaged parent is the revival of the individual spirit and its good intention, through empathy, to soothe the heart of human pain and make good its condition.

    Kind regards


  12. This is your tentative list which you say could be added to. You say it’s a list that could support a child’s “justified rejection” of a parent.

    Being incapable of parenting due to drinking or drug use
    • Physically violent parenting, hitting and harming a child
    • Emotionally violent parenting, using shaming, name calling, undermining behaviour
    • Psychologically violent parenting, attempting to undermine the other parent, align the child against a parent, reduce the love a child has for a parent
    • Cold or distanced parenting, making a child feel unloved and unwanted
    • Excessively punitive parenting, making the child responsible for things that go wrong and punishing them unduly

    Our present legal system facilitates each competing parent, in Court, to present their case. Most attention is paid to the parent who has overall control of the children (i.e. the parent where the children currently spends most of their time). It may be that this is because this is where most people fundamentally believe that the “best interests” of the children lie. This controlling parent will present to the court what in their eyes seems a reasonable way of continuing their life with the children (i.e. parenting arrangements). The other parent who already sees very little of their children or nothing at all quite soon finds themselves in a position of having to repudiate the list of allegations made against them by the controlling parent………..this may continue for several years, or until such a time as they reluctantly feel that they will never achieve the task of making good the allegations which are on the list made by the controlling parent.

    The truth is the lists are irrelevant when considering the amount of time each child should have with their Mum or Dad…………..something that seems to have escaped the legal profession.

    Just supposing your “justified rejection” list makes it big in the courts.

    The Judge could get hold of it and make sweeping and far reaching statements that effect families nationwide.

    The controlling parent could get hold of it, and have an absolute field day……….just imagine!

    The target parent, the one trying to get back to a meaningful relationship with their children, what would they make of the list……………..

    Well I shall tell you:

    They will be frantically trying to prove that, “their parenting style is not cold and distant”……….bear in mind this will be extremely difficult…….he/she has come to court for the very reason that they are distant from the children. They are distant from the children because the controlling parent is doing their best to see that the children are physically and emotionally detached from them……the controlling parent has moved away, slapped non-mol order on the table/ prohibitive. steps. persuaded the kids (emotionally abused them) by telling them that the other parent is cold and distant, doesn’t care about them is an alcoholic or whatever.

    The target parent has been accused of being an alcoholic, a bona fide item from the list of “justified rejection”. The onus is then on the target parent to prove that he/she only has the occasional drink…..the poor behaviour at the Xmas party because he/she was drunk was just a one-off……..well yes your honour I have been drinking more just lately, I’m stressed out because I’m not seeing my kids.

    And so the circus continues………………the controlling parent aided and abetted by our Institutions leads us all on their merry dance.

    Your list of ills is a list of mental illnesses that might affect the adult. It does not justify any physical or emotional separation of a child from its parent or vice versa. It should not be used to further alienate a child from their roots.

    Just two salient points.

    1 Father spends almost as much parenting time with his children as mother does
    2 Mental illness should not prejudice a parents ability/right to parent
    3 Physical disability should not prejudice parents ability/right to parent.

    ….or was that three

    Kind regards

    Ps The best we can do for the moment is give the parent who feels they are on a hiding to nothing a leg up. Help them emotionally heal; convince them that all things are possible even when it seems not to be the case.


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