At any one time I am working with around ten children who are resisting or rejecting a relationship with a once loved parent. That adds up to a lot of children and gives me a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the reactions I see in them both with each other and with the evidence base which has been built up by other experts around the world. At all times as we work at the Family Separation Clinic , we are finessing the assessment process we have developed to ensure that it meets the needs of the different families we work with. Comparisons between families and between children’s reactions are a strong element of how we continue to build our evidence base for successful intervention in these cases.
This week I have been comparing and contrasting a group of children in the age group 8-12 which is the group most likely to be affected by an alienation reaction according to experts like Professor Bala from Queens University in Ontario Canada. This group of children who are from my historical cases, are interesting in that they display the same symptoms albeit different according to their gender and the gender of the parent they rejected.
In this group of ten children there are five boys and five girls.
Boy 1 is aged 12 Girl 1 is aged 12
Boy 2 is aged 12 Girl 2 is aged 12
Boy 3 is aged 10 Girl 3 is aged 10
Boy 4 is aged 9 Girl 4 is aged 9
Boy 5 is aged 8 Girl 5 is aged 8
All of the children have rejected their father, apart from Girl 2 who has rejected her mother.
The behaviours of the children are incredibly similar in their withdrawal from their father, apart from Girl 2 whose withdrawal from her mother was not the same as the others. For this girl the withdrawal was slower but more determined in that she appeared to be more in control of her feelings and more able to articulate her reasoning for withdrawal. Additionally, girl 2 was in a spouseified relationship with her father before the breakdown of the family relationship as her mother was disabled and relied upon the girl and the father to take care of her.
All of the boys withdrew from their father over a period of ten to 20 months post separation. The girls withdrew over a period of between 0 and 16 months. One of the girls was not able to ever establish a relationship with her father that was separate from her mother.
Without exception the girls presented as being sure of themselves, their decision to withdraw and the reasoning behind it. Girl 2 demonstrating a heightened ability to describe the reasons why her mother should be rejected completely. The boys however showed a less capable approach to articulation or reasoning, preferring to shut out all conversation about the rejected parent completely. Where the girls showed self righteous indignation and a haughtiness and lack of empathy, the boys showed some of the typical fragile behaviours of the alienated child, uncertain underneath and far less sure of themselves and the ‘decision’ they had made.
On reconnection the boys showed a quicker resolution of the rejecting behaviours, settling into a relationship with the once rejected parent within a period of 4 – 14 days. The girls however were slower to reconnect to their fathers and maintained an expressed longing for or preference for a relationship with their mother for some months post reconnection with their father. The girl who reconnected with her mother showed some continued difficulties in that relationship although her contact with her father was restricted and supervised.
Out of the ten children, six could be said to be showing all eight signs of alienation in a clear and unambigous manner. Four were showing some signs. All were completely refusing to see a parent.
Evaluation of the aligned parent showed that there was a common theme running through all ten narratives which focused upon –
- The child should be believed and is only expressing the truth of who that parent really is.
- Forcing a child to see a parent is cruel and abusive.
- If the child does not wish to see the parent the parent must have done something bad enough to warrant that behaviour.
- Children never lie.
Evaluation of the rejected parent showed that –
- The rejection by the child appeared to be sudden – ‘I never saw it coming’
- The concern of the parent for the wellbeing of the child extended to self analysis and worry – ‘something I have done must have caused this’
- Frustration levels were extremely high and had contributed to behaviours with the child which were being used by the child as reasons or excuses for rejection but which would not, in normal circumstances have caused complete rejection ‘he shouted at me because I did not brush my teeth.’
- Belief that the child was being made to reject was very high.
Comparing the reactions of the girls who were alienated, all five girls appeared at times to be rude to a parent, including refusing to engage with them in supported contact and feeling entitled to reject them outright. All of the aligned parents of the girls were overly close in terms of the way in which they shared information, interests and opinions of other people. Four of the mothers of the boys were engaged in infantilising behaviours in which they considered that doing everything for their sons was a sign of loving them. One of the mothers was actively and coldly instructing her son that his father was a bad person.
All ten children were reunited with the parent they had been rejecting. Three of the boys and four of the girls being the subject of residence change alongside our therapeutic input. Of the remaining three children, the youngest girl was reconnected to her father through long term work with her mother and father and the remaining boys were reconnected to a relationship with their father through a programme of extended staying contact with supporting therapeutic assistance. Follow up at six months post completion of our intervention showed that the children maintained a relationship with both parents albeit in the case of the girls this was less settled and more fragile than the boys. Evaluation of this difference showed that the girls interpersonal relationships with their mothers and their identification with their mother’s world view, (even where contact with mother was restricted) were indicators of their inability to reconnect in a settled manner with their fathers. The girls appeared to have a greater sympathetic response to their mother’s feelings than those of their fathers and were less concerned about their father’s ability to cope without them than with their mother’s ability to do so. In the case of the girl who rejected her mother, her view of her mother was cold and without sympathy and continued to be problematic even after reconnection with her.
Whilst this exercise in comparing and contrasting children from my historical case load is only a short evaluation of the reactions seen in a group of ten children in the age group 8-12, further work is being undertaken to identify common traits in children and the behaviours in parents which encourage them. This work is part of our research and evaluation programme at the Family Separation Clinic, a venture which will involve working with colleagues from the University of Central London in the coming months to evaluate the elements in our work which are replicable and which form evidence based interventions for treating alienation reactions in children and the behaviours seen in parents which contribute to this. More on this work and other papers we are currently writing about recent cases we have had successful outcomes with, including our joint work with No 5 Chambers as we progress through 2016.
Please note that our Coaching Services at the Family Separation Clinic, for families affected by alienation are now available in the United States as well as in Australia, Canada and Europe. We undertake coaching via Skype for details click here.
Additionally, in 2016 we will be offering courses and workshops in London as well as online via Parental Alienation Direct, our new self help website which is managed by the Family Separation Clinic.
Our courses in London include as support group for mothers as part of our Living Losses Project and bespoke courses which we will advertise throughout the year.
It is our intention to run alienation support groups on a weekend basis throughout 2016, contact us for details at firstname.lastname@example.org or check back here and at the Family Separation Clinic website.
Finally in Autumn 2016 we will be running the first of our retreat weekends for parents at a rural location close to London where we will focus upon help and intensive support to parents who are coping with the loss of relationship with a child or who are at risk of this loss. Places for this retreat are limited to 20 on a first come, first served basis and the weekend will cost in the region of £450 for three nights full board on an individual room basis. We will be joined at this retreat by Clinical Psychologists, Hypnotherapists, Counsellors, Yoga Practitioners and a Nutritionist to offer special care to those affected by the impact of disenfranchised grief and loss.