Straw Man Argument – Description: Substituting a person’s actual position or argument with a distorted, exaggerated, or misrepresented version of the position of the argument.

The straw man argument in cases of parental alienation is extremely common.  It is used by alienating parents who are unable to determine that their beliefs about the other parent are simply untrue, and it is used as a deliberate smokescreen when an influencing parent’s argument is weak.  Many rejected parents will recognise the straw man argument in parental alienation, it goes something like this –

‘The children do not want to see their mother because of her behaviours towards them, she was never really bonded to them when they were younger.  The evidence that she is not a very good mother is shown in her position statement, where she says that she worked from them being aged three.  This is clearly an admission that she didn’t want them and wasn’t a very good mother to them.’

The actual position statement however says the following –

When the children reached the age of three I returned to work. I did so because we were short of money and needed the contribution I could make. I was however, still the parent who did the majority of the care and who managed things like the school run.

The misrepresentation is that mother was not ever really interested in parenting and that she has given evidence of this in her own position statement.

The straw man argument is a clever one in parental alienation because it

a) works really well in a world which is already deeply divided into good and bad


b) it hooks vulnerable parents into a situation where if they try to defend themselves, they simply find themselves becoming trapped in the quicksand of the ‘he said/she said’ trap.

In our work with alienated parents, we work really hard to help them to understand the traps in parental alienation, the ‘straw man’ trap and the ‘he said/she said’ trap being two key behavioural tactics which are used by alienating parents and by legal people in the cut and thrust of the good/bad analysis which is used in the family courts.

The professional field of parental alienation is not immune from the ‘straw man’ and ‘he said/she said’ trap either.  It is used to most effect currently by leading people to believe that things which are written by experts in the field of parental alienation, are untrue and to promote a false belief amongst vulnerable parents, that there is a magical solution which is being withheld from them.  This is a particularly vicious form of straw man argument, which relies upon ensuring that the vulnerability of alienated parents is exploited, to inflame anger and frustration.  This is then channeled towards those who vulnerable parents are led to believe are somehow preventing the magical solution from being implemented.  It is cruel as well as misleading and it uses many of the tactics which are used by alienating parents, to control the way in which parents get help.

The professional field of parental alienation is a serious scientific field and it is damaging and deeply offensive to the many people who work tirelessly to resolve the issues which affect alienated children and their families, to have these straw man arguments on a repeated loop.  Families which are already riven with division and deeply harmed by what has happened to them, need clear and lucid guidance, not the lengthy attacks on other professionals and fogging of reality to obscure the many ways that parent can get help. Families need help, clear guidance and peace in order to digest the information they need to move forward.  To incite and encourage the kind of  behaviours amongst some parents in online spaces, which denigrate and attack, through the use of straw man arguments, is unfortunate, particularly in the light of the lack of scientifically validated evidence of the effectiveness of the solution one proposes.

Those of us who do this work have a responsibility first and foremost to the parents and children we assist.  We have a duty to ensure that they receive the best help we can give them and that they fully understand the way in which we work and the theoretical model we use and how it is translated into the legislative framework it operates within.  Anything short of that is selling snake oil as a magical cure all.  When the people who are buying this stuff are as vulnerable and desperately in need of help as those to whom this stuff is promoted, it is somewhat disturbing to see the way in which that further harms those are already deeply damaged.

I have said very little in response to the manner in which my words are repeatedly and intentionally misrepresented, set up as straw man arguments elsewhere on the internet and even less about the manner in which I have been stalked, abused, left messages which include threats against me, and had one person emailing around the world telling people that I am harming children.  I have not spoken about this because I am aware of the traps that I am being set and the manner in which everything I write is used to portray me as the person who stands in the way of the magical solution being supplied.  I will continue to say nothing at all about the person who generates these straw man arguments in order to promulgate the belief amongst his followers that he has the solution.  I see no value in addressing anything said directly, in such an untrustworthy environment it would be futile.  But I will say this.

I am extremely busy working at the Family Separation Clinic on reunification work, writing, collaboration with others around the world and research into the support needs of children in recovery and their once rejected parents.  Our aim at the Clinic has always to be to spread, as widely as possible our knowledge about what works with alienated children.  Much of what we do we do in our own time, much of what we do is done at low cost. Everything that we do is self funded, nothing is done without the effort we put in to make it happen.  Which means that the constant stream of negativity about our work which comes from one quarter and the need to protect parents who need help from the misrepresentation of our work, funnels our energy from where it really should be placed.

I understand why parents want a magical solution to parental alienation, I understand that believing in pathogenic infection is far preferable to the reality of life lived in the here and now. I understand the desperation that drives those who leave messages on here and send messages around the world about our work, but I will not stand by and allow the deliberate encouragement of this behaviour on the basis of the very straw man arguments which are used by alienating parents to drive children out of their beloved parent’s lives.

I respect the work done by Childress in curating his model (AB-PA, Bowlby, Beck, Minuchin, Hayley) and I believe there is something in it which is useful to the work being done to resolve parental alienation.  I have offered to test it in a UK legislative setting in clinical conditions in order that it can be included in the work which is done by UK psychologists, but I have not had any kind of response to that offer.  Instead what I have had is a continued drip feed of poisonous misinformation about the words that I write and the work that I do.  It is wrong, it is exactly the straw man argument which is unscientific and harmful and it is frankly, offensive.

Scientists build upon the work of others and they remain open to change.  They are able to review their own theoretical model against the others which exist and they co-operate with each other to move the project forward.  The idea that there is a group of experts who are conspiring to keep the magical solution away from parents all over the world is a straw man argument which has absolutely no basis in reality.

I am more than aware that all of these words will be taken, distorted, chopped up and changed, switched in meaning and then mercilessly attacked elsewhere on the internet. This is how the straw man argument works in parental alienation, this is how parents are completely evicted from their children’s lives.  This is the fate of those who are being encouraged to believe that those who do this work are either wholly good with messiah like qualities, or wholly bad demons who deserve to be abused with impunity.

The notion that practitioners who do this work are deliberately withholding a solution is completely refuted by the facts.  Facts such as the absolute reality that a diagnostic model such as AB-PA could not be used in the UK family courts as a magical solution.  Facts which seem to conveniently disappear in favour of repeated straw man arguments.

It causes me the deepest concern that some people who could be helped are being prevented from getting that help by a handful of people who are hellbent on forcing distorted beliefs upon vulnerable parents.

I say little in response to the nonsense which is spouted, the allegations which are made and the frankly nonsensical conspiracy theories which are promulgated.  I say nothing because I know that when a straw man argument is being used in alienation, the ‘he said/she said’ trap is not far behind.

Let me be clear. there is no conflict coming from Karen Woodall, other than my refusal to be bullied into believing that AB-PA is a magical solution, when it clearly is not.

Let me be clear, I have no desire to bury AB-PA, I have no desire to damage the model, to the contrary, I have offered to test it in clinical settings.  There has been no response to this offer.

Let me be clear, misinformation, misrepresentation and the deliberate encouragement  of damaged and vulnerable parents to attack other people who hold different views, is not acceptable.

Beyond these words I will once again fall silent on this subject.  The experience of being targeted by Childress and his followers has, at least, offered me a deeper understanding of the experience of being a target of alienating behaviours, and so nothing is lost.  It is simply a shame in my view, that the reality of the work which is being done in this field, is obscured for some parents, by the incitement to believe in conspiracy theories which have no basis in fact.

It is clear to me that parents who are already facing these tactics in their own lives, deserve better in the online spaces which are set up to help them.  Practitioners who work tirelessly in this field, facing the attacks of parents and the stress of the family courts, deserve better.  And ultimately, this scientific field, which is serious, which has developed powerfully by passing on the knowledge and building collaboratively, deserves better.

Straw man arguments cause divisions and divided loyalities, both of which have no place in fighting the horrible problem of a child’s complete and unjustified rejection of a once loved parent.  Especially amongst the parents upon whom the child will ultimately depend for long term health and wellbeing.

Families need our love, our guidance, our assistance and our ongoing work to shift the blocks and barriers in the systems which enable parental alienation to flourish.  I am going back to that work now and I hope to be able to continue it in relative peace now that I have set the record straight.

Discussion, collaborative development of theoretical models, respectful debate and building upon each other’s work is the way that professionals progress this field.

Straw man arguments, the ‘he said/she said’  trap, deliberate misrepresentation of words and meaning, lying, leaving abusive commentary and writing abusive emails to other  people is not acceptable in the world of alienated parents.

It is not acceptable in  my world either.

(with thanks to the sender of the most recent online debate about my work which sought to misrepresent what we do and to the people who attempted to clarify the way in which distortion and lack of scientific evidence is being used to do so).