I tried to stay out of the PA is DA debate, largely because I am not a campaigner and have no interest in advocating for one side or the other. Despite accusations from some, I have never advocated for fathers or mothers in this arena, because a) I come to this work via my experience in gender analysis and mainstreaming and b) I have always only really been interested in the rights of children to live an unconscious experience of childhood which is free from abuse.
Gender analysis and mainstreaming means to understand the different experiences of men and women and to adjust services to support them so that their different needs are met. It means to understand at the deepest level, those barriers which men and women face in society and to adjust and adapt services to enable them to overcome them.
Working from the perspective of helping children to live an unconscious experience of childhood, means delivering services to families which assists them to overcome barriers to parenting after family separation, in order to provide their children with the healthiest route through to adulthood.
I work to achieve that by working directly with families, training others to work in the same way, writing about the work that I do, developing low cost services through the Lighthouse Project and research. I think I have enough experience therefore, to say my piece in this unfolding debate.
My view of the PA is DA debate is that those who come to family separation through an ideological lens, wish to mischaracterise alienation of children (notice I do not say PA), as being only about coercive control of fathers over mothers using children as a weapon. This, they say, is domestic violence by proxy. In the same ideological framework, all men who claim they are being alienated, are actually abusive men whose children are rejecting them for justifiable reasons.
The idealogues go to town on the label Parental Alienation, using it to ”prove’ that anyone who claims it or works with it must be dodgy. The liberal use of commas around the word expert, in reference to anyone who works in this field, being a clear sign of their righteousness in the debate.
Whilst I do not get directly involved in this kind of campaigning, because it is just a pointless game of opinion tennis, I do have thoughts and views on the matter and I am curious about how ideological campaigners adjust their arguments to keep the binary split of good mothers/bad fathers fixed firmly in place.
The ideological argument is (as far as I can work it out), mothers whose children refuse to see them are suffering domestic violence by proxy, the father of their children is using the children to continue to harm them. Mothers whose children refuse to see their fathers are simply protecting them from abusive fathers.
For this to be true however, the experience of the child has to be completely erased from all analysis and understanding. My view is that if we take the child who is refusing to see their mother and the child who is refusing to see their father, we will know whether or not the child is alienated or rejecting a parent because of abuse, by the presence or absence of psychological splitting in the child.
This is, for me, where the PA is DA argument falls completely apart because if there is no such thing as PA (I will come back to the label shortly), and PA is just DA by proxy, then the child would not show those signs of induced psychological splitting.
Children who have abusive parents, show a much more ambivalent response to that parent, they do not outright reject, they want their parent to change and they long for better times. Only when children are triangulated into the adult distress, do they reject outright and it is that part of the trauma story which for me, is what is missing in the PA is DA perspective.
In our work with families, where DA is present, we do not call it alienation. We differentiate cases where a child has been exposed to domestic abuse between adults and we recognise that we need to protect the abused parent’s safety and wellbeing. In reality, physical or sexual abuse perpetrated by either parent upon an ex partner and/or child, rules out any kind of reunification work, because the courts want children to have healthy childhoods and I do too.
Since the Harman and Lorandos report demolished the Meier et al study, the cracks have become more obvious in the PA is DA debate, illuminating the way in which research can be filtered through a biased lens to lodge what are called woozles into public consciousness.
Ideological campaigners are really good at woozling, I watch some of them doing it about me. The idea is that is you link A to C without including B and say it often enough, others will believe it. Add to that a healthy dose of negative projection (watch how the ideological campaigners use shame and blame to bully people with opinions they do not like, into silence) and you have a perfect way of splitting off the parts of the debate you don’t want to be heard by the outside world.
The part of the PA is DA debate that the ideological campaigners don’t want you to hear is the experience of children. Notice how PA is DA focuses ONLY on women. Mothers are suffering domestic violence by proxy, mothers are being abused, mothers are only protecting their children, mothers are under attack from abusive men. Rarely do we hear about children in this debate, and when we do, is to usually to paint people who do this work with children as being cruel and inhuman.
For me, the cruelty and inhumanity comes from people who want to hide the abuse of children, the experience children have of being alienated from their own sovereign self, children who are losing their rights to an unconcious experience of childhood at the hands of their parents. That is what the PA is DA debate is really about, disguising psychological and emotional abuse of children by splitting it off, calling that ‘protective’ and projecting the blame for abuse onto fathers and anyone who is trying to help alienated children.
Parental alienation is a label that I don’t use it anymore because it really isn’t necessary to do so. The patterns of psychological harm in alienation cases are well recognised in research, in literature and in the family courts. Whether that alienation is caused primarily by a mother or primarily by a father or a mixture of both, what the child experiences in suffering psychological splitting, is an alienation of the self from the self first. This is a ghastly defence, it causes deep psychological harm and it removes from children their right to an unconscious experience of childhood. It is child abuse.
In the PA is DA debate, who speaks for those children who are psychologically abused in divorce and separation and whose independent needs are being bound back into the rights of their mothers?
No-one speaks for those children, because they are collatoral damage in the effort to uphold the ideology, an ideology which is founded upon good women/bad men and which omits the rights of children completely.
PA is not DA. Alienation of children includes patterns of coercive control behaviours, it also includes patterns of enmeshment, triangulation and other psychological issues which cause harm, it is far more complex than this popular discourse wants you to believe.
Listen for the voices of abused children in divorce and separation, whilst the campaigners seek to drown them out, they are getting louder.