Children’s biggest wish is to maintain a healthy and strong relationship with both parents; in some cases, a parent fosters distance or even the child’s rejection of the other parent, despite the deep-seated desire to experience mutual love between them and their both parents (Kruk, 2013, April 25). (See also article Divorce: Regular overnight stays with dad are the best for small children / Scheidung: Regelmässige Übernachtungen bei Papa sind das Beste für kleine Kinder)
Definition of ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)’
While ‘gatekeeper parents’ are often specifically referred to in contexts of married couples, similar concepts are also applying to any parent-parent and parent-child relationships and are coined by terms such as parental interference, parental alienation syndrome (PAS), and parent-child abuse (Wikipedia, “Gatekeeper_parent,” n.d.). (See also the article about “maternal gate-keeping”)
Earlier, PAS was considered a mental disorder; today it is classified rather as a relationship dysfunction (Kruk, 2013, April 25). PAS is a form of psychological manipulation and Stines (2017) calls it a brainwashing strategy to turn a child away from a relationship using psychological rewards given by the parent perceived as more powerful by the child. Experts agree that parental alienation is abusive to children (Kruk, 2013, April 25).
Parental alienation is not as seldom as one could expect and is found increasingly in legal cases (Kruk, 2013, April 25). As Kruk (2013, April 25) is citing Fidler and Bala (2010), PAS occurs in 11 – 15% of divorces involving children; according to a report from Bernet et al. (2010), ca. 1% of US children experience parental alienation. In most known cases of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) the mothers are the alienating party (Major, n.d.).
The United Nations Children’s Fund (n.d.) states that “Children have the right to live with their parent(s) unless it is not good for them. Children whose parents do not live together have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this might hurt the child (Article 9)”.
Current or past marriage is not a requirement for a child’s rights. Also, cultural context or social movements shouldn’t lead to a child’s deprivation of a parent. Today, it seems as the societal presumption of ‘mother knows best’ has not been thoroughly revised by the presumption of ‘the best parent is both parents’ (Major, n.d.).
The problem and what can be done about it
We talk here of parental alienation syndrome if from the other, the alienated parent’s, side is no abusive or neglecting behavior evident and any such charge is merely based on the alienating parent’s allegation. Sometimes, the alienating parent’s hatred can lead to horrible statements, including claims of domestic violence, stalking, or other indicators for why a father would be a bad parent (Major, n.d.). For the accusing partner, the lies seem to be real. That’s why the reports are often so vivid and detailed. A crucial part of treating parental alienation therefore is to realize the severity of the psychological confusion that leads to that irrational perception (Major, n.d.).
Need for change in custody dispute procedures (See petition)
If PAS is not stopped, a child risks losing unnecessarily its father, which is an immense psychological burden. If the child stays with the abusively alienating mother, there is even the danger that a child’s character is damaged due to the time spent exclusively with the role model of an abusive mother (Stines, 2017). As the mother may likely have experienced dysfunctional family conditions, the child risks developing alienator traits too (Major, n.d.).
In most countries still, custody disputes often react to the claims of the alienating mother, without proper investigations. Judges tend to respond conservatively to parental alienation cases and leave it to the parents to take a joint decision rather than to enforce sanctions on the abusive PAS behavior. Until PAS evaluations are in place and the legal system is considering it, the alienation may be already progressed and have caused considerable damage to the child. Some therapists and lawyers may not capture the issue appropriately and consequently testify a wrong picture, such as, e.g., the expressed but not real fear of a child based on manipulation occurred (Major, n.d.).
Input for the ‘Loving Parent/Father Petition‘. It’s ready to SIGN IT! Thank you for your support.
Provided that no official evidence exists that such an agreement exposes a child to a harmful parent, the “Loving Parent/Father Petition” is asking legislation for a juster parenting practice. Whenever feasible and wished by the parents, balanced co-parenting agreements based on gender equality should be enabled right after a couple’s separation, regardless of the current and former marital status. Shared custody has to be kept possible as long as there is no objective and independent evaluation performed by a professional family therapist that would speak against such an arrangement. According to UNESCO’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 9, children have the right to stay in (meaningful) contact with both parents. If that right is threatened by gate-keeping respectively parental alienation practices by either parent, sanctions have to be taken to discourage and remove such abusive behavior in the interest of the child.
What causes PAS
PAS arises when a parent is unable to separate from the conflict with the partner and cannot focus on the needs of the child (Kruk, 2013, April 25). Further, Guillen (n.d.) lists the following possible motivators for PAS:
– Because of perceived wrongs during the relationship, the alienating parent may express anger towards the other parent by means of PAS
– Projection of childhood issues that are projected now onto the ex-partner
– Personality disorder, such as narcissism or paranoia that hinders the alienating parent from seeing the harm they cause to the child
– Over-identification with the mother role or with the child that lead to the perception of competition over the child
– Their environment and family may push some alienators for their wrong motivation
A cause may be the lack of own and promoted independence, which can also be culturally be influenced (e.g., individualistic and collectivist cultures). A mother can keep “spoiling” the child for longer as would be age-appropriate. For example, a mother would insist on sleeping in the same bed (and even same time (with the child, although the child would be developmentally ready for more reasonable independence (Major, n.d.).
The control desire of a mother can also lead to a strict time management to ensure permanent supervision, why she may even prefer to send the child to nursing school/kindergarten rather than allowing time with the father.
How to recognize PAS
Early recognition of the symptoms of parental alienation help to prevent damage to the child (Darnall, 1997). Most alienated fathers who have become distanced from their daughter lost contact unwillingly and mostly as a result of parental alienation (Kruk, 2013, April 25).
Besides a possible apparently limited time allowed to spend with one’s child, the child’s behavior can also be a sign of its exposure to alienation practices. Guillen (n.d.) describes, amongst others, the following possible signals shown by the alienated child:
– Bad-mouthing the father
– Giving no explanation for anger towards the father
– Doesn’t show empathy towards the targeted parent
– Doesn’t want to have contact with the father’s friend and family
– May not want to see or talk to the alienated parent/father
How to best handle PAS
While being stable, constructive, correct, loving and strong (i.e., forgiving offensive alienation signals), parents best would visit a thorough parenting course to increase parenting skills (Major, n.d.) and open the communication with each other. For litigation purpose, any parenting efforts, even if they are not recognized, a father should document his efforts. Some ex-partners may be unsupportive of collaboration in any way, why a therapy wouldn’t be successful neither though and more creative approaches would be required, including a break in the relationship with the alienating parent, a revitalization of the child-father relationship, and the restoration of the power imbalance (Stines, 2017).
Will alienated children ever understand what happened to them? They need in any case someone who recognizes PAS and can help them to reunify whenever it is possible. That’s a loving parent’s task, and hopefully the ‘Loving Parent/Father Initiative’ makes a helpful contribution to that goal. Take care of yourself, so you have the strength to take care of your child, whatever it takes.
Darnall, D. (1997). Symptoms of Parental Alienation. Retrieved from https://www.parentalalienation.com/articles/symptoms-parental-alienation.html
Gatekeeper_parent. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 31, 2017, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology
Guillen, L. (n.d.). Parental Alienation Syndrome. Visitation Rights. Retrieved from http://family-law.lawyers.com/visitation-rights/parental-alienation-syndrome.html
Kruk, E. (2013, April 25). The Impact of Parental Alienation on Children. Co-parenting after divorce. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/co-parenting-after-divorce/201304/the-impact-parental-alienation-children
Major, J. (n.d.). Parents Who Have Successfully Fought Parental Alienation. Retrieved from http://www.breakthroughparenting.com/PAS.htm
Stines, S. (2017). Children with Attachment Based Narcissistic “Parental Alienation Syndrome”. The Recovery Expert. Retrieved from https://pro.psychcentral.com/recovery-expert/2016/06/children-with-narcissistic-parental-alienation-syndrome/
United Nations Children’s Fund. (n.d.). The Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/crc/files/Survival_Development.pdf