Even the most amicable divorce can be emotional. Sometimes, the emotions one parent may be feeling towards the other can spill over into their relationship with their children. In a perfect world, parents would be able to set aside their negative feelings, at least in front of the children. However, life is imperfect and messy.
How to recognize signs of parental alienation
Parental alienation occurs when one parent attempts to turn the children against the other. Sometimes, it can be difficult to recognize signs of parental alienation from typical emotional reactions to the divorce. Your child may just be acting naturally moody as they attempt to adjust to their new reality. However, you should take particular note of situations where:
Your child has become emotionally withdrawn from you but seems fine around your ex
Your child seems overly protective of your ex
Your child makes negative comments about you that only could have come from your ex
Your child no longer wants to visit with you
Sometimes, signs of parental alienation may be apparent. Your ex may insult you to your face right in front of your children. If this happens, it’s crucial that you take the high road. Don’t allow yourself to get drawn into an argument. Remember, your children are watching and are absorbing more of the situation than you may realize.
Other tips to address the situation
Beyond not sinking to your ex’s level, some other ways to help minimize the harm caused by parental alienation include:
- Maintaining an open line of communication with your child: It can be challenging to talk with your child if they tell you your ex is disparaging you. It’s all too easy to insult your ex in return. Remember the high road. You can address the comments in an age-appropriate way without going into detail. Tell your children you’re sorry they’ve had to listen to these things. Let them know that divorce is also difficult for grown-ups and that you will always love them, no matter what.
- Be present: If you don’t have primary or shared custody of your children, maintain a presence in their lives. Send them cards and call them on special occasions. If they are involved in extracurricular activities, attend their events when possible. These efforts may feel futile for a long time. However, your children will likely desire more a relationship with you as they get older. Letting them know you’ve cared all the while can help make your future relationship stronger.
In some cases, parental alienation can cause permanent damage to your relationship with your children. If you are concerned that irrevocable harm is being done, legal options may be available. You should discuss your situation with a skilled professional.