Many believe that when there is an estrangement between a parent and a child, even an adult child, it must be the parent’s fault. But that’s not always the case!
As I talked about last week, you should not deny your child visits with his/her father. But sadly, I’ve heard from a lot of women – at least once a week – who tell me they have been denied the right to see or speak to their child. Many times the story is complicated. Often the “child” is now an adult, making the choice to no longer see or speak to their own mother.
Being estranged from a child is another loss many of us have to mourn after divorce.
I believe there are many reasons this could happen. Of course, the most well-written reason is that the parent is toxic and/or violent, was a self-centered parent, and as an adult, the child decided fully on their own, after asserting healthy boundaries, trying to work through any conflict with respect, and still, the other parent refused to be kind and respectful.
But there also many other reasons for child estrangement after divorce.
Parental alienation happens when a child becomes enmeshed with one parent, strongly allying himself or herself with that parent, and rejects the other parent without legitimate justification. The children can fall prey to the alienating parent’s tactics as a means of escaping the conflict.
There’s no longer any sense of the parent as a human being with the ordinary nuances of the gray scale, or as a good-enough parent; the parent’s actions and statements are twisted, distorted, and massaged to “prove” that the parent is unworthy of contact.
Older children can be particularly eloquent and cutting in their reasons for rejecting a parent while simultaneously insisting that the parent has rejected them. A parent trying with the greatest love to effect rapprochement can find older children completely recalcitrant. (Source)
This is when one parent is actively working to cause separation or distance between a child and the other parent – which is triangulation. During or after the divorce one parent might run to the child and tell him/her lies blaming the other parent. Other toxic behaviors…
- Calling the other parent names (b**ch, controlling, crazy, etc.)
- Involving the child in a disagreement
- Using the child as a messenger or as a pawn in their game
- Offering to side with the child (the “good cop” without rules or restrictions) to disrespect the other parent (the “bad cop” who teaches responsibility and consequences)
- Involving the child in the parent-parent relationship or other relationships; needing to be rescued from problems they created but it forms an unhealthy bond between the parent and the child. (My dad/mom needs me to help him/her with these relationships.)
The toxic parent deliberately does or says things to cause the child discomfort and problems with the primary parent, then offers to rescue the child – look what your mother did, I know she’s so mean and controlling, or you can always come live with me. This parent is putting his needs before the child!
Dr. Phil calls this sweet poison when a parent is able to turn one child against the other parent. The parent is dumping poison into the child, hoping to hurt the other parent, when the only one being hurt in this situation is the child. A loving, caring parent only wants what is best for their child and their actions back that up by doing the best they can to keep the child out of the divorce and any disagreements after.
One parent is emotionally creating an allegiance. When the child gets sick of the poisons and games he or she will go live with or side with the toxic parent hoping the competition and conflict will stop – and it usually does because the loving parent refuses to fight over a child (he/she is not a piece of property).
This manipulation tactic works unless the child sees it for what it is – a game where they are the pawn. The toxic parent doesn’t really care about the child, he only cares about not paying child support to the other parent and winning the battle. He would rather see the mother alone without her children. An abuser’s need for power and control turns to retaliation once he no longer can control the victim. Taking the children away from the mother is the ultimate retaliation.
All parental relationships should be decided by the child without any influence from the other parent. That is not the case when there is parental alienation or domestic violence by proxy.
Children are taught to disrespect loving parents.
In a normal, healthy marriage each parent teaches the child to respect the other parent (as an authority AND as a human being). When doing this each parent realizes that the child has a higher chance of growing up to respect authority – ie. the laws, the government, and their bosses at a job. When one or both parents are teaching the child to disrespect the other parent, the child can easily be confused about who they’re supposed to listen to and who they can ignore. The child is being taught to disrespect all authority, even if the plan is just to hurt the other parent.
Fear of rejection from the toxic parent.
When money is involved, in toxic relationships, the person with the purse strings holds the control. When there are threats (even unspoken) to take this away for not giving the toxic parent what he wants, this parent wants the child to fear rejection. The parent hangs up on the child, screams at or calls them or the other parent vulgar names, the child internalizes that this parent is not someone to mess with. This parent will withhold love or money so the child learns to always please this parent first.
On the other hand, the healthier parent is easy to reject. Why? Because the child has learned that this parent will always love me and accept me when I need her. I can keep the healthy parent on the backburner while pleasing the toxic parent. Win-win for the child. Not so much for the loving mother who’s been rejected.
After my divorce, I feel like my children find reasons to be annoyed by me. I know they don’t respect me as a human being. I can’t do or say anything right without being criticized or analyzed for trying too hard or causing a problem when that is never what I intend to do. And because I’m not perfect, they find exactly what they’re looking for… my imperfections that are hard to accept – the definition of parental alienation above.
I also feel that my ex-husband wants the children to be proud of his affairs or other destructive or sinful behavior. He wants to be the fun parent which seems like the better parent to a child who doesn’t realize his or her love is being purchased.
My children can treat others with kindness to get what they want or need but for some reason have learned to treat me however they want yet are still entitled get anything they want from me. Maybe this is my fault for being such a caregiving parent or maybe it was because of the toxic poison they were being fed. Whatever the reason, I’m the estranged parent with no explanation to the real reasons why. I was never even given a chance. I feel as though I’ve been erased. And I know I’m not alone in this struggle!
Do you have a story to share? Feel free to do so in the comments below (real name not required). Someone will thank you for sharing, including me!
May God bless your healing journey,
- When You’re Missing Your Children After Divorce
- “Parallel Parenting” When Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work With a Narcissist
- Narcissists Turn Everyone Against You (Even Your Own Family)