No parent starts out wanting to undermine the other parent or worse, exclude them from their child’s life. But divorce is a complicated thing, and when you split from your spouse, all the residual feelings and resentments can pile up and lead you to do very bad things.
I am going to write a series of blogs about the slippery slope of parental alienation, starting with this one, how it begins and how to avoid it.
First, know that divorced parents don’t have a corner on the market with treating the other parent unfairly. Couples who stay married but don’t work well together do it all the time, and they don’t even realize the harm they’re bringing to their children.
A lot of people who struggle with issues of undermining or excluding the other parent faced these issues long before the divorce. Plenty of people come into my office and say that part of the reason they are getting divorced is they’re so frustrated with each other, how the other spouse parents, that they’re not a united front.
Do you think that’s going to change if you divorce? It’s actually likely to get much worse.
The Realities of Divorce
Yes, you’ll be in your own home and run things how you want to, but you still have to co-parent with your ex. Everything you couldn’t figure out in marriage counseling you’ll have to do it in divorce.
The only silver lining is that you no longer have to spend energy on your romantic relationship, your shared finances or how you manage the home.
The thing I wish all couples realized is that how you view your partner, or your ex, is a choice. You can choose to focus on the things that annoy you about them, or you can focus on their strengths and positive qualities. It’s up to you because both exist in the same person.
None of us are perfect, and everyone can be annoying. Including you.
The Children Are Watching
At the end of the day, how the two of you work together and get along, will still be the blueprint for your children regarding relationships. You and your ex are the main people they’re watching, and even though your marital status changed, they’re learning from you how to deal with conflict resolution and problem-solving and power dynamics in a relationship.
I wish divorced parents could aim to set a good model for children to aspire to in their own relationships.
In subsequent blogs, I’ll go deeper into parental alienation – what it is, why it’s so heinous, and how to avoid it. Know for now that parental alienation is a spectrum – it can be subtle undermining or disparaging of the other parent, or it can be full-fledged trying to keep your kids from spending time with or being close to their other parent.
We must first understand why it is so important to get along with your co-parent and create a united front for your children.
Why Be a United Front?
Consistency is more important than having matching households. The latter just isn’t possible. But you can agree on a bedtime at both houses. You can decide which apps you let them use. You can set the same curfew no matter where they sleep and insist on the same rules when they start to drive.
When you decide to divorce, you must realize what you are creating. Your children will now have two homes, two lives, maybe two new parents to add to the mix if you both remarry. You created this – don’t punish your kids by competing with the other parent.
Kids should be encouraged to build a life in both places, and parents should resist the urge to feel threatened when their children spend time with the other parent. It’s not fair to the kids to burden them with your feelings of insecurity or jealousy. Be the grown-up! It’s not their job to console or comfort you.
They will have a whole other life without you. That was always the goal – it just happens sooner if you divorce their other parent. It is your responsibility to take part and show up to support them.
When parents fall prey to the alienation game, it’s like their kids aren’t even people anymore – they’re property. It’s really sad when kids are used that way.
Up Next: planting the seed for parental alienation, and why so many families need reunification therapy for children to resume spending time with their other parent.