Caught Between Parents

Supporting children through the challenges of divorce

Should Targeted Parents Send Alienated Children Books

The case for not sending materials about alienation to alienated children

Frequently I will get an e-mail or call from a targeted parent asking me which of my books and writings do I think they should share with their alienated child, as a means of enlightening that child about the cause of the breach in their relationship. My simple answer is one word: none. I know of no situation in which a currently alienated child positively received such an item. The wish is that the alienated child (regardless of the age of the “child”) would read the item and have an epiphany and say something like, “Wow. I have a whole new understanding of what has happened in my childhood. I only thought you were the bad guy. Now I realize that you really loved me and I was tricked into believing that wasn’t true.” It is completely understandable why a targeted parent would harbor such a wish. It is almost like having a magic wand. However, as far as I know, there is no magic wand for undoing the spell of alienation. When I coach targeted parents I try to help them see what has happened from their child’s point of view. No alienated child believes that they were brainwashed. If they had that insight they wouldn’t be alienated any more. Currently alienated children (again, I am referring to the person as a child because of their role as the child of the targeted parent not because of their age) have an understanding of why they have no relationship with the targeted parent and that understanding is based on their felt experience with that parent. They are not aware that they have been manipulated. Usually, there is a grain of truth to their complaints about the targeted parent. Because all parents are imperfect there is always something to point to as “the reason” for the breach. In my experience, the only way to reconnect with an alienated child is to see the relationship from their point of view. That means, trying to understand what is upsetting them, even if from the targeted parent’s point of view most of their upset is based on exaggerations and mis-information. There are ways of doing this that do not involve (A) apologizing for things that didn’t happen or (B) arguing with the child about their false beliefs. This is a delicate dance but one that can be done and, based on my coaching, one well worth doing. Once there is a reconnection, usually the targeted parent lets go of the idea of having the formerly alienated child fully understand what happened. Ironically, what often helps targeted parents come to this understanding is reading one of my books. I often encourage targeted parents to go back and read “Adult children of parental alienation syndrome: Breaking the ties that bind” as a way of helping the targeted parent experience the alienated child as a victim. When that empathy for the child is rekindled, the targeted parent is usually ready to try to engage the alienated child in a more delicate fashion, one that does not involve sending them materials about how they have been manipulated.

Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D., researches parental alienation and children of divorce.

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