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Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation and the Hidden Father

How lies and manipulation can hijack the father-child relationship.

Key points

  • Parental alienation occurs when one parent undermines the child's relationship with the other parent.
  • Parental alienation harms fathers due to societal and cultural factors, causing negative consequences.
  • The effects of parental alienation can cause profound and complicated grief.

“The park is full of Sunday fathers and melted ice cream.
We try to do the best within the given time.
A kid should be with his mother, everybody knows that.
What can a father do but babysit sometimes.”

"I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying" by Sting

Fathers and Parental Alienation

Father’s Day is a holiday honoring fathers and paternal figures. It was first recognized in the United States as a national holiday in 1972. Father’s Day can be a source of complicated grief [1], specifically when divorce or separation occurs. Especially as the parenting roles shift and change as a result of the murky circumstances divorce creates.

Sadly, in most custody cases, fathers are awarded less parenting time. This has less to do with the law of each individual state and more to do with the judges who try divorce cases [2]. For legal purposes, mothers are typically considered the primary caretaker of a child, and recent statistics show that mothers gain the role of primary custodian of their child(ren) in approximately 65 percent of custody cases [3]. Even when a 50/50 custody schedule is granted, both parents have significantly less time to spend with their child or children.

Grief is an aspect of divorce that needs to be addressed and is especially hard to grapple with when a father is unable to see or be with his children, especially on a day when the role of a father is honored. When a loving father is punished and denied being with his children out of angst and a need for control by the other parent, there are other emotional and power moves happening which leave the father left with a grave sense of loss.

Source: Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke/Pixabay
Source: Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke/Pixabay

This is what may be happening to that father:

Parental alienation. [4]

Strategic in nature, the main goal is to create and foster a rejection by a child(ren) toward the other parent. It is done by telling lies or false stories, carefully manipulating the point of view the child has toward the father. The steps taken to reach this goal can be malicious at times. Whether or not alienation is done consciously differs in each situation; however, there is a significant impact on the family system, particularly in the parent-child bond of the parent most affected by the alienation.

Plenty of fathers want involvement in their child’s life—they were intentional in parenting pre-separation and have sadly had their parenting time reduced due to changing relationship circumstances.

How parental alienation impacts fathers:

  • Strained relationship with the child: The alienating parent may employ various tactics to undermine the father’s authority, credibility, and bond with the child. Limiting contact and sharing negative narratives may cause the child to internalize these messages and develop resentment or hostility towards their father. This makes it challenging to maintain a healthy relationship.
  • Emotional and psychological distress: The loss of a meaningful relationship with their child can result in depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and a sense of profound loss.
  • Legal and financial implications: Custody battles, court hearings, and hiring legal representation can place financial burdens on fathers, in addition to child support payments.
  • Isolation and stigma: Societal norms and stereotypes often portray fathers as less nurturing or involved in their children’s lives compared to mothers. Consequently, they may encounter skepticism, disbelief, or dismissive attitudes when seeking support or understanding. This lack of recognition and empathy can exacerbate their isolation and make it harder for them to find resources and assistance.
  • Long-term impact on father-child relationship: When alienation occurs during the formative years of a child’s development, it can shape their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors toward their fathers even as they grow older. Rebuilding trust and repairing the relationship becomes increasingly challenging as the child becomes more influenced by the alienating parent’s narratives.

Relationship Between Parental Alienation and Grief:

  • Loss or significant change in the parent-child relationship: This loss can trigger a grieving process that’s difficult to comprehend due to its complicated nature. The parent on the receiving end of alienation may experience deep sadness and longing for the connection they once had with their child. They may mourn missed milestones and the absence of a consistent relationship.
  • Denial and disbelief: The targeted parent may struggle to accept that their relationship with their child has had to change. This denial can contribute to feelings of confusion, frustration, and ongoing grief.
  • Grief: The alienated parent may go through a range of emotions as they grapple with the effects of parental alienation. The grieving process will not follow a linear path, and individuals may move back and forth between different feelings and experiences of the grief. Navigating and identifying the complex emotions associated with parental alienation is difficult.
  • Complicated grief: In a culture that witnesses parents separating and making custody arrangements frequently, we may be desensitized to the impact that a change in parenting roles has on fathers. This complicated grief can occur when the loss experienced by an individual is unclear or uncertain. Additionally, this feeling of loss is ongoing. There may be limited validation or acknowledgment of the pain experienced.

Moving Through Grief Associated With Parental Alienation

Parental alienation of fathers is a complex issue, and not all strained father-child relationships can be attributed to parental alienation. Each family has a unique set of circumstances: The impact on fathers may vary depending on numerous factors. The severity and duration of alienation, the child’s age and resilience, and the support network available to the father all play integral roles in determining how to best cope with the alienation that occurs.

"The greatest mark of a father is how he treats his children when no one is looking." — Dan Pearce

Learning how to cope is essential for the targeted parent’s well-being. Support from understanding friends, family, or professionals is crucial, as is seeking ways to engage in self-care practices.

Parental alienation can generate profound grief-like experiences, despite not involving an actual death. In the case of parental alienation, there is still the possibility of rebuilding and repairing the parent-child relationship, although it may require significant effort, time, and external support.






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