Parental polarization is when children are strongly attached to one parent and have a poor relationship with the other one. This is not about a baby clinging to his mother before spending time with his father.
Polarization is when children truly balk at going to visitation and tell their therapist that they only want to be with a certain parent. It goes beyond “dad lets us stay up late and we have so much more fun together than with mum.”
This becomes particularly evident during divorce when visitation is being initiated.
Divorce professionals have the task of determining whether the child is exhibiting polarization vs. parental alienation.
Parental alienation syndrome has several components to it. The first one is that a parent may block or limit access to the other one. They may feel justified by this action because child support is late or nonexistent.
However, this is impeding a child’s relationship with the absent parent and drawing her into a parental battle. A parent may claim that visitation is harming the child or is inconvenient with her schedule. The bottom line is that one parent is portrayed as inferior to the other one.
Another component to parental alienation is that a parent falsely accuses the other one of abuse or at least negligence. This can be intentional or the fact that they have different parenting styles and priorities.
Meeting with a divorce coach can help them be on the same page particularly when no malice is intended. I have seen this in the schools where one will say how sick the child is after returning from the co-parent’s house. They are encouraging children to take their side.
A strong indicator of parental alienation is when the child has had good relationships with both parents before the divorce and has great animosity towards one now. A parent is verbally attacking the other one and the children are caught in the cross fire. The youngsters form an alliance with the attacker.
When children are polarized towards one parent, it has nothing to do with what that parent has said or done regarding the other one.
The children do not suddenly go from being best buddies with a parent to mortal enemies, as can happen with parental alienation. The crux of the matter is, polarization is totally between a child and a parent without inference from anyone else, including the other parent.
When polarization occurs this is a red flag to investigate this situation. Why does the child not want to see the other parent?
- Is there hidden abuse which may even be suppressed?
- Has there been molestation that has not yet been revealed?
- Could it be a safety issue, where a child is afraid of extreme anger or corporal punishment?
- Does the child have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from emotional or financial abuse in the marriage?
Natalie’s children suffered the fall out of emotional and financial abuse in her marriage.
They did not want to see their father during or post-divorce. Their alarmed therapist stated that he had never seen such polarization towards one parent in his whole career. Soon after this, the Interim Child Psychologist contacted Children’s Protective Services for abuse that had just been revealed and then alerted that therapist.
It may be beneficial to educate the parent with an anger management course to keep a scary temper in check.
Parenting classes can teach someone about child development and better communication. If there is substance abuse, then rehab can be provided.
Supervised visitation is a viable solution to help the children feel safe so that a closer relationship can develop. Also an adult is right on the spot to help that parent communicate more effectively or even take a needed time out. Having children feel safe is a prime directive when polarization occurs.
Wendi Schuller is a nurse, hypnotherapist and is certified in Neuro-linguistic Programing (NLP).
Her most recent book is The Global Guide to Divorce and she has over 200 published articles.
She is a guest on radio programs in the US and UK. Her website is globalguidetodivorce.com.