What is Parental Alienation? – A Deep Dive into Complex Family Relationships

What is Parental Alienation? – A Deep Dive into Complex Family Relationships
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Dr Amy J.L. Baker
Dr Amy J.L. Baker
Parental Alienation Researcher, Expert, Author, Coach

Join us as we speak to Dr Amy J.L. Baker, international expert in parental alienation and parent-child relationships, as we delve into the world of parental alienation. In this insightful interview, Amy uncovers everything you need to know about parental alienation and the importance of maintaining a loving relationship, despite the hatred from the alienated child.

Discover what parental alienation really means, how it is manifested, why it occurs and practical advice to help you cope if you find yourself victim of parental alienation.

Read on for the full transcript of our video, “What is Parental Alienation?”


Hi Dr Amy um, Dr Amy J.L. Baker that’s your website so if anybody wants to try and find you they will, they will be able to get you on that website but I’ll repeat it again at some point so that those who might have missed it will get it. So thank you so much for agreeing to, uh interview request for The Divorce Magazine which is if anybody doesn’t know who’s listening The Divorce Magazine is an online magazine in the UK, that covers all matters divorce, um from children, families, parents, finances, mortgages, pensions, all kinds of issues that um, that come with divorce and we only ever have experts and professionals in divorce, who we feature their content in terms of articles, interviews like in this, this um instance where we have Amy.

So Amy I’ll, I’ll introduce you if I miss anything just let me know okay? All right, so I went on your website although I mean I knew about you way before but today I went on your website, and it started off by saying that you’re are “nationally recognised” and I thought nationally? I think internationally because I’m in London and I can’t be the only one in London who knows about you, so I will introduce you by saying you’re an internationally recognised expert in parental alienation, um in parent-child relationships, and in children of divorce and those who have experienced emotional abuse as children, uh or in childhood.

And Amy is also the author of 10 books, um and also you have 120 academic papers published which is quite impressive. I’m yet to do my first one so you know that’s, that’s quite impressive and all this is to do with um the wellbeing of children, um so yeah so that’s, that’s really quite an extensive work piece of not piece, pieces of work that you have done over the years um. I also saw on your website that you do offer coaching and your coaching is very solution based / focused and goal-oriented um, to parents assuming parents who are experiencing or who have experienced parental alienation.

Have I missed out anything Amy? That’s all the good stuff. Okay, alright and just again Amy’s website is amyjlbaker.com.

How did you get into the world of parental alienation?

So before we get into the whole world of Parental Alienation, what brought you to the world of parental alienation? How did you get there?

It’s really just another facet of what I’m interested in which is distorted parent child relationships and I’ve looked at that from many different perspectives. And, I didn’t really anticipate when I did my first book, so I started that research in 2005 for the first book which came out in 2007, I didn’t really realise how it was going to take over my life, it was just another piece of work that I did but I went to I, it, you know the work was sort of big enough that it turned into a book and then I went to my first book talk, and, people were like clutching my book. And one woman came up to me and said something like you know, “page 153 saved my life”. It was so touching and you know as a researcher most of the time you do a study, you write it up, it ends up in a journal other researchers if you’re lucky are reading it and building on it but this, work that I’ve done has a, consumer based sort of people hungry to learn more targeted parents are so, um, dedicated to educating themselves and understanding what’s happening. And so, they sort of in a way demanded it but in a good sense that I continue to do this work.

So I felt like I’m, you know every time I give a talk, a book talk or a workshop or whatever people come up to me “well have you looked at this”, “have you looked at that” and so it’s sort of one thing just kind of builds on another so, I didn’t have a particular reason why I got into it, but then once I did I just sort of stayed in this world and spend about half my time every week, thinking about and working on parental alienation in one way or another. Yeah, yeah, and you’re right actually from my experience of working with parents who are experiencing parental alienation, the need to know more and the need to educate themselves is actually quite strong I had not put that link together but yeah.

What is parental alienation?

So what is parental alienation? Well, the sort of a working definition is that it’s a family dynamic in which one parent fosters in the child an unjustified rejection of, of the other parent so the premise, built into that definition is that, some kids reject a parent, and when they do, it could be alienation that they’ve been kind of put up to it by the other parent but it doesn’t have to be.

It could be that the parent they’re rejecting, is so suboptimal or outright abusive, or neglectful that the child has a legitimate reason to reject that parent and that’s what we call ‘estrangement’. So we reserve the term ‘alienation’ for when the child’s been manipulated and to be clear, the parent engaging in the manipulation doesn’t have to be doing it consciously. Right, they so it doesn’t have to be “I’m going to turn the children against you” it just could be they’re engaging in these behaviours that, foster and the child the false belief, that the other parent is unsafe, unloving, and unavailable.

How can you tell when it’s parental alienation? How does it manifest itself?

Right, okay and so you’ve talked about estrangement, you’ve talked about parental alienation, and I don’t want to go into what the big main difference is um, but I’m just thinking how can you tell when it’s parental alienation? How does it manifest itself? So that’s a great question because, um, it is really important to get that right because the, the interventions, the court interventions, the mental health interventions would be very different.

If the child’s rejecting a parent who beat them, or abandoned them, or molested them, we would hold the rejected parent to a very high standard before they could have access to their child again and the treatment would involve that parent sort of atoning for their bad behaviour and helping the child know that it’s not their fault Etc. But when it’s alienation, the treatment is very different it’s really about correcting the child’s distortions. Like you would perceive that parent as unsafe, unloving, and unavailable when they’re actually not. So it is very, very important to get it right, is it alienation or is it estrangement.

And because that’s so important we put a lot of thought into this in the field and we’ve created, what used to be called the Five Factor Model but for a couple of reasons we’re now calling it “The Baker Model” and according, for me, uh, The Baker Model um, specifies that five things need to be present in order to say that a child who’s rejecting a parent is alienated, as opposed to estranged. Right. So the five things are:

The first factor and the, The Baker Model which used to be called Five Factor Model I’m going to call them factors, the first factor is that there is actually a breach in the relationship. So you’re not even going to wonder is it alienation or estrangement unless there’s a breach in the relationship and the child is very disaffected from a parent. That’s, pretty much the one factor that everybody agrees on. The favoured parent and the rejected parent both agree yep there’s a problem here this kid is very hurt, angry, rejecting, and distant from one parent.

The second factor, is that there was a prior positive relationship between the child and the parent whom the child is now rejecting. That means that their normative parenting flaws, you know, are not so well, the parenting flaws are not so egregious that they would cause a child to reject them. they’re just a regular parent who’s put in their time, and love, and affection into the relationship, there was a solid foundation at some point. And this prevents people, I’ve had actually cases where somebody was gone for like 10 years and then they come back and the child rejects them, and it’s like, no that’s not necessarily alienation like you abandon your child, you haven’t been there you haven’t, you didn’t have a relationship, so you can’t claim it’s alienation there has to have been a relationship that was disrupted to say that it’s alienation.

Factor three is that the rejected parent has not abused or neglected the child, so absence of abuse or neglect. It’s possible you could have been a pretty good parent and then you engaged in some kind of abuse and now your child’s rejecting you, that would rule out alienation. So to be clear, if there’s evidence of abuse, it cannot be alienation. Just we never want to say that an abused child is an alienated child.

Factor four, is evidence not supposition, not guessing, not inference, evidence that the favoured parent has engaged in multiple, no specific number, multiple, of the 17 Primary Parental Alienation Strategies. These are the behaviours that research shows can induce in a child the false belief, that, a parent is unsafe, unloving, and unavailable when that is not the case.

And then the final factor is that the child is exhibiting the “8 Behavioural Manifestations of Alienation” and these, I’m, I could go into them if you want but they’re also readily available in line for anybody who just Googles “The 8 Behavioural Manifestations of Alienation”. And it’s not, rejecting the parent because that’s already embedded in the model, eight other behaviours, and the interesting thing about those behaviours is, we now have research that demonstrates that even kids who have been abused, severely, physically, abused by a parent do not exhibit these eight behaviours towards that abusive parent. These behaviours are really unique and specific to alienated kids.

Can you give us just, if not eight of them just, which ones you would um, just any of them the a, um, well the campaign of denigration that’s the first one, and I have to say the names are somewhat confusing, or not necessarily as clear like ‘what’s the campaign of denigration?’ but what it basically means is that the child is over the top negative, towards the rejected parent. Gleefully telling everybody that’s the campaign part, “my mother’s a whore”, “my father’s a monster”, just like, absolutely willing to announce to the world, um, how horrible and disgusting. And this is very different than abuse kids, who it really takes them a long time to even admit that a parent’s abusive and they’re still protective of that parent and they, generally feel like it’s their fault that the parent abused them so they’re not so happy to let other people know that they’ve been abused.

But also within the campaign of denigration, involves, denying any past positive relationship. So if you take a kid who’s actually been abused and you say “tell me something fun you did with mom, when you were younger” the kid can readily, think of fun things but alienated kids, whose parent didn’t actually even abuse them, will say “I can’t think of anything good that parent did, nothing comes to mind” and even if you, this is true if you show them a picture, of themselves looking like they’re having a good time they will say either “that’s not me”, or “well I was only smiling because my father said he would beat me up if I, you know if I didn’t smile for the camera” so it’s like again abused kids can say “yeah, you know before Mom you know, went on crack” or “before dad started doing this” or this they were pretty good and we did have fun times, only alienated kids will say nothing good about that parent.

So that’s just one, example of the 8 Behavioural Manifestation. Yeah, so they will deny any, any have happy memories and I’m assuming that the, abused child might also, the difference might be that they might be holding on to those good memories, somewhere as opposed to denying them and forgetting about them. I did a, one of my research studies was actually, um, working with a group of kids who were alienated versus kids just in a regular divorce situation and we gave them a paper and pencil measure they were, teenagers, and you know tell me one good memory you had of each parent duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, and not only did the alienated kids say like “I don’t have any good memories” but they would literally write in caps like “nothing” with 13 exclamation points I mean they are so, focussed on, making sure that everybody knows just how much they do not like that parent.

Does the child truly believe it or are they supporting the alienating parent?

That’s a lot and, and I’m sitting here thinking to myself and, you, you probably will know this when they’re doing that do they, actually really truly believe it or are they doing it because they’re just supporting the alienating parent, even when they’re absent, do they actually genuinely believe this?

Yeah, so, that’s particularly relevant for one of the 8 Behavioural Manifestations it’s called ‘absence of guilt’, and what that means is, that they don’t seem to feel badly, when they hurt the targeted parent. And, one of my little piffy, whatever, sayings is “alienation is where one parent gives the child permission to break the other parent’s heart.” Because that is you know one way to think about it is that these kids really treat their parent very, very, very badly you know “you can’t come to my, you know sweet 16 party” or “I don’t want you walking me down the aisle”, or “don’t show up for this”, or “I never loved you.”

I actually saw a video once, of an alienated kid, I guess the, for whatever reason the dad was filming this, and she said “you know Dad it’s like this. If I had a watch, and it got to be an old watch and it broke I would just throw it in the garbage. That’s how I feel about you. If you died I would just say oh well who cares.” These kids can be very, very, very callous, and when Richard Gardner coined the term absence of guilt, at the time, I think many of us assumed, that the kids actually felt no guilt while they were behaving this way. But then, in 2007, or five when I was doing the research but the first book came out in 2007, it involved interviewing adults who went through this as kids. And a lot of them talked about how guilty they felt. At the time, and later when they realised what they had done. And that’s one of the reasons that alienation is so damaging, for the child is on some level they know they are breaking their parent’s heart, they know they are being callous, and they feel very ashamed and guilty and that’s the kind of thing that stays with them as they grow up.

So to answer that was a very long way of saying, I believe that many of them feel guilty in the moment, I can’t say every single one, but the presentation is a callous presentation. “I don’t care”, “I don’t have to say thank you to this gift that you’re giving me because you’re only giving it to me to look good for the judge”, so their behaviour is very callous. But inside, I believe that many of them feel very badly about what they’re doing.

Yeah. What, what you’re speaking I’m just thinking what a difficult world to live in as a young child in this world where everything is being, turned upside down and you have no power whatsoever to restore it, to, or maybe even recognition of what is going on, um, within their inner world and their emotional world and you know, very difficult.

Does parental alienation often get physical?

I remember with working with the first, when we, before we started recording I was telling you when I first, learned about parenting alienation and it was a dad who had come to me um, who was a separated dad and, he was becoming a little bit, what he was getting worried that his daughter was now coming home, to him on the weekends or every other weekend, and um, first it was verbal, you know, “go away”, “I hate you”, but then it started escalating to pushing, to hitting, to scratching, to biting and he could not understand and it happened so fast, and when he would speak with the mom about this, the mom would say “well you know what can I do?” and when she’d go home and tell, you know he would say a couple of times he said you know “she did, try to push me down the stairs today” and, and the mom would say “well next time push harder.” So that was my first encounter with that does it, I don’t use the word always but, but does it often get physical as well?

The common element is that the kids interact with the targeted parent, in very provocative ways partly, to unconsciously, get that parent to behave badly back so that they have an excuse for cutting off that parent. In other words, what you said a moment ago is very true it’s very, very hard to live in this space of divided loyalties and, on some level it would be easier for the kids, if they’re like and I’m just going to use the example of dad being the alienator but we know it goes either way, you know Dad’s right mom’s a terrible person I’m going to cut her off, and now I know there’s good and there’s bad and I know where my you know, I’m hitching my wagon here, I know where, what’s what.

So, for a kid who again let’s say the dad’s the alienator, come, is still going back and forth when they show up at Mom’s house, they’re going to be very, very, very difficult and rejecting. Partly to trigger that parent to then do something, “fine go live with your dad”, or hitting the kid, or saying something cruel to the child and then the child’s like I’m done and, even though a child doesn’t really want to cut off a parent in the short term, immediate world that they live in, it might be easier for them and so that’s partly why they do it. So a big part of what I do in my coaching, is helping parents, I call it you know “don’t take the bait.” And, I try to teach parents lots, and lots, and lots of ways to navigate when the child is being provocative, so that they don’t become reactive either depressed and give up or, angry and unkind, because either inadvertently reinforce the lie. Right. The lie is again using the example dad’s the alienator, the lie is that Mom is unsafe, unloving, unavailable. So the kid shows up is uncooperative, or unpleasant in some way, and then if Mom behaves in a way that’s unkind, or rejecting the kid says, “oh Dad’s right”. We go, yeah, right.

What is Loyalty Conflict?

And you spoke about loyalty, and loyalty conflicts and, in your, in your book there’s some where you I think it was on, page 100 where you, I’ll just read it to you um, where you say “inside every alienated child is a child who feels rejected. This is an essential insight. Whenever your child who’s caught up in a loyalty conflict, cruelly rejects you, know that it’s actually feeling rejected by you.” Is that, in essence what loyalty conflict is? It’s in essence what alienation is. Loyalty conflict is, I don’t have a specific technical definition but it’s sort of, it could be coming from within the child. Whereas alienation is being induced by the, by a parent. Yeah.

In other words if you had two best friends who hated each other, you might feel a loyalty conflict, even if neither of them is egging you on to say “oh you should ditch that other friend” right? So loyalty, good example actually, yeah, sure we can all relate to that so loyalty conflict is more internal, and kids do feel it you know, um, that’s sort of the, sort of the breeding ground if you will of the alienation because it’s hard to be in a loyalty conflict, so one parent can scoop the child up and keep them all for themselves, you know, in a way that as I said earlier it can be relief to the child. In the long run it’s not good for kids, we, it’d be better to help them manage the loyalty conflict, manage the alienation, and obviously to get parents to stop engaging in alienation.

My focus, because this is just what um, I have access to I don’t have access to,you know favoured parents they’re not coming to me saying “teach me how not to be an alienator”, I have the targeted parents coming to me saying to me “how to deal with my child when my child accuses me of something I didn’t do”, or “teach me what to do when my child is unpleasant with me and I just don’t know what to do”, so that’s really where my heart is right now. Yeah, yeah, and you’re, and you’re right it’s, it’s exactly what I see in my own practice where, it’s usually the targeted parent who sits there and I think to myself oh my God I wish it were the other parent who was here but you know you rarely, oh no there’s one that I’m seeing at the moment, but that’s because of the place that I work with the organisation that I work with so, I have to see both parents so she she’s kind of coming in.

What would you say to the parent who is the one sending the poisonous messages?

So you mentioned already about um, the messages and denigration of the other parents so what would you say to a parent who’s the one who where they know that their poisonous messages being sent, and the child is reacting to? So what would you do when your ex is sending poisonous messages? I mean it’s like you know because I actually, my latest book is called “Parenting Under Fire” right, and the first third of the book is, that’s what it is. Is um, how do you interact with a child who’s being provocative, who’s being basically convinced that you don’t love them or that you’re are not safe?

And I’ll just talk high level for a moment the way that I think about it, is, turning up the volume on the positive, parts of the relationship or otherwise called “enhancing the attachment” and that is something that a lot of parents don’t do you know there’s some interesting research, like especially with much younger kids that like with a toddler, a parent gives several hundred commands a day. “Don’t do this”, “don’t do that”, “hold my hand”, “don’t spill your milk”, you know “now we’re going to the playground”, “put on your coat.” It’s just command, command, command, command, command. And so part of what I think is important for parents who are dealing with this, is to make sure, that they are infusing the relationship with a feeling of love and safety and belonging, for the child.

And, it’s not as simple as saying “I’m a safe parent.” I mean I wish it were, but it’s not, it’s about being safe, loving, and available and I’ll just give you one example because it’s sort of my, one of my favourite ones. How you say “yes” or how you say “no” to your child matters and this is something that a lot of people just don’t think about that much like if your child says to you “can I have ice cream for breakfast?” Most likely a parent would say, even forgetting about alienation like “what are you talking about, we don’t need ice cream for breakfast” and targeted parent might say “who told you to ask me did your mother?” Let’s say it’s the dad, “did your mother put you up to this?” Right, “do you get to eat ice cream at the other parents house?” Like they might, start trying to figure out is this alienation going on? Why is my kid, asking for something? Where now I’m going to have to say no.

What I work on with my clients is, to think about how they say no, not just saying no. So for example, I teach them this skill called “joining the wish.” So instead of saying “ice cream isn’t healthy why would you have”, you know all that negativity, right, which makes a child feel badly about themselves, “why would you ask rice cream for breakfast?” You’re basically saying “you stupid idiot” right, or “you know we don’t eat ice cream for breakfast”, now you’re calling your child like a liar. So instead you say “oh man, I wish ice cream were a healthy breakfast choice, you can have that later, now you can choose between pancakes and waffles.” And I don’t care what it is “Dad give me a million bucks”, “I wish I had a million bucks to give you, what would you do with it? Tell me how you would spend it?”

Likewise, even saying yes, it’s how you say yes that matters, so imagine you have a teenager who says, you know “can I have 20 bucks to go to the mall?” You could literally take a $20 bill and throw it at them and say “here take your stupid money.” They’re getting the money, but it’s you know, ruined basically with the negativity or you could say “you know what, yes, I have $20 extra I’d love to give it to you, I hope you have a blast, here it is.” So how we do things matters I think more than people, parents kind of realise.

And then the third example is, if your, let’s say, it’s 11 o’ at night your kids’ in bed, you’re in bed, ready for bed and your kids says “oh my God Mom I forgot I have to bring cupcakes to school tomorrow” and, you know the supermarket’s closing we have to go now right now. I’m not saying you have to do it, and that’s a different calculation – are you going to do it or are you going to teach your child a lesson and responsibility? That’s for you to figure out depending on, you know is this the first time this has happened or the 10th time that’s happened but let’s say you’re going to do it. If you’re going to do it, do it with love. Do not lecture your child about how irresponsible they are, how inconvenient it is, you know rolling your eyes and huffing and puffing, “let’s just get this done”, “I can’t believe you forgot again”, because at the end of that little trip to the supermarket, yeah, you might think like wow what a hero I am I took my child to the store and I didn’t have to, but all the child’s gonna think is yeah, “Dad’s right, mom’s not very nice”.

Yeah. What I teach parents is, if you do it, do it with love. And the next day you can say to your child “you know, that wasn’t so convenient, to have to go to the store at 11 o’clock at night. What could we do so that doesn’t happen again?” And so the things to notice is there’s no shaming, no blaming, not like you were bad, you were wrong, it’s that wasn’t convenient, so you’re talking for yourself, I didn’t love having to get dressed after I was in my pyjamas, and then you’re engaging in mutual problem solving, what could we do, so that doesn’t happen again? And maybe you and the kid will come up with a really cool solution, like when you pick the child up from school every day, before you drive home, you say “anything you need?” Or maybe there’s a Post-It note on the refrigerator, or maybe you decide, this child’s old enough and the two of you agree, that it’s the child’s responsibility, and if they remember before 10 o’clock at night you will take them someplace to get what they need but if it’s after that, you might not feel like it. But the solution, ideally comes from the child.

Yeah, yeah. And then you say to the child “let’s check in, in a couple weeks and see how our solution is working”, because sometimes the first solution works but not always, and you’re teaching your child, respectful communication, mutually respectful problem solving, and your child’s going to feel so much better about the relationship, and that’s really what you want you want to teach your child the values of responsibility, right? You don’t want to be at your child’s mercy like, “it’s 3 in the morning and I want to go get poster board”, you know, you’re not, that’s obviously not ideal for the child, yeah, but more important than teaching the child responsibility, is teaching the child that you, you, love them, and that, you can work out problems in a way that feels good for both of you.

How does the affected parent still act with love, despite all the hatred from the alienated child?

I’m sitting here and I’m thinking to myself how with, with you know listening to some of the parents that I’ve worked with, where they get so affected by what is happening to them where the child is you know is telling them “I hate you”, “go away” you know, just, really going at them bubbly and sometimes you know just trying to get them, locking them in the bathroom when they go in, they try and lock them in, and they laugh and, and everything like that. Um, and they, the feelings they might be carrying with them at that moment where they think that, they feel really angry, rejected, and then having to then respond with love, it might not be that straightforward. So how, how do they, how do they manage all the, I would call them “natural feelings” that would come from the hate that is being shown towards them?

So I, I, guess I’d have two responses to that the first is, the quote you read and I don’t even know which book that was from by the way but inside every alienated child is a child who feels rejected, okay, cool all right I don’t keep track of everything but I, absolutely believe that. Yeah, yeah. It made sense when I read it, yeah. But it is important for the targeted parent, to understand their experience, if you’re a targeted parent your experience is that you are chasing your child, okay, you want more, and your child is rejecting you. But that’s not the child’s experience. The child’s experience is you have fundamentally hurt them in some profound way that they are reacting to.

So the reason that insight’s important is because it could help parents feel more empathic towards their child. Yeah, actually as soon as you said that I felt oh, because I, yeah, when you were describing, it, you know the whole you know scenario earlier on, I was thinking oh my gosh that would be so painful, so painful, so painful, so hurtful, how do how would I manage that? And then when you said that this time I just thought oh, yes I am chasing my child I am trying to I don’t know if it’s reattach, reconnect um, parent them, basically.

But the child’s experience is that you’re rejecting them, so you if you can try to put yourself in the child’s shoes, and feel that empathy, for the child it definitely brings down, the hurt and the anger that you feel. Could you say that to your child, could you say “I think you’re treating me like this because you probably feel like I rejected you some way?” I’m not sure I would put that quite like that but I could say, you know, you, you, know “your behaviour showing me that you’re really not happy with me right now, that you’re pretty, upset, you’re, it seems like you’re hurt and angry and I’d like to understand what that’s about.” Yeah. Rather than “how dare you treat me that way.” Yeah, right. The emphasis is on the compassion for the child. But, I don’t recommend somebody having that conversation without getting, it doesn’t have to be me, but some coaching so they know what to do next.

That’s like opening the door but what do you do when your kid says “yeah you beat me when I was a baby” and the targeted parents says “I did not, who told you that?” Now you you’ve sort of just made another parenting error in my, in my opinion. Yeah. So yeah, yes, you can, you can try to have a conversation with your child about how they’re feeling, but you have to, you have to know how to do that, or else you’re just going to end up in an argument with them. “You did too steal my college money”, “I did not, look on this piece of paper it proves I didn’t – the money’s in the bank” and the kid says “I don’t care what’s on that piece of paper.” You know, “I was told that you stole the money and I believe that” so, it’s, at every step whether it’s the opening “hey I think you’re upset” all the way through. It’s not intuitive, it’s not obvious, some of it’s counter intuitive um, actually the opposite of what you think the, the right thing to do would be you actually need to do, something very different. Yeah. And that’s not to keep plugging my book but that’s really what ‘Parenting Under Fire’ is about. Okay. It’s like most people are okay, if not pretty good, if not even better, than pretty good parents but you, if you’re parenting under fire right, if you’re being attacked, your relationship is being attacked, you need a whole other level of parenting skills. Yeah.

Why do parents alienate their children?

Why do parents alienate? I know you said that sometimes they’re not even, you know aware that they’re doing it but, I’m thinking of all the parents that I’ve worked with and the ones that I’m currently working with, what is it about them, that they feel “I need to tell my child what he did”, I need to, you know, it’s almost like some of them say “I tell my child everything because they need to know everything that happen and what a bad person she is or he is” and so, what is it about that parent that gets them to…

So, I can tell you from the research I’ve done interviewing adults who have lived through this what they say about the parent who did this to them, um, there is no one like typical alienating parent right I mean sometimes they do it because, their whole life is the child and they just don’t want to go from being a full-time parent to a part-time parent. You know, especially for parents who invest a lot of time you know a stay-at-home parent whether it’s the mom or dad both parents do this, but if you are the parent who’s sort of really, really, really, really, invested all this time and you’re used to being with your child all this time, it’s very painful, to then go to, let’s say you know 50/50 or whatever the schedule is, so some people just want their kids, you know that some people are angry, and they feel like you know well “if you don’t want me then you’re rejecting us” because they sort of conflate, you know, the end of the marriage with, you know rejection of the of themselves plus their kids and some people even say “oh daddy doesn’t love us anymore” or “if mommy really loved us she wouldn’t have moved out.” So they’re encouraging the kids to conflate.

There’s just so many, different scenarios you know a, another typical scenario is the parent who gets remarried, and really has this fantasy that their new spouse is “the real parent” and um, have, they have this idea that this is the “real true family” and they really like the other parent is like an, you know an inconvenience, in a way because it for some fantasy bubble about what about, about their family life.

Yeah that’s actually a really good one because I’ve, I’ve experienced that as well with, most of the clients I’ve worked with are dads and where I remember there was actually one mom, who remarried and, you know she actively wanted the dad out of the picture um, and she called me trying to get in, not just trying, to get information around my work but at some point I had to say “I’m not really sure what you’re looking for” um, you know and then she said “well actually to be honest I am the wife, ex-wife of so and so and I just want to know did he attend the classes, did he do this” and I thought wow this was really, another way of going around to say he’s a bad person, he’s a bad dad, um, very active.

And I think something else that I just thought about was just knowing that parental alienation is not, confined to one group of people, so we know it’s not just men, it’s not just women um, we know, it can be the, CEO of a big company, it can be the mother who or the father who’s on benefits with nothing else, so it does, there’s no, same sex couples, it happens in same sex, couples, yeah, it can happen anytime. And sometimes in a weird sense of way it can also happen in intact homes where they’re living together, so it’s not just in, in divorce, um, sometimes people end a marriage because they’re like, you know, I need time alone with my kid and I can never have time alone because the other parents always there undermining me. Sometimes people stay married because they’re like “oh my God if I lived in another home I’d probably never see my kids.” Yeah. So it definitely happens in intact families. Yeah, yeah.

I feel like walking away from my child, how do I create that bond?

So I can see we’ve got like 10 minutes left and I, I want to um ask one question you’ve touched it but I’m sitting and I’m thinking about the parents who might be listening to this or watching this and um, “I’m the alienated parent and I’m like Dr Baker what do I do from here? He just doesn’t want to come to my house anymore, calls me all these names I love him, but I feel like walking away tell me how I can recreate that bond.”

I understand the impulse to walk away and I understand that many targeted parents have people whispering or, whispering in their ears especially their parents who love them most of all, and they’re like “well you know teach him a lesson”, you know I’m just going to use a male child you know, “he needs to learn that he can’t talk to you that way” and um, you know he’ll only, “he’ll come around eventually” you know. I think that it’s very hard to be a, to love somebody who is a targeted parent and see that that child is breaking that parent’s heart and so there’s a lot of, pressure I think sometimes on targeted parents to walk away.

And even therapists sometimes or, you know might tell you know, if you’re a therapist and you have a targeted parent client you want to protect your, client who’s suffering and you might say “maybe you need to step away, write a goodbye letter, take a break.” The problem that I have with all of that, is, I don’t actually think the targeted parent feels better for having done that, and it reinforces for the child that the parent doesn’t care. So, the question I would say that a targeted parent can ask themselves is, what can I do in this moment to counter the lie. The lie is that you’re unsafe, unloving, and unavailable. And it might mean full out, you know trial that you prepare a year for and spend $100,000 on with the top-notch lawyer and you’re totally you’re basically like a paralegal by the time it’s over because you’ve decided, given your circumstances and your energy level that that’s where you’re going to go, you know, guns blazing trying to win a proper solution in court.

For other people given the age of their child, their own, you know financial, and emotional, and energy level situation, it might mean sending a text every day to the child. Yeah, yeah. You have to match the solution to the circumstance, you know if you have a five-year-old who’s refusing to come, and you have money, you some resources, I would not say give up. It’s way too early, the courts are much more likely to want to be helpful with a younger child, and, at least you should know your options. If your kid is 17 and you don’t have money or you’re battling a medical illness yourself, or some, you’re taking care of a dying parent or there’s, whatever you know, just tremendous other stressor in your life, you’re probably not going to go to court it doesn’t make sense. So to me it’s not binary give up, not give up. It’s today, what is my plan, what do I have the time, money, energy for what do I think make sense.

Sadly, many people do not get enough support from their lawyer. Lawyers are very reactive, “oh that parent showed up on your time we’ll do X”, “oh that parent did this bad thing, we’ll do Y.” What I try to do with my clients is here’s five things you could ask for of the court, let’s look at the pros and cons of each of them, and see what makes sense, if any, and then I usually say “did your attorney do this with you?” “No.” It just makes me upset. Now, if the child’s over 18 obviously court, is, off the table, and then the question is how can you, communicate with your child? You know um, either by text or, um, and that’s like the second section of my book ‘Parenting Under Fire’ is all about texting. Why, how, what to do, what to do when your kid responds this way that way, and then the final third of the book is how to write a letter, to an adult alienated child it’s very specific philosophy, it’s probably different than other letters other people have written.

Um, so I think generally there are things to do. Short of devoting your life to trying to maintain your relationship with your child, there’s still things you can do, so you have the satisfaction of knowing you tried, so your child knows that you tried, you can think about it as like you’re leaving a trail of breadcrumbs so they can find their way back to you when they’re ready. Um, I rarely think there’s a, a time when you would say “I’m done.” Whether it’s with a provocative 12 year old, or, you know, 15y old, or 25 year old, I, I rarely recommend that’s it wipe your hands of that person they’re, yeah, better off without them. That’s my, kind of long-winded answer to that.

What must I not do as the affected parent?

Yeah and, and, what should, what shouldn’t I do in terms of um, so my 5-year-old doesn’t want to come, what must, I must, what must I not do? You don’t negotiate with the child, if the child says you know, at whatever age, “I’ll come Thursday if you let me leave Friday.” Let’s say the kid’s supposed to be there Thursday, Friday, Saturday, you never negotiate with the child because then you can’t hold the other parent accountable, right, your legal contract, your parenting plan is with the other parent not with the child, even if the child is 17, the answer is Mom and Dad work on the schedule. So you don’t have to be rude to your child, “you’re just a child, you’re an idiot, you don’t know anything”, you know, but you just don’t negotiate with the child. You always show up for your parenting time, even if the child says “don’t bother showing up Saturday morning, I’m not going to be there”, “well it’s my time to pick you up, I’m gonna be there” and then you document it if the, if you know you don’t get your child, when you’re supposed to, you show up, then you send an email, you know “I was there” and I, you know “nobody seemed to be home” I say you wait 20 minutes you don’t just “oh they’re not there” and you leave, and then you leave.

There was another last um, quote that I had here, where you said “as a co-parent with a toxic ex, you don’t have the luxury of being a mediocre parent, um you need to spend time engaging in meaningful interactions with your child, you need to invest yourself, your time your attention, in the relationship, to cultivate a deep and abiding bond that will be less susceptible to your ex’s interference and attempts to undermine your authority. So really just covering what you said at, some point during the interview, where you said, “you’re chasing after your child”, “you’re looking for your child”, “you’re parenting your child” and “doing whatever it is that you can with your time, at that moment, with your child” um, just making the plans and going, and keep going with them.

The one tweak I would add to that is I don’t actually believe that we should be labelling anybody as toxic I, I did not want to name book that, I know a lot of people like that, but you know that if, let’s say you’re a mom and you’re a target, you believe you’re a targeted parent and you’re reading the book and the kid sees it they’re going to be like, “oh so you think Dad’s toxic?” Like I just don’t think it helps, I, I don’t believe in calling you know children rude, or disrespectful, or calling the other parent, you know narcissist, or toxic, or abusive, is of used now. Yeah narcissist, has become like it’s got its part in the limelight now, so you change the title of your, okay.

You know the publisher really insisted and it’s a very popular book you know I, I stand by the book, I just don’t love the title. It’s a great book, it’s a great book, and just the last chapter where actually chapter, the final section that says final words so I’m just thinking anybody who gets this book, the last section what I liked about this part um, where you say “we encourage you to ponder these questions to find your own truth” and you have all these questions here, um, that when I looked at them I’m thinking to myself this actually makes the parent to be reflective, of what is going on. So you check yourself, as opposed to reacting to, what’s in front of you but how is this, how can I remember that my child is a victim, when she’s treat treating me so badly and causing me so much pain and suffering. You know it’s not them, and if you keep that in mind then you’re like okay, you know this is, not, the way it was supposed to turn out you know. How can I cultivate compassion in both myself and my child, so really getting the parents to look, inwardly um, at themselves as well um, as the situation that presents in front of them.

I had so many questions, and this is such a big topic and um, I’m glad that we’re talking about it, I’m glad it’s being spoken about more, and more, and more, and more, because it does happen, it does exist, it’s painful, it’s disturbing um, there are no winners in the game, you know, short term or long term, and um, I want to say thank you so much. Thank you so much, and um, who you know those who are listening. Amy has got so many books on her website I went there and I saw you’ve got your 10 books, you’ve got your papers there, please visit the website and I’ll tell you what it is in a minute amyjlbaker.com. Everything is on there and the coaching program is on there as well. Thank you Amy, you’re so welcome great conversation, thank you so much.


About Dr Amy J.L. Baker

Dr. Baker is a nationally recognised expert in parental alienation, and parent-child relationships, especially children of divorce, and emotional abuse of children.

She has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Teachers College of Columbia University. She is the author or co-author of 10 books and over 120 academic articles on topics related to children’s wellbeing.

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