Recently, a parent that I know, but have never worked with professionally, sent me a rant about how PAS is very real. She knows that my position is that it is not real, except in VERY extreme circumstances. The only time I will agree that PAS has been used against a parent is when they are not allowed to see their children at all, and the other parent tells the children that their mom/dad can see them anytime they want to, but choose not to. The other parent will often tell the children it is because mom/dad doesn’t love them. In that kind of case, the parent has zero time with the children to demonstrate that what the custodial parent says is not true. In a case like that, I do think alienation occurs. Otherwise, it is used as a court strategy to punish an ex.
Now one might wonder how does a parent have ZERO time with their children? Sadly, it does happen. A Family Court judge can find a parent is “endangering” the children and take away all parenting time. I, personally think that this violates the law. Judges have the option to grant supervised visitation, but sometimes, all parenting time is taken away. Sometimes, a judge will take it away without giving any conditions through which, the parent can get their time restored.
It can also happen when a parent is allowed parenting time per a court order, and the other parent just withholds the children. One might also think, how can that happen? Can’t they just go to court? Well, sometimes court helps, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, a case has been so badly managed from a legal standpoint, whether it be acting pro se (representing yourself), or due to a really lazy or misguided attorney, that the judge has told you both to stay out of their court room.
Anyway, back on topic.
I have known parents with minimal parenting time who experience the horror of having an ex that tells lies about them or badmouth them in front of the children. They are not alienated from their children, no matter how hard the other parent tries to make it happen.
I also know parents who have 50-50 parenting time with their children, and scream alienation when their children start to express any desire to not spend time at their home.
What is the difference? How can one parent, with minimal time not be alienated, while the other parent claims to be alienated? The difference is that the one parent focuses on their children when the children are in their care, and the other parent chooses to focus on the battle during their parent time. The parents I have known, who claim parental alienation, cannot accept responsibility for their situations. They have latched onto blaming the other parent for every single parent-child clash they experience. It wears on the children after a while.
I have worked with many parents over the years, even before I ever thought of doing it professionally. Once my ordeal started in 1998, I reached out to other parents and they also somehow found me., and we would share our experiences of the evils of doing battle in the court setting. I can tell you that no matter how minimal the parenting time allowed to a parent, if they show the children love and a commitment to solid parenting when the children are in their presence, they do not lose their children’s affection. No matter what. Words can never beat deeds. Period. The other parent can bad mouth you until the cows come home. As long as you prove your love with actions, your children will see the truth. The children may be confused as to why their other parent says such crazy things about you, but they will eventually figure it out.
What I have seen across the board from parents who feel “alienated” is that they:
1. Have a drug or alcohol addiction that interferes with their ability to be fully present during parenting time, and they are very disengaged from their children.
2. They discount their children’s feelings about life events. for example, when it comes to a new significant other, they will just spring that relationship on the children, without having any discussion or without preparing the children for this change. I have seen parents move their new boyfriend or girlfriend in and be shocked when their kids come for parenting time and are upset to learn that mom/dad has a stranger living there.
3. They continue to engage in unhealthy relationships in their life and not protect the children from those unhealthy relationships. Some parents are so lonely, with such low self esteem, that they will become involved with the first member of the opposite sex who gives them any attention whatsoever. Many of these partners who are willing to jump into a relationship with someone they barely know have low self esteem, too. They are abusive, often chemically dependent, and will not take long to demonstrate how abusive they are to you, and to your children. Exposing children to that is cruel and will interfere with how your children regard you, ad how willing they will be to spend time at your home.
4. Rather than spend time on new traditions and making their house a home, they spend all of their parenting time complaining or bad mouthing their ex,and the children feel ignored and hurt.
So my point is that the parents who are “alienated” have often done it to themselves.
I know that many people will strongly disagree with my opinion, but it is my opinion. With almost 20 years of seeing these patterns, I have more evidence than there is evidence that there is such a thing as PAS.
As always, I will add the American Psychological Associations stance on PAS. Read about that here.