How Alienating Your Co-Parent Could Harm Your Child
How Alienating Your Co-Parent Could Harm Your Child. Co-parenting can be a huge challenge, especially when one or more of the parents is engaged in child manipulation and parent alienation. It is one of the most common issues blended families and single parents face–but almost no one talks about it. The divorce decree may outline the schedule for co-parenting, but nobody gives you a handbook on what to do when one (or both) parent is trying to torpedo the other parent’s relationship with the children. While we don’t have all the answers, we want to answer some common questions and offer some suggestions that might help you navigate these troubled waters.
What are child manipulation and parent alienation?
We need to start with a working definition. What are child manipulation and parent alienation? A very simplified answer is this: One parent’s effort to manipulate their child’s emotions and behavior create distance between that child and the other parent (and their family). It happens when a parent (the alienating parent) tries to control a child’s thoughts and feelings about their ex-spouse (the target parent) to create loyalty. It’s as if the alienating parent thinks a child’s love is limited and loving the target parent means there’s less love for them. The result is a child who is caught in the middle.
How Alienating Your Co-Parent Could Harm Your Child
Oftentimes, a parent doesn’t even know they’re doing it. How Alienating Your Co-Parent Could Harm Your Child. If you ask most parents if they are willingly trying to control their child’s emotions, they’d say no, absolutely not! But the manipulation and control can be so subtle and camouflaged that an alienating parent might not even see it.
Now, we’re not talking about protecting a child from an unsafe, abusive situation. We always want children to be safe emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Rather, child manipulation and parent alienation are like a human tug-of-war with the child as the rope.
At its heart, child manipulation and parent alienation come from a place of woundedness and pain. Divorce is messy. It brings out thoughts, feelings, and actions that you thought would never come from you. How Alienating Your Co-Parent Could Harm Your Child. Fear, uncertainty, insecurity, rejection, shame, and anger can fuel a desire to get back at your co-parent, using the child as a pawn in the middle.
What are some examples of child manipulation and parent alienation?
Providing some examples of child manipulation and parent alienation might help us recognize it better:
“Your mom is too hard on you.”
“Your dad has a bad temper. I’m worried he will lose it and hit you.”
“Your mom’s job is such a joke. No wonder I have to pay a lot of child support.”
“Did Grandpa Jones tell inappropriate jokes again at the party?”
You can also speak poorly about your ex-spouse without even saying a word. Rolling your eyes. How Alienating Your Co-Parent Could. Harm Your Child That deep, heavy sigh. Body language. Not responding when your children tell you they had a good time at your ex’s house. Excluding your ex from celebratory moments like a great grade or a goal in soccer. All of this can subtly speak to your children and unintentionally (or intentionally!) send a negative message about your co-parent.
What do child manipulation and parent alienation do to children?
Raising children on an average day is an adventure. Statistics indicate an increase in mental health challenges for children and teens in recent years, including anxiety, depression, and behavior disorders. Adding child manipulation and parent alienation into the mix only hinders a child’s mental health even more. How Alienating Your Co-Parent Could Harm Your Child. They often feel confused, conflicted, scared, and guilty. They may also become angry at the alienating parent for trying to break up their relationship with the target parent. If left unchecked, these emotions will grow into unforgiveness and bitterness. No parent wants to leave that kind of legacy for their children.
In addition, when you engage in child manipulation and parent alienation, you are denying your children another avenue of support. You are cutting off a source of encouragement, love, compassion, empathy, and understanding that your children need. Not only that, but you are depriving your children of family relationships (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) that might make a huge, positive impact on your children’s lives for the rest of their lives.
How do I deal with child manipulation and parent alienation?
Understanding child manipulation and parent alienation and knowing how to spot it are great first steps in dealing with it. Here are some suggestions for working through it:
- Pray. First and foremost, child manipulation and parent alienation come from the enemy. They are tools the devil uses to sow deep-seated seeds of discord, bitterness, and dysfunction. We encourage you to pray against the enemy. Jesus has already won the victory over sin and Satan, so the devil holds no power over you, your blended family, or your children.
In addition, pray for your ex-spouse. Prayer has a way of softening your heart and making it more malleable in God’s hands. When you surrender to Him, He can do amazing things in your relationship with your ex and in your blended family.
- Second, evaluate your own actions. When it comes to child manipulation and parent alienation, it can be super easy to point the finger at the other parent. Maybe you have thrown a few punches yourself. As you are praying (see above), ask God to reveal any ways in which you have disparaged your ex or tried to manipulate your child, Ask Him to lead you to a better way (Psalm 139:24) of co-parenting. The Holy Spirit will show you!
- Third, pursue forgiveness. If you are the parent of the attack, acknowledge your actions, repent from them, and seek God’s forgiveness. Then, seek your ex’s forgiveness. If you are the target parent, you have two choices: you can forgive (yes, it is a process, and yes it takes time) or you can allow unforgiveness to take root in your heart. When left alone to grow, unforgiveness will crowd out every positive emotion and experience you have. You will be a much better parent (and a much more joyful person) when you choose the path of forgiveness.
- In addition, you may need to seek professional help. We think therapy is a good idea when you are in the mess of a divorce and co-parenting. It is helpful to talk to someone (neutral) who can help you process the experiences surrounding the divorce and help you pursue healing. It could help you become a better co-parent, too.
Seeking professional guidance is especially true if your ex-spouse shows behaviors consistent with a narcissistic personality disorder. People with this diagnosis exhibit behaviors that will be difficult to navigate without the help of someone trained in dealing with them. Logical, thoughtful conversation cannot take place with a narcissist because their perspective and thoughts are skewed, and they cannot develop healthy relationships.
- Lastly, be the voice of goodness and reason. Research shows that children of divorce will thrive better if the parents speak well of each other. Even if you have to lay down your pride, try to speak words of encouragement and support. You want to be the kind of person who shows your children that even in times of conflict, you can still find a healthy path forward. Choosing to avenge or attack your ex only puts you on a hamster wheel of negative behavior that is exhausting, draining, and fruitless. Being kind and good in your speech and actions speaks more loudly than anything bitterness could produce.
We understand that turning the tide of parent alienation and child manipulation takes time. Nor is it easy, especially when you are the target parent being attacked by your ex. However, nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). When you surrender to Him–when you give Him your heart, your emotions, your desires, and your pain–He can transform them into a powerful story of redemption and restoration—not only for you but also for your blended family.
Scott and Vanessa Martindale
Founders of Blended Kingdom Families