While there is some debate over whether parental alienation is truly a psychological condition, no one doubts its harmful effects on parent-child relationships. When one parent attempts to undermine the other by emotionally manipulating children to turn against the other, the situation can spiral out of control if not handled properly.
You love your kids, and don’t want to lose your custody rights. Unfortunately, family courts often have a hard time resolving parental alienation cases. Proving that your ex-spouse is deliberately poisoning your children against you can be an uphill battle.
While you fight on their behalf, here are nine coping strategies to combat the hurtful actions of parental alienation:
1. Acknowledge reality.
While parental alienation can spring from the trauma of a break-up, that isn’t an excuse for your ex-partner’s behavior. Recognize that fights will likely break out, and they could get ugly. Also realize that collaborative parenting may not be an option at this time. Make peace with reality so you can focus on how to handle the situation as it stands right now.
2. Don’t stew on past mistakes or supposed wrongs.
Your ex will likely try to make you feel like everything is your fault. While it takes two to tango, it’s unhelpful to dwell on these feelings. Acknowledge past failings, forgive yourself and consider finding a professional therapist to help you develop healthy responses to these toxic lies.
3. Don’t compete with your ex-partner.
Manipulative parents often attempt to “win” the children’s affection with extravagant gifts, trips to Disneyland and other tangible incentives. They may relax the rules and strive to be seen as the “fun” parent. Resist the urge to respond in kind. Stick to your principles and parenting values. Someone needs to be the adult in this situation.
4. Set clear boundaries and stick to them.
Be upfront with what you will and won’t accommodate. If your ex-spouse asks for a change to your parenting plan again at the last minute, clearly state why you will stick to your original schedule (and stick to it!).
5. Document everything.
Successful cases for sole custody are built on documentation. Save every text message, email, voicemail, tweet, note, letter or Facebook post. Take screenshots of messages if you’re afraid they could disappear from social media. Record the times when you pick up and drop off your kids. Make notes on every interaction with your ex, like what was said, what happened, how things were left, etc.
6. Enlist an ally.
You may want to bring a close friend or relative with you whenever you pick up or drop off the children. This person not only provides moral support, but could serve as a valid witness if necessary.
7. Make a plan.
Developing strategies for dealing with these periodical battles will make all of the difference. You likely already know what your ex will likely bring up to try and manipulate you or the children. Practice your responses to these tactics alone or with a friend so they feel natural.
8. Lean on your support network.
No one should go into battle alone. Surround yourself with professionals who have experience dealing with parental alienation, like a good family therapist and lawyer. It might help to join a parental alienation support group (yes, they exist!), either in your community or online.
9. Develop self-care routines.
Finally, along with everything else, practicing self-care will help you get through this ordeal. Limit your inner critic, practice forgiveness for minor mistakes, take a break once in awhile and don’t apologize for occasionally seeking “me” time. With time and support, you and your children could come through this situation stronger than ever.