• Jake W. Purdy, PMP, CDC®

Coping with Alienation: Dos and Don'ts

When a family unit breaks down, the parents have a lot to consider when choosing a parenting plan. Households go through major transitions when the family goes from one home to two and it takes time for everyone to adjust to the new dynamic. Re-establishing routines and responsibilities takes effort and a partnership between the parents, when possible. Whether they choose to mediate, collaborate or litigate, parents will eventually have a schedule and decision-making guidelines for the children, which *hopefully* is in the best interest of the little ones. Ensuring that parenting times are honoured means that parents have an obligation to drop the children off when they are supposed to; even in cases where the children are indicating they do not want to see the other parent (unless there is a genuine concern for safety - not a made up story that is designed to gain some edge on their position to paint the other parent as something they are not).

Despite a signed agreement or court orders, some parents are blinded by emotions and use the children as pawns. Some choose to withhold children, or sabotage the other's parenting time by not facilitating mobility of the children between homes. Oftentimes, this happens because the non-compliant parent is upset at the other parent and takes the unilateral decision to punish the other by withholding access. Sadly, the children are the ones who suffer the most: confusion, frustration, sadness and anger are some of the feelings they experience and these can have serious implications in their development. Additionally, the alienated parent feels powerless and the “withholder” may bury their chances of custody or decision-making if they continue to break access provisions.

The fog of divorce can lead to rash decisions regarding the children, but withholding access is always a BAD CALL. Not only is morally wrong, but in some case it can illegal if children's rights are being denied. However, if you are feeling alienated here's a few ideas that might help you stay grounded and cope with the pain in a healthy way:

Photo by Everste via Istock

Make Videos

If you are unable to contact your children for long periods time, you will no doubt experience anger, sadness, anxiety or depression. The pain you experience when you are unable to speak to or have contact with your children is real. For example. if you can't wish them a happy birthday, you can record a short video or sing them a song. During these times, remember that despite the other parent’s best effort to turn the children against you, they love you. Record yourself every time you miss them and document your love for them, so they can one day see how important they are to you. Just keep it short, positive and focused on them: never speak ill of the other parent or make you children feel guilty for not being there (it is not their fault).

Write Letters

If videos are not your thing, you can write them letters or emails: you can create a free Gmail account for them, so they can see them when they have access to the internet, or save hand-written notes, drawings or things that made you think of them in a box. Do not include any details that make their other parent look bad. The point is not to go to their low and play in the trenches. Be mindful of their age, focus on your feelings towards them and remind them of all the fun you've had together and dream about the good times to come. Like journaling, this is practice will also be therapeutic for you and will show your children that you never stopped thinking about them (to learn more about bad-mouthing, see this article from Psychology Today).

Do not go to the other residence

If you have not seen your children for an extending period of time, it might be tempting to take a drive and let them know you are thinking of them. But imagine the worst case scenario here. In all likelihood, a knock at the door is exactly what the other person is waiting for and this will lead to drama and may even involve a call to the police if you show up and are triggered. Times are dark. The pain is real. Sit with that pain, like a lion and when you are ready find ways to take care of yourself and grow: meditate, exercise, read, take a course. With a growth mindset, you can take advantage of the situation (as hard as it is when you are living it) and take this time to become the best version of yourself.

Involve the experts

If you feel you are struggling with alienation, reach out to a divorce or parenting coach, talk to your family doctor and consider getting counselling from a therapist or a psychologist. If you do not have legal representation, consulting with a lawyer will help you understand your rights and the rights of your children. Do not be afraid or ashamed to reach out for help. Divorce can be a traumatic experience and having a support network will help you transition into a new chapter and better chapter of your life.

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