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How Parental Alienation can affect a Child

Although separation and divorce are painful experiences, in an ideal world – particularly when children are involved – the couple remain amicable and are able to put the needs of their offspring first.

Unfortunately what happens in some cases is very far from this ideal!

One Child’s Story

My parents separated when I was 10, and my siblings and I remained in the family home with our mother – as was usual for the times. While the court mandated that my father was to have access every second Saturday, it didn’t really work out that way.

Living with our mother, we continually heard about how our father was bad, evil, didn’t care about us, didn’t provide for, didn’t love us … etc. She poisoned our minds to the point that we resisted any contact with him. I know that as a teenager I would often plead “too much homework” as an excuse to wriggle out of those fortnightly visits with my father.

On the rare occasions that I did see my dad, upon our return mum would question our every movement and conversation. In my head I called it the “Spanish inquisition”!  

Mum succeeded to the point that I always thought when I grew up – and I no longer had to abide by the Saturday access rules – I would be completely estranged from my father. In actual fact, once I was away from my mother’s toxic influence, I came to realise what had been going on and went on to have a positive relationship with my father, which still exists to this very day.

What I now know is that there is a name for this sort of behaviour.

Originally called Parental Alienation Syndrome by psychiatrist Richard Gardner, today it is more commonly referred to in psychology circles as “Hostile Aggressive Parenting”. However it may also be known as “Malicious Mother/Father” (though it is usually the woman), “Parental Estrangement”, or “Family Alienation” syndromes.

In a nutshell, while the child may have had a good relationship with the parent prior to the separation, afterwards the (usually custodial) parent does everything in their power to disrupt and destroy that relationship.

Divorce rates in Australia skyrocketed after the introduction of the “no fault divorce” laws in 1975. My parents split in 1977, so there really wasn’t much knowledge, let alone support, for parents or children caught in this horrible situation.

Fortunately things have changed a lot over the years, and today psychologists, counsellors, social workers, family court lawyers and judges are all familiar with this practice.

Perhaps, if my childhood had occurred 50 years later, my mother would never have been awarded full custody.

While we will never really know, thankfully there is a lot more support today for children and parents affected by parental alienation syndrome and psychological and legal professionals have the experience and knowledge to better protect the victims.

To any parent currently feeling disconnected from their child due to hostile aggressive parenting by their former partner – take heart from my story. Children do eventually grow up and work things out for themselves!

As an adult, it wasn’t my father that I was estranged from. When I finally saw through the web of lies – I cut off contact with the source of that poison. My mother.