It is rare if a divorce leaves both parents with good feelings towards each other. Anger, resentment and sadness are common emotions in the immediate aftermath of the divorce, and may linger for years. How does this impact your children? When should you be concerned?
Children are influenced by their parents. Typically following a divorce, time with the custodial parent increases and time with the non-custodial parent decreases, so it is natural that the custodial parent has more influence and impact on the attitudes and opinions of the child. The child may harbor resentments from the changes made during separation, or from conflicts that occurred with the parents were still married. If either or both parents have moved on with new partners, the range of emotions experienced by their children will vary, but anger, resentment, and disappointment are common reactions.
Events that happen in a family are absorbed by children, for better or worse. Body language, tone of voice and emotions during a phone call or in person interaction are noticed by children, whether they acknowledge it or not. The opinions, moods, and actions of your family and friends towards the ex-spouse will influence the child. The tension between you and your ex negatively impacts children and increases the risk for developing psychological disorders as a result.
Estrangement vs alienation
Sometimes children are estranged from the noncustodial parent, and the reasons for that are entirely reasonable. Perhaps the parent was hostile or violent during the marriage, or has a history of neglect or abuse towards the other parent or the children themselves. Even if abuse was not committed in the presence of children, the after effects are felt by children. The key in such a situation is the reasonableness of the child’s fear or anger. Parents engaging in behavior resulting in estrangement often vehemently deny it, and there is a real risk of alienation being used to manipulate custody proceedings.
If you are having a difficult time with your child post-divorce, introduce yourself and child to therapy.
Be honest with yourself and look at the ways in which your actions during the marriage and the divorce proceedings would have been viewed by your child. Actively work to discuss and repair these emotions with your child in age appropriate ways.
A big red flag for parental alienation are drastic distortions in a child’s beliefs and emotions about a parent in contrast to the past behaviors of that parent towards the child during the marriage and that of other family members and the former spouse. Warning signs may manifest in refusing visitation or unwillingness to attend therapy with the other parent, or openly disowning or rejecting the parent. The rejection by the child commonly includes the parent’s family members, friends, and even former household pets.
If you suspect parental alienation is occurring, don’t disengage. Be consistent in your behavior, eliminate outright battles with the ex and keep track of incidents using notes and calendars for when you decide to seek the assistance of the courts.