Coping as an Alienated Parent

Coping as an alienated parent isn't easy. Maintaining your sanity when your child rejects all attempts at contact is tough work, and remaining sane in the insane world of Family Court is difficult. These tips can help parents having to deal with the unreal world of parental alienation.

Learning to live with Parental Alienation

by Mike Jeffries

Move on emotionally. Don't concentrate on the relationship you once had with the alienated child. Get past the anger. Don't beat yourself up. Focus on the positive. Understand how you got here. Get some exercise. Do volunteer work. Write in a journal. And when all else fails, recite the serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I cannot accept
and the wisdom to know the difference.

If you are a targeted parent living through parental alienation you've heard it all. And if you're like most targeted parents, you have just one question for all the professionals and well-meaning people who offer such wonderful advice: "How? And while you're at it, could you send over the instruction booklet?"

Even the best advice for reconnecting with the alienated child - consistent messages of unconditional love and acceptance - is a Catch-22 for you. In a painfully ironic twist, demonstrating your unconditional love and acceptance to your alienated child gives the child the strength he or she needs to maintain his or her inflexible and hurtful position. "I can continue treating you horribly," the child reasons, "because I know you love me and won't hold any of this against me."

Keeping your sanity when a formerly-loved child refuses all invitations, never comes to the phone or answers an email is hard work. Remaining sane in the insane world of Family Court is also hard work - especially if your soon-to-be ex-spouse never passes up an opportunity to file legal motions designed to keep you from your child, break your spirit and bank account. Coping mechanisms can help you survive this two-sided parental alienation attack and the emotional roller-coaster that comes with it.

Figuring out what you can control

The best coping mechanisms for parental alienation are similar to the old joke about the person who goes to the doctor and says, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." The doctor always replied, "So don't do that."

Mom calling on cell phone. Will the call be answered?

For example, it's true that you should continue showing your alienated child you are the same loving parent you were before the alienation. However, there is no law that says you must face your child's painful rejection when you are having a bad day and the rejection will upset you even more.

Instead, call your child after your boss pays you a compliment, a television show makes you laugh, or you finish a long but personally satisfying project. Your child may still hang up on you, but the rejection won't bother you nearly as much if you are already happy about something else.

Changing your outlook

If constantly dwelling on happier days with your alienated child gets you down, turn the mental channel. I know a woman who replaces upsetting thoughts with happy memories of childhood visits to her grandmother's house. Sometimes she chases away negative thoughts by imagining herself at her favorite beach. No matter where your replacement thoughts take you, you can change both your outlook and your entire day with these mini-mental vacations.

In cognitive therapy, "restructuring" involves changing something negative you typically say to yourself with a more positive statement. For example, based on your current situation you may constantly tell yourself, "My child doesn't love me anymore and never wants to see me again." Try altering that statement to, "My child still loves me and wants to see me, but he is painted into a corner and is doing what he thinks he has to do in order to survive an experience that is as painful for him as it is for me."

Some days, no amount of restructuring or thought replacement will help you overcome the pain and heartbreak of parental alienation. You don't have to fight the feeling, but you can make a deal with yourself. Give yourself permission to sing the blues for a set period of time - for example, until dinner. In exchange for acknowledging your need to grieve the loss of a child who was wrongfully stolen away, after the self-imposed deadline do something to make yourself feel better.

Finally, the best coping mechanism for parental alienation is knowledge. Intellectually understanding parental alienation will provide an emotional anchor and help you make good decisions for yourself and your children. And while understanding alienation doesn't take away the sting of being a targeted parent, it does dull the sensation a little bit.

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Published June 15, 2009 | Updated October 13, 2020

Mike Jeffries is the author of A Family's Heartbreak: A Parent's Introduction to Parental Alienation (#Ad - As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

When an alienated parent understands parental alienation, that understanding provides the parent with an emotional anchor. The alienated parent sees that alienation is not about what kind of mother or father you are. Rather, alienation is about your ex-spouse's struggles with unresolved abandonment issues.

To help you further understand parental alienation, read the following articles:

  1. Divorce
  2. Children and Divorce
  3. Coping as an Alienated Parent