Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What Does It Mean If A Child Rejects One of the Parents?

Is your child rejecting one parent? In divorce or separation, 10% to 15% of children expressed strong resistance to spending time with one of their parents, and this may be increasing in our society. It may be the father or mother. It may be the parent the child visits, or the parent where the child lives. Is this the result of abuse by the rejecting parent? Or is this the result of alienation by the favored parent? The idea that one parent can alienate a child against the other has been a big controversy in Family Court over the past 20 years, with the conclusion that there are many possible causes for this resistance. Most courts take reports of alienation very seriously and want to know if this is the result of abuse for alienating behavior. Resistance to spending time with the parent is always a serious problem. This needs to be investigated, fully understood, and treated with counseling in many cases. Otherwise, the child’s future relationship may be much more difficult.

Is this the result of abuse? The first concern of the courts is protecting the children. If there are reports of child abuse as the cause of the child alienated behavior, the judge may make a protective order restraining contact with the rejected parent, such as a temporary order for supervised visitation. If you are the rejected parent you may feel that the supervised visitation is unnecessary or insulting. Yet this may be your biggest help, as someone neutral can observe the child’s behavior and your relationship. Often the judge will say that he or she will not make any assumptions and wants more information before understanding the cause.

Is this the result of parental alienation syndrome? It is important to know that the courts across the country have not adopted the idea that there is such a syndrome. A syndrome requires a generally accepted cause-and-effect and there are many possible causes of the chill of child’s alienated behavior, up abuse by parent, alienating behavior by parent, lack of emotional boundaries by rejected parent, lack of emotional boundaries by a favored parent, developmental stage, outside influences, etc. Also, despite alienating behavior by some parents, many children are not resistant to spending time with the other parent. So it is not accepted as a syndrome. However the courts generally recognized that some children are alienated, they just don’t know the reason automatically and often want more information.

What are the signs of an alienated child? Children were not abused, but are alienated have emotionally intense feelings but vague or mirror reasons for them. A child might say, I won’t go to see my father. Yet she might struggle to find a reason he doesn’t help me with my homework. Or he dresses sloppy. Or he just makes me angry all the time. The child might say, I hate my mother yet again the reasons are vague or superficial she is too controlling she doesn’t understand my dad these children complain that they are afraid of the other parent, yet behavior shows just the opposite space–space they feel confident in blaming or rejecting a parent without any fear remorse. Some of them speak negatively of the rejected parent to others, then relaxed when they are with the rejected parent. Others run away, rather than spend time with the rejected parent. All these behaviors are generally different from those of truly abused children, who are often extra careful not to offend an abusive parent, are often hesitant to disclose abuse and often recant even though it’s true.

Why do alienated children feel so strongly?   Alienated children generally show intensely negative emotions and absence of ambivalence. New search on the brain suggests that this may be the result of the unconscious and nonverbal transference of negative emotions from parent child. The parents intense angry outbursts, even if they are rare, intense sadness and intensely negative statements about the other parent may be absorbed unconsciously by the child’s brain, without the child even realizing it. The child then develops intensely negative emotions towards the other parent, or anyone the upset parent dislikes, but doesn’t consciously know why. This may explain the vague or minor reasons given by alienated children for intensely rejecting a good parent. This spilling over of negative emotions from upset parent the child may have begun years before the divorce, so the child is very tuned into the upset parent, and automatically and instantly absorbs their motions and point of view.

Does custody make a difference? If one parent has almost all the parenting time, then the child will not have his or her own experiences with the other parent to know that he or she is not bad. Most states expect children to have substantial time with both parents except in the cases of abuse. Ironically, the amount of time is generally not the biggest factor. The biggest factor is if one parent is constantly spilling over intensely negative emotions to the child about the other parent, while the other parent is following court orders and not addressing these issues at all. For this reason, children can become alienated against either a noncustodial parent or custodial parent. This can be either the father or the mother. It’s like a bad political campaign, with one side campaigning hard and the other side not campaigning at all.

How can you prevent alienation? You might be alienating your child against the other parent or against yourself, without even being conscious of it, especially during a divorce. Here are seven suggestions:

1.    Positive comments: regularly point out positive qualities of the other parent your child

2.    Repairing comments: all parents’ magnetic negative comments about the other parent at times. If you realize you made such a comment, follow up with a repairing comment. I just spoke negatively about your father. I don’t really mean to be so negative. He has many positive qualities and I really value your friendship with him. I’m just upset and my feelings are my responsibility not his and not yours.

3.    Avoid reinforcing negative comments: healthy children say all kinds of things, positive and negative, about their parents, even about abusive parents. If there is abuse, have it investigated by reversals. If not, be careful that you’re not paying undue attention to the negative comments and ignoring their positive comments.

4.    Teach problem-solving strategies: if your child complains about the other parent’s behavior, unless it is abusive, suggest strategies for coping: honey, tell your father something nice before you ask for something difficult. Show your mother the project you did again, she might’ve been busy the first time. If you are upset, maybe you can just go to your room and try not to listen and draw a picture instead.

5.    Avoid excessive intimacy: children naturally become more independent and self aware as they grow up. Be careful not to excessively intimate with your child for the child’s age, as this may increase an unhealthy dependency on you. Examples include having the child regularly sleep with you in your bed beyond infancy, sharing adult information and decisions, and excessive sadness at exchanges or how you miss the child when he or she is at the other parents house.

6.    Avoid excessive comparisons: when you emphasize the skill or characteristic that you have, don’t place it in comparison to weakness of the other parent. You each have different skills and qualities that are important to your child. By comparing yourself positively and the other parent negatively you can inadvertently influence your child. Remember that your child is a combination of both of you, and thinking negatively of one parent to the child may think negatively about half of him or herself.

7.    Get support or counseling for yourself: it is impossible to go through a divorce without getting upset some time. Protect your child from as much as possible by sharing your upset feelings with adult friends and family, away from your child. Get counseling to cope with the stress you are under.

Article Author:  Bill Eddy, JD, LCSW, and Mediator

For more information on 
Divorce Mediation and Collaborative Divorce, 
log onto For more information on healing a broken heart or overcoming grief, log onto


Sunday, June 19, 2011

In-laws, Stepchildren and Other New Marital Delights

It has been said that marriage is the process of finding out what kind of person your mother-in-law would have preferred so this writing is devoted to assist you in handling difficult situations that could arise with relatives around the wedding. 

First and foremost, when dealing with your future in-laws, remember to be polite.  Engage respectfully using please and thank you, even if you are not accustomed to doing so.  Remembering these niceties will help you to score big points with your future in-laws and may also help to smooth away the inevitable bumps in the road as the family constellation changes through the marriage.

In most cases, in-law relationships are more or less harmonious.  However, if you are feeling a little uncomfortable with your prospective in-laws, you might benefit by making a concerted effort to get to know them.  You might find it helpful to invite them to join you one on one in a pleasant activity that will allow for conversation such as going out for coffee together, or shopping.  Cooperating with each other during a constructive activity such as preparing a meal together or doing some house chores together can build a history of positive interpersonal experiences between the two of you that will form the basis of pleasant memories together.  It takes more than time for love and respect to build between a spouse and an in-law.  It takes a collection of positive togetherness experiences. 

If you cannot think of an activity, offer to assist them with a task or project they are working on.  Choose one that will allow you to spend time together and engage in conversation.  If you run out of ideas on what to talk about, you can always ask them questions about themselves.  I can assure you, that most people find talking about themselves an endlessly fascinating topic. 

It can be difficult for parents to let go of their children and see them leave home.  Sometimes, this means that one or both parents have difficulty respecting the boundary of the newly formed bond between a husband and wife to be.  They may interfere in the relationship in a bid to not lose their beloved child to the new spouse.  Their interference may be a bid at attempting to control their own feelings of what they perceive as their child’s abandonment of them.  It is important for the survival of your relationship to draw a boundary around your relationship as a couple and to insist that it be respected. 

If this becomes the case, you will need to speak to your parents.  It is the responsibility of the spouse whose parents are intruding to speak to them.  If it is your parents, put the onus on yourself and not your partner and politely set some limits with them.  Be polite, but firm.  You may also find it helpful to ask them what the situation was like for them when they were married.  In the course of the discussion they may find that their behavior with you relates back to their own marriage experience.  It could be a healing experience for you both. 

Sometimes, difficulties arise from family members due to a mixed faith marriage.  If this happens to you, approach the topic directly with your family.  Again, be polite but firm.  Difficulties arise when families fear the loss of their beloved family member.  Reassure your family that you are still the same person you have always been and that you will continue to value your own beliefs and that you respect their beliefs and will continue to respect their beliefs even after marriage.   If they continue to frown on your decision, you can just agree to disagree on that issue.  Remember, this marriage is not about them.  It’s about you.  You may have to remind them and yourself of that fact. 

Nothing can be worse at a wedding than when relatives are fighting with each other.  Once again, you may want to remind them that this wedding is not about them, it’s about you.  Ask them to put aside their differences for one day and to cooperate with you on your wedding.  You don’t need to fix it for them.  Just ask them to cooperate with you and put their focus away from each other and onto your event for just one day. 

It can be very trying having to deal with all the wedding plans while handling arguing relatives at the same time.  This kind of stress can cause tensions to rise between the engaged couple.  If this happens to you, then you need to take a break from dealing with the wedding plans.  Give yourselves some time together where you are not dealing with the wedding in any manner.  Go out and do something fun together.  There will be plenty of time to work on the wedding later.

In fact, it’s a good idea to have a date night with each other once a week through the process leading up to the wedding.  This would be one night a week where you do something enjoyable together that has nothing to do with planning the wedding.

And since communication is so important, after you are married, I suggest you continue the practice of date night even after you are married. 

If this is a second marriage, and children are involved, understand that the welfare of the children comes first over the new spouse.  Children may fear the loss of their parent to the new spouse and act out in ways for attention.  This is to be expected.  Reassure them that they will be as important to you after you are remarried as they are to you right now. 

To improve the likelihood of family cohesiveness and harmony after the wedding, it is important for your fiancé to begin to develop a one on one relationship with each of the children before the wedding.  Invite him or her to spend some alone time with each child doing some activity that the child find enjoyable.  Doing this, your fiancé will begin to build a history of positive interaction with each child.  If they are old enough, include the children in the ceremony in some way. 
After all, the new spouse is marring more than you.  He or she is marring into a family.  The children’s inclusion in the ceremony will reassure them of their place and importance in the family which may be threatened by the entrance of a new spouse.

Some men have difficulty understanding that the children come first and he comes second, and that it will continue that way even after marriage.  This is just the way is it and should be.  He needs to clearly understand this before the wedding.  If he is not willing to go along with that, then you might need to re-consider your wedding plans.  Whether it is an intact or blended family, the best interest of the children always comes first.

Along with the great joy that a wedding and all its preparation can bring, it can also be a time of sorrow when a beloved parent is absent for the celebration due to their untimely passing.   For individuals going through such an experience it is perfectly normal to feel some sorrow while in the midst of their great joy.  Under these circumstances, it is healthy to hold onto both the feelings of joy and sorrow at the same time.  For these individuals, their wedding can be bitter sweet.  If this is your situation, you may find it helpful to speak with your beloved fiancé about your feelings.  Talking out your feelings of sadness over the parent’s absence may actually help to bring you both closer.  Give your sadness a place, but don’t let it take over the wedding.  As you give yourself permission to feel the sadness, give yourself permission to also feel the joy of this wonderful experience that you so richly deserve.  Remember, this day is about you and your partner.

As a way of easing some of the feelings of sorrow and helplessness under these circumstances, it may be helpful to write a loving letter to the absent parent introducing your partner.  In your letter, express your love for both the absent parent and your fiancé.  Include what you would like the parent to know about the person you are marring.  Let the parent know what you have learned from him or her and how you carry that with you in your new life.  Let them know that you will always love them and that they will always be with you in your heart. Also, let them know, in your letter, what you will tell your children about them.
Then, if it is conducive with your religious beliefs, you may choose to symbolically invite them to the wedding by reserving a place for them at the ceremony.  They will be right there with you.  You may share your letter with your partner if you choose.  That is up to you.  After the wedding, you may choose to burn the letter or store it away along with the other mementos that you save from the wedding.  Again, it is up to you how it is handled. 

This exercise is an honoring of the deceased relative and in the honoring of that individual; you have honored your relationship with them and by doing so, you have included them in your wedding experience.  This exercise is not limited to a deceased parent.  It may be used for working through feelings with any individual whose absence has left a void in your special day. 

For more information on Dr. Jim and free couple's communication information, affirmations and downloads, log onto his website at  You may also log onto his award-winning self-help audio site at   For Information on Dr. Walton's Divorce Mediation and Collaborative Practice, log onto