Remedies for Alienated Children (From The Website Of Dr. Richard A. Warshak)
Divorce Poison™ Antidote of the Month
Welcome Back, Pluto: Understanding, Preventing, and Overcoming Parental AlienationIn terms of scope and potential to prevent and alleviate irrational alienation, this new DVD is more than an Antidote of the Month. Apart from the revised edition of Divorce Poison, Welcome Back, Pluto has been my major assignment for the past two years. It is the most powerful resource I can recommend for children who reject a parent or are being influenced to do so. Read more.
Hope for Future ReconciliationDespite their overt attitudes, many children who reject a parent secretly long for an excuse to reestablish contact. In addition to maturity, physically leaving the orbit of the favored parent, and becoming more psychologically independent, two situations that can form unexpected bridges to a reconciliation are:
- growing conflict with the favored parent, and
- financial dependence on the rejected parent.
This month’s antidote is an entirely new section in the DP Control Center: accounts of successfully restored parent-child relationships, often after years of no contact and often occurring totally out of the blue, just when a parent was about to give up hope of a reconciliation. This new section is properly considered an antidote to divorce poison because it is designed to counteract the discouragement and hopelessness that darkens the outlook of many alienated parents.
We launch this section with three entries:
- a letter from a formerly alienated father,
- a letter from a formerly alienated son, and
- an interview with a formerly alienated daughter who is now a mother herself.
Family Bridges: A Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships eases the transition when alienated children, teens, and young adults reunite with rejected parents. We find it helpful to the family to declare a moratorium on discussing the past. There are many reasons for this that I present in my peer-reviewed, professional journal article that describes the program and its outcome in detail. The following note from a formerly alienated mother confirms the value of a mutual moratorium on discussing the past, however frustrating and counter-intuitive this may seem.
"I am happy to report that after 4.5 years of complete/total rejection of me by my daughter (I did not see her or even speak with her during those years) - she did make contact with me when she turned 18 and left her Dad's house. That was 2 years ago - and we are now very close again and have re-built our relationship. I can smile again.
"Thank you so much for your book - it helped me identify what it was that was happening to my daughter during those dark heart-breaking years. Also - I wanted to mention one other thing - when my daughter came back - she and I made an agreement to not ever talk about the details of 'those years.' I think it's too painful for either of us. All she said was 'Mommy - I see the truth now.' And that was good enough for me! I did see (on your website) the section about 'agreeing to disagree.' With us, we have taken it a step further - 'agreeing to totally avoid'! Maybe someday we can talk about those years, but I think she is at a loss for words to even try to explain how she could have treated me that way. (And it was beyond 'bad', believe me!)"
"Since we last communicated I have had some new developments in my alienation case with my children. After consistently reaching out to my son and my daughter over more than seven years of not hearing one thing from them (despite the fact that they lived close by) I have been able to commence a reconnection with them.
"It seems to be related to the financial hardships their mother has had in the current economy and the fact that support payments stopped in the past year. My son has now all but moved out of her house and started to take some calls and meet me for an occasional meal. I then received a letter from my daughter apologizing for how rude she had treated me and extending an olive branch to meet. After a couple of visits with me this summer, my daughter apparently sensed increasing strain in the relationship with her mother and ended up asking if she could move back in with me."This father responded perfectly, making it comfortable for his daughter to reconcile. Read on:
"I told her our home had always been hers, but then took the step of calling my ex (who otherwise is the last person on earth I'd ever want to talk to after what I've been through) and asked what was going on with our daughter. I wanted to make sure if she moved in with me that wouldn't cause new problems for their relationship. I got a story about how our daughter had gotten out of hand for her.
"My daughter did move in, about two months ago and it has been going fine. I feel like the number one focus I have is to gently ease back into a relationship with her. She is involved with a boyfriend, work and school and other normal things a child her age does. It just feels weird to me because when I last had any relationship with her she was seven years younger."Seven years of no contact, and the children returned to a father whose heart and home were open to them. Naturally, missing out on seven years of a parent-child relationship is tragic. But this family’s experience should give hope and inspiration to alienated parents who wonder if their children will ever return.
Critical Thinking Leads to Reconciliation
One of the points I emphasize when working with alienated children is the importance of exercising critical thinking. The following letter illustrates how a young man corrected his distorted perceptions of his father by asking pointed questions about negative things he was told about his father, and by keeping an open mind. His letter illustrates the tragic loss for children and parents when a child is subjected to divorce poison. I hope parents will take heed and do a better job of protecting their children from such tragedy. The letter also gives hope to alienated parents because it is another illustration of how some children, when they mature, will exercise the courage to reach out to a rejected parent and struggle to see that parent through their own eyes instead of through the eyes of the other parent.
"My brother, sister and myself were all subjects of Parent Alienation Disorder. This was long before it was ever heard of. I'm the youngest and I'm now in my mid-fifties. Me, being the youngest, I briefly saw my father only two or three times while growing up. I listened to a constant stream about how horrible he was and the terrible things he did from my mother. My sister wouldn't even see him on those few times he came to visit.
"I finally got to really meet my father when I was in my mid-20s. We initially spent about two weeks together. I listened to him for about the first week and then began asking him all the questions that had built up over the years. I asked very pointed questions regarding the stories that had been drilled into my head.
"I discovered that my father was very honest and not at all as my mother had painted him. Since then, he and I have developed a relationship. However, I still feel a deep loss from not having had time with my father growing up. The worst part are the deep scars left in my family. It would take a long time to explain those.
"My mother will still go into her ranting about how horrible my father is. She and I have slowly come to an understanding that I don't want to hear these negative stories anymore...Parental alienation has life-long effects. It tore my family apart and caused irreparable damages to the children involved."
A Wake-up Call for Alienating Parents: The Tragedy of Divorce PoisonI received the following letter from a man who wrote to thank me for my research on alienated children. He never expected to receive my response. When I asked for permission to reprint his letter on this site he responded the way most people do who have walked in the shoes of an alienated parent or child. He wrote:
“I’d never imaged that a spontaneous email would end up being of a more enduring value than the simple feedback and note of appreciation that it originally was. It sort of provides a “sense of redemptive value” to me (Like the mother whose child is killed by a drunk driver who becomes a participant in M.A.D.D.) in that my comment may be read by and possibly benefit others. If it helps even one decision maker, or confused young person, see a fuller picture of the potential consequences of the actions they take along the lines of this issue then it will indeed have been of benefit.”This letter has two potential positive effects. First, I hope it will be a wake-up call to parents who require their children to take sides in parental disputes. When your children grow up they may realize and resent how you have manipulated them into losing a loving relationship with their other parent. When you read about the pain suffered by a child for whom it was too late to reconcile with his father, I hope this will allow you to see how your behavior is hurting your children and that you will want to change your ways in order to spare your child such pain. Second, I hope this letter will help judges, attorneys, and mental health professionals see why it is essential not to automatically endorse a child’s rejection of a parent. Although in some cases, particularly as a last resort, the least detrimental path will be to acquiesce to a child’s demands to avoid a parent, it is a mistake to do so automatically in order to “respect a child’s autonomy.”
This letter, and others I receive, reveal the human tragedy behind the statistics and polemics about respecting children’s autonomy, and serve as a wake-up call to those who think they are helping children when they allow them to make life-altering decisions under extreme emotional duress and without the benefit of adult perspective and maturity. You can read more about the many hazards of relying on what children say they want when it comes to contact with parents in Payoffs and Pitfalls of Listening to Children. When we have good reason to suspect that children speak in a voice that is not their own or that does not advance their best interests, we might take a clue from adults, such as the following, who look back on their childhood and judge the decisions made on their behalf.
"My father passed away when I was about 21 years of age. I’d not developed enough yet to have seen through the brainwashing. I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame for not ever having spoken with my father before he died. The sense of sadness and grief I had concerning my father’s death transformed automatically into resentment of my mother who’d manipulated me the whole time seeking only to hurt her ex-husband and having no regard for my well being.
"I had not previously acknowledged to my mother or my father that I felt like a pawn in a game. When I was a child she had full custody-he had weekend visitation rights. She told me that if I ever spoke with him I would be tossed out of the house (I was 9 years old). So I’d simply submitted to my mother’s demands and her hate-filled propaganda. I’d never stood up for myself. I just let the new status quo she’d established be what it was.
"Then my father died. It wasn’t sudden but was over a two or three year illness. But he finally did pass, and when he did, for me, it was like going down the highway of life in a car named denial doing 90 miles an hour and then hitting the brick wall. I just woke up so suddenly out of the denial state to see clearly for the first time what had been going on. I did not present my feelings in an aggressive or even confrontational way to my mother. I did not even mention that I now felt resentful toward her. I only spoke about how guilty I felt that he’d died and I’d never told him that I loved him or even had a father/son conversation with him. I simply tried to explain how I felt. Her response, with a smug grin, was “Well — Hell knows no fury like a woman scorned.” The nearest clinical description that I can find, for the consequences burdened by me, is betrayal trauma.
"I just wanted to pass these thoughts along to you in case they are of any value in your research. I quite imagine you’ve already heard many such accounts before."Courts and legal and mental health professionals see convincing and compelling evidence of such callous disregard of a child’s needs by one or both parents intent on hurting the ex-spouse at the expense of the children. Being open to the voices of these children, when freed from the shackles of obeisance to a parent who fosters and supports alienation, may help more people see the wisdom of judges who interpret the law as offering children rescue and protection from such pressures, as well as encourage people to bring an open mind to new ideas about how to help relieve children’s suffering. Concern with the potential short-term distress for some (but not all) children who are required to repair a damaged relationship should not blind us to the long-term trauma, often hidden, of doing nothing.
Agree to DisagreeOne of the biggest impediments to reconciliation occurs when a child is convinced that a parent is guilty of a major transgression, such as child abuse, domestic violence, or alcoholism, and the parent adamantly denies guilt. Both sides insist that they are telling the truth. And each expects the other's agreement before they can have a relationship.
Professional negotiators table the most difficult issues until the end of the negotiations. The idea is achieve success with more modest goals, and then build on those successes. The same goes for reconciling with your children.
As much as possible, avoid arguments about whether or not you did the horrible things you are being accused of. Do not demand a resolution of this dispute when you are first trying to reunite with your child. I am not suggesting that you capitulate to your child's version of reality. Just table the discussion. Agree to disagree.
I cannot emphasize this enough. A premature attempt to resolve an explosive issue, particularly without the assistance of an experienced therapist, will not only meet with failure. It will blow up in your face, leaving a trail of destruction that makes the prospect of reconciliation even more remote.
For specific suggestions about how to implement this approach, including what to say to your children, see Chapter 7 on "Poison Control" in Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent-Child Bond From a Vindictive Ex.
On August 28, 2007, some cities will rerun an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond that will be of interest to visitors to the Divorce Poison™ Control Center. Episode #0313 is titled: "Whose Side Are You On." Here is the description from the show's web site: "After realizing that Debra places bets with the kids on his questionable behavior traits, Ray is disgusted that his own children now think he's a "doof." When reflecting upon his own childhood, Ray remembers that Marie used to complain about Frank in front of him all the time -- making him think his Dad was a loser. Concerned that his own kids will think of him the same way as Frank, Ray contemplates how to get the kids back on his side."
I have not seen this episode. But, I am grateful to the reader of Divorce Poison who brought this to my attention. She thought the show gives a good example of a tug of war for children's affection, even in a married couple. My reader added that this episode showed how one parent can portray the other parent in a negative light to children, even unintentionally. Watching shows such as this with your children can be a low-anxiety way of introducing themes relevant to children who feel caught in the middle of their parents' conflicts. Thanks to the DP reader who took the time to send this tip with the hope that it would help other alienated parents.
Persistence Pays Off - A Note that Provides Hope and Encouragement to Parents Who Despair of Ever Repairing The Damaged Relationship With Their ChildrenIt comes from a father who wrote to me for advice three years ago. In the face of his children’s rejection he was ready to throw in the towel. Instead, he continued to let his children know that he loved them, despite their lack of response to his cards, letters, and gifts. His persistence paid off. With his permission, I am reprinting a portion of his note.
So I just want to say thank you for you kind wisdom and I guess if some father who is where I was a few years ago sought my advice, I know I would say to him that don't give up; always let your kids know you love them unconditionally. My oldest child had earlier referred to me by first name on a number of occasions but I never got mad; I was hurt; but for the sake of communication, I tried not to let it get in the way; both my children now call me Dad or Daddy and always sign their emails, Love [child’s name] and I can't express in words what that means to me.
Teaching About Different Perspectives - Letter from a Creative Mother
Hello Dr. Warshak,
I just had an amazing story that I wanted to share with you because I know you would appreciate how much it meant to me. I was talking to my daughter about a book that she and I are reading together at night before she goes to bed called "The Tale of Emily Winsnap". We were talking about a particular character in the story, and my daughter has been hypothesizing that this Mr. Beeston was a very bad person. I asked her if she was sure about that, and she replied, "well maybe not, are you trying to say it could be like "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" and different perspectives?" When I heard that, I almost started to cry. We read that story over a year ago during the worst times of PAS. Kind of ironic that my pumpkin would bring that up right before the AP is taking me back to court for full custody again (this Tuesday). So I wanted to share this story because God does work in mysterious ways. For those parents who are being alienated, and trying to take the healthy ground of reuniting with their children, when it seems hopeless and dark, know that our children do listen, and a small seed is being planted in their minds and hearts.
Essay from a Mother: How Custody Battles Resemble Political Campaigns
I am pleased to share this well-written and well-conceived essay. I think it can help parents and children better understand how a parent's reputation with her children can be damaged unfairly, and why this occurs.
We all hate mud slinging in political campaigns, but it always seems to happen. Each candidate is attempting to convince the voters that they are the best person for the job. They usually start out just talking about why they are a good candidate, but before long they give into the temptation to start talking about why they think the other candidate is not good for the job. They work to convince the voters that there is nothing good about their opponent. Even if the opponent has done something good, or has a good idea, they will attempt to discredit or find fault with the other's ideas and actions. They don't even have to tell lies. All they have to do is exaggerate negative points while minimizing positive points.
Regardless of the election's outcome, we are all relieved that the smear campaigns are finally over. Unfortunately there will occasionally be a looser who can't accept his loss, and will continue the mudslinging long after the election is over.
Ideally, when one candidate begins mudslinging, the other candidate should be "the better man", and not let his campaign sink to that level. Unfortunately, not fighting back or responding to the other candidate's attempts to ruin his reputation can backfire. Not responding to an accusation actually gives credit to it. Without any information to counter the false or misleading information given to them, the voters and general public begin to believe the bad remarks. If the smear campaigning goes on long enough, the negative images of the candidate can crowd out any positive images in the voters' minds. The voters will begin to have negative feelings about the candidate.
What I find interesting about this is how much it has in common with custody battles. Each parent is on a campaign to prove they are the best candidate for the office of "custodial parent". Ideally they should avoid smearing the other candidate, but the stakes are so high, they feel they have to do everything possible to win, even if they know it is wrong. They try to get all the "voters" to side with them, including the children. Sometimes they can't even see how it can harm their children. They think they are the best parent for their children, and winning custody is the best thing they can do for them. The ends seems to justify the means. The rest is just collateral damage.
When a parent is the victim of a smear campaign, they are advised to "take the high road", and not add to the fighting and mudslinging. The kids are the ones to get hit by the mud, so the less mud, the better. Unfortunately, they are not told how to shield the kids from the flying mud, and the kids get covered in it, even if only one parent is slinging it. The damage still occurs even though the target of the mud slinging kept their campaign clean.
It's time for this parent to publicly announce I am the victim of a smear campaign. I will continue to resist the urge to mud sling, especially in the presence of my children. I will, however, answer to the negative campaigning against me by giving truth to lies, and reality to deception. I will tell my children every day that I love them, and will not allow them to be harmed. I will do every thing possible to shield them from the mud, and to wash away the mud that has already hit them. I will limit my campaigning to the court room, where the only real voter presides. I will also ask my opponent to bury the hatchet for the sake of OUR children, and to become my ally in raising healthy, happy children.
These children need both their parents. No one wins this campaign if the children loose a parent in the process. They love both their parents, and should not be forced, manipulated, coerced, encouraged, or pressured to choose sides."
Boston Public Episode Recommended by Alienated Mother
Since you are open to popular culture to educate people on Divorce Poison, I saw a dramatic episode of Boston Public where the high school daughter shares with her divorced parents (her father is the Principal) her pain and anguish that she is not part of a complete family. The segment dealt with some of the pain that the child feels even in a civil divorce. How much worse is it for children like mine who have spent most of their lives as the victims of a bitter, vindictive battle?"
Valuable Advice From a Mother About Working With Attorneys, Evaluators, and Therapists
I received an email from a mother who wanted to share some valuable lessons she learned while seeking help within the legal system. I think her advice can be very helpful to other parents in this difficult situation. This is especially true because there is some misinformation on the Internet that discourages alienated mothers from pursuing help within the legal system. Here it is:
As a parent who has successfully fought Parental Alienation Syndrome within the legal system, and hopefully with the help of therapy and intervention a positive outcome will result in my relationship with my daughter, I would like to share some invaluable 'tools' that have helped me achieve this positive result. Please feel free to use this on your site.
1. Obtain the best attorney that you can possibly afford. As I have told you, I had to go through 2 attorneys before hiring the correct one who could handle the whole case. I was fortunate to find this attorney through speaking to several reliable people, many who are attorneys or therapists, this attorney's name kept popping up. I had initially shyed away from using this attorney because of her very high retainer and hourly fees. However, by the time I lost custody and most visitation and it looked like I would have lost almost complete visitation I hired her and from that point on, was able to turn the tides.
2. Work very closely with all therapists involved, I was always very candid and honest. The other parent tried to keep me away from attending or taking my daughter to appointments with her therapist. The other parent presented his version of reality, in addition to my daughter's constant verbalization during therapy that I never did anything with her and she didn't want to see me again. I kept persistent contact with this therapist and insisted on taking my daughter in for half of her sessions despite the fact that it would take away from the few precious times I had visitation. I stayed calm and rational and always verbalized my concern for my daughter's emotional needs before all else. Listen to their recommendations, if you feel that they are not 'getting it,' try to explain your side of the story. Finally, after more than 6 months of my consistent behavior, the therapist realized that something was not quite right.
3. As you have pointed out, evaluators are hesitant to use the word alienation or Parental Alienation Syndrome. You are absolutely correct. When looking for attorney, therapists, evaluator, I was more concerned about their integrity and reputation of how good they were in their respective fields. In the end, the semantics do not matter, as long as the professionals have the capacity to see to it that the child's needs are met and have their pulse on the situation.
4. Midway during another 'crisis' targeted by the alienating parent, I learned an invaluable lesson: to be proactive and not reactive in my relationship with the other parent.
5. Learn to take a breather and pace yourself, and surround yourself with friends and loved ones.
6. Most important, try to maintain some thread of contact with your child.
I thank you for listening, and for all that you have done for us parents. I will keep you posted regarding my journey back with my daughter."From Dr. Warshak: I thank you for taking the time to share your valuable insights with visitors to this site. I am sure we all wish you the best success in healing your relationship with your daughter.
Communication is always a problem with alienated children. A mother sent in this suggestion to open dialogue with reluctant children. If you try it, please let me know the results.
I would like to recommend, if you have never played The Ungame, a board game for positive family relationships, that you give it a try and see if you think it could help families dealing with Divorce Poison™.
I came across it in my quest to create a positive family environment where kids can talk freely and in an atmosphere of acceptance instead of judgment of their feelings, both positive and negative.
When we began the game the first time, all of the kids, ages 11-17, knew that I was up to my usual "family time" so there was a slight protest. However, after we got started we played for over two hours, way late into the evening and when we did quit, no one really wanted to. It almost seems like a silly game until everyone starts to get comfortable with their right to have and express their own feelings. The atmosphere became comfortable and safe for thoughts and feelings to flow. The rules of the game require folks to just be listeners at times, a hard task for many of us. I'm just a regular Mom dealing with the daily effects of Divorce Poison. I know the frustrations and fears well. I hope The Ungame can help point other parents in the right direction for undoing a lot of damage."
My wife brought to my attention an article by Dr. Joyce Brothers.I think it could have an impact on young adults who have been alienated from a parent and is worth taking a look at. If you think it could persuade a long alienated child to reach out for contact, I suggest emailing the article to your child, or to a relative or friend who can show it to the child. I would welcome hearing from readers who found the article useful. Click here to read the article.
Letter That Kindled a Mother-Daughter Reconciliation
I thought the following letter needed to be shared with parents whose children are rejecting them. It was written as a "letting go" letter, as I recommend in chapter 9 of Divorce Poison, by a mother whose daughter had blamed her for the divorce and treated her horribly. The letter was written from the heart. It included specific memories of good times, reaffirmed the mother's love for her daughter, acknowledged the sadness of their current situation, and held out the hope for a better future.
What is especially rewarding about this letter is that, rather than marking the end of their relationship, it touched the girl's heart and was the catalyst that stimulated the process of healing the relationship. When the girl received it, she called her mother, thanked her for the art supplies, and said, "Love ya mom." When the mother gave permission to place the letter on divorcepoison.com she wrote, "If it helps even one parent in a similarly painful situation, I would be very pleased." So, here it is. It supports my view that alienated parents should not give up hope of a better future with their children.
I love when you used to draw angels. Remember when we said thunder was Grandmother bowling up in heaven and when it was lightening she got a strike?
Remember how proud you were when you go so fast on your crutches after your broken ankle? Remember how we spent the night when you were in the hospital with mono? We talked all night about everything.
Jane, I love you unconditionally. I will always pray and hope for you to want to see me. But if you don't, I won't pressure you anymore to visit, call, etc. Maybe some day we can have a relationship again.
I hope you are letting all your bottled up creative energy out. You always showed your feelings through your music and sketches. I'm sending you a sketch pad and art supplies and a journal. I hope you get the urge to fill the empty places with your feelings and thoughts.
Part of me is empty and missing without you. I am very sad about us.
Remember when you made your famous "concoctions" in the kitchen? You got really good at chicken Parmesan.
I am very proud of you. I know you always give 100% effort to all you do. I know you will make the right choices in life. Know that I love you always, and think about you all the time!
Love,For parents whose children have remained out of touch for a long time:
A woman sent me the following analogy which I think can offer some comfort during the long period waiting for communication from an alienated child.
Treat your efforts to connect with your alienated child like a Mars lander project. Stay committed but somewhat detached — for years if necessary — with the goal of eliciting transmissions from alien soil.
In her case, a letter sent to a child who has been alienated for years (now an adult) was the Mars lander. When the letter was delivered and signed for by the child, she wrote that, "The Mars lander has deployed.... Standing by for Martian storms... or electronic failure."
Important note: If you have no communication with a child, and you are making one last attempt to connect by mail, make sure that you send the letter by some means that allows you to verify that it was received.
Send Divorce Poison Book to Adult Children
If you believe your children have been victims of divorce poison, and they are now adults and still refuse to have any contact with you, consider sending them a copy of the book, Divorce Poison, along with a heartfelt note. From what we are hearing from other parents in this situation, this may be the catalyst that begins the journey back from alienation. It may be a long shot. But what do you have to lose?
Teach Children to Solve, Rather Than Avoid, Relationship Difficulties
When you are a victim of divorce poison, and your child wants to end contact with you because it is "too stressful," point out to your child and your ex that avoiding difficulties in a relationship is a poor way to cope. Avoiding the problems, rather than solving them, will likely interfere with future relationships.
April 2nd is Ann Landers' Reconciliation Day.
Be sure to read her column, cut it out, and use it in the manner described in Chapter 7 of Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent-Child Bond From a Vindictive Ex.
Use Good-mouthing to Reduce Bad-Mouthing
Your best chance of reducing bad-mouthing may be to consistently acknowledge the specific things that your ex does for the children and express your appreciation. Why? It is more difficult to bad-mouth someone who frequently says nice things about you.
Read Alienation Busters here.