What Can a Parent Targeted by Parental Alienation Do?

By Amy J. L. Baker, PhD, director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection of the New York Foundling

Parents who are concerned about the other parent trying to turn their child against them should definitely take this concern seriously. Targeted parents should not assume that, because they have a warm and loving relationship with their child, this same child is immune to parental alienation efforts. Targeted parents should also not assume that this problem will go away by itself. Often, a child who experiences parental alienation becomes increasingly alienated until the child is completely out of the parent’s life.

There are several steps targeted parents can do in dealing with potential alienation of a child:

  1. Document the sources of concern, including the specific dates, times, and events – It is possible that putting this list together can shed light on the situation and help a parent see that the situation is much better or worse than originally thought to be. The list could also offer clues as to likely strategies to be used by the alienating parent in the future, which could possibly be thwarted with some advance knowledge and planning. If a parent concludes that parental alienation is a legitimate concern, it is very important that a team of mental health and legal professionals, who are familiar with the problem, is pulled together. Should the situation involve a court case, it is important to work with professionals who understand the dynamics of PAS.
  2. Hold himself or herself to the highest possible standard of parenting – That means the targeted parent should never being late for pick-ups and showing up for all visitation and activities, no matter how difficult that might be and even if it is highly likely that the child will not be made available. Targeted parents need to realize that every misstep will be greatly exaggerated by the alienating parent and that it hurts the “cause” to behave in a way that gives the appearance of being untrustworthy or unloving.
  3. Do not engage in lengthy debates with the child about the alienation – Children do not want to be told that they are being manipulated and that they are not thinking for themselves. Such an attack is likely to entrench the child further into the alienation. Similarly, targeted parents should not spend too much time – if they have any actual visitation time left – engaging in arguments about any of the specific areas of disagreements. It is completely understandable why parents would want to defend themselves when their child is falsely accusing them of some misdeed. However, what the child may take away from such an encounter is a bad feeling about the time spent with the targeted parent. It is much wiser to make whatever time is available with the child positive, warm, and loving – or at least not actively negative and hostile. That being said, it is suggested that targeted parents respond to an accusing child with the following statement, “I hear that you believe that I (insert specific accusation), and I am so sorry that you believe that. I do have my own perspective on that and am willing to discuss it with you if and when you want. In the meantime, let’s (insert enjoyable activity here).” This puts the targeted parent on the record that there is another side of the story, without forcing the child to face a reality she is not able to accept. On a related front, the best way for targeted parents to show their child who they are is to be their best self and to maintain their love and support for the child. Many targeted parents – overcome with grief and frustration – become tempted to cease reaching out to the child, but this can be a mistake. Even the most alienated and rejecting child does not really want the targeted parent to go away for good. The targeted parent can help the child and their relationship by behaving in a consistently loving and available manner – no matter what. Thus, even if the child has cut off a targeted parent, that targeted parent can still send letters, text messages, e-mails, gifts, and so forth. Even if the targeted parent is certain that the cards and gifts are being thrown out or not being brought to the child’s attention, it is important to have a system for consistently trying to make contact, in the event that the child does become aware of these efforts. At the same time, these points of contact should not be guilt-inducing or manipulative in any way. The most important message to convey is, “I love you, and I am thinking of you. I would love to spend time with you whenever you want.”
  4. Maintain empathy for the child, no matter how disagreeable he behaves – It is helpful to think of the child as a nested doll (a doll inside a doll inside a doll) in which the innermost doll is the real child and the outer dolls represent the defenses and distorted beliefs that separate the child from the parent. No matter how ugly the child behaves, the real child is still somewhere deep inside, needing the targeted parent to love him.
  5. Never give up hope – Even the most alienated child can eventually have a realization and want to reestablish contact with the targeted parent. There are many different catalysts for having the realization that one has been manipulated by a parent to forgo a relationship with the other parent. The targeted parent may be the last person to know that the child is in the process of having a change of heart. That is why the targeted parent must always let the child know that the child is valued and loved and will be welcomed back whenever she is ready. It may be useful to think of an alienated child as lost in a dark forest of lies and confusion. All of the points of contact that the targeted parent initiates are like a trail out of that forest, guiding the child back to the targeted parent.
  6. Become educated and get support – Being a targeted parent is one of life’s most painful and sorrowful experiences. Few people understand PAS unless they have experienced it firsthand. There are support groups on the internet and in some communities for targeted parents. There are also a number of good books and websites for targeted parents.

For More Information
Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties that Bind by Amy J. L. Baker
Divorce Casualties: Protecting Your Children from Parental Alienation by Douglas Darnall
Divorce Poison by Richard Warshak
The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Guide for Mental Health and Legal Professionals by Richard A. Gardner

26 thoughts on “What Can a Parent Targeted by Parental Alienation Do?”

  1. As founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network for parents I value the advice in this article and support the work you are doing to educate parents about the damage that PA in any form does to children.

  2. I am a mom that has been experiencing PAS by my ex husband for several years. I didn’t know it was PAS until recently. I have 3 beautiful daughters, 19, 18 & 16. It’s mostly my oldest that wants nothing to do with me and I am so deeply sad that I don’t know how to live a fulfilled life. I am remarried to a wonderful, caring, devoted & loving man. He is a good listener & has been going through this emotional rollercoaster with me but I can’t seem to feel whole in my heart while being rejected by my daughter. I have been reading up on PAS but I feel I need support from other people experiencing the same thing. Sometimes I just want to quit trying because it is so exhausting. I don’t feel like I matter to my girls and its heartbreaking. How do I find support?

  3. In the south if you call DCS then it is legal to kidnap a child. Should you go through anything that might be a victimizing circumstance than surely your child will be stolen. When does domestic abuse ever stop? Better yet why are things so backwards, that more money and time is vested in encouraging family depletion?
    Heartbroken over lies and court systems.
    DCS workers telling me everything is about money NOT my child.
    Well being?

  4. its funny how we don’t know these things exist, until they happen to us.. I am a alienated parent.. I didn’t know I had been hit by this until I was over my head.. It just seems its all about money now to rectify.. the last time I saw my daughter, was 4 months ago.. she had spent 4 days with me… she got up that morning and said she didn’t want to go home.. I told her she needed to call her Dad and ask if she could stay another day.. after the conversation.. she said “Dad asked why don’t you ever have fun with me like you do her”.. it was like a switch was thrown… she said ”
    I have to go home”… that’s the last time she spoke to me or I have seen her… after reading articles I realized he had been brainwashing her the whole time… constant calls while she was with me over the years… “just checking on you, are you ok?”.. sometimes 2 and 3 times a day.. telling her little things like, ” you know if your mom runs off with you, I will never see you again.. but daughter is in a terrible situation where she is being brainwashed by not only my Ex… but his mother as well…My heart is broken..

  5. What do you do when a master manipulated prefers that your teen daughter completely destroy herself than to have a relationship with her mother or family? remained nonchalant, loving, & did not discuss alienation other than one time at the courthouse (she was not supposed to be there for this, but her dad drug her in) when I told my daughter (then 15) that she should not have to choose & she should be allowed to love her whole family. We later (after spending more $$ on legal fees than I had) got to spend some enjoyable emergency visits where I kept everything light hearted. Almost 17 now & severely alienated, she was in ER for 3 separate issues/events within 8 days — I found out, against court orders, after the fact only because I carry the insurance & her dad wanted $ & by the tone & details of his email (yes, email) to horrify me. What’s worse is she acts in a way (from reports I hear) in a way that tells me she is screaming. I am very scared for her, but can’t seem to get any “professionals” to effectively intervene. Court orders are not enforce–except the part where I pay him child support. I’m horrified at what I’m seeing from a distance as a distance is where I’m kept. His 5th wife has become isolated in that house as my daughter roams wherever, which he’s been allowing her to do since 13 & nothing’s been done.

  6. Donna,

    We have a few resources to offer you with this extremely challenging situation. You may wish to post on the API Forum – Divorce and Custody section. This is a restricted access forum where parents and API Leaders can speak openly. Here is the link to the Forum homepage: http://www.attachmentparenting.org/forums/home. You will need a login and password; see the sign up link in the upper right corner of the screen. After obtaining those, you will need to request access to the restricted access forum; scroll down to that forum section on the homepage to find directions.

    We also offer some information about PAS in our “Divorce and Single Parenting 2010-2011” issue of Attached Family. Here is the link where you can access issues of the magazine for free: http://www.attachmentparenting.org/attachedfamily.php.

    I hope you find these resources helpful.

    – Editor, TheAttachedFamily.com

  7. My ex-wife has been systematically alienating our daughter from me for 7 years now. We have equal custody, but now the alienation has reached a fever pitch, where my daughter is now saying she doesn’t want to stay with me any longer. I’ve read all the literature, I understand PAS, but there really is not a solution. I’m so sad about this. I’ve watched lectures online by Amy Baker, and she so perfectly describes what parental alienation is, but that doesn’t help me at all. I wish, like in Brazil, that PA was illegal here. I wish I could fight it in court. Amy Baker is right; this is like going through a death in the family.

    My ex is dragging my daughter’s heart away from me. When my daughter was 9, she was so proud to get a new baby sister. She called her mom to say, “mommy, you have to meet violet!”. She refused, and even darted around a corner on the street one day to avoid meeting her daughter’s new sibling. My daughter was heartbroken. A selfish 50 year old woman broke her own daughter’s heart–for what? Jealousy? I guess it didn’t fit in to her alienation plan to allow her daughter to be happy about getting the baby sister she had so earnestly desired.

    It goes on. Any solutions?

  8. Mark,

    We have a few resources that may be of some help in your situation. You may wish to post on the API Forum – Divorce and Custody section. This is a restricted access forum where parents and API Leaders can speak openly. Here is the link to the Forum homepage: http://www.attachmentparenting.org/forums/. You will need a login and password; see the sign up link in the upper right corner of the screen. After obtaining those, you will need to request access to the restricted access forum; scroll down to that forum section on the homepage to find directions.

    We also offer some information about PAS in our “Divorce and Single Parenting 2010-2011″ issue of Attached Family. Here is the link where you can access issues of the magazine for free: http://www.attachmentparenting.org/attachedfamilymagazine/breastfeeding2014. There are two links at the bottom of the magazine issue description: a link to join if you are not already a member (then you can get all magazine back issues for free) or a link to go to the magazine download page if you are already a member.

    I hope you find these resources helpful.

    – Editor, TheAttachedFamily.com

  9. Reading this makes me have hope that there is support in situations like mine. I have been alienated from my three children for 4 years. They hate me and want nothing to do with me. I’ve had little contact with 2 of them this past year and none with the other. I wish that there was something legally that could be done. If any of you hae good resources please let me know.

  10. There is nothing you could have done or could do. Amy is wrong here – you should never tolerate abuse from your almost adult or adult child. They will develop anti social personality disorder or psychopathology or whatever they’re calling it now. Children learn what they’re taught and in alienation the child is taught that their self worth is tied to power and control over victims. And you are their first victim. Permitting this is aiding in the development of a deformed conscience. Sorry Amy you’ve got this part wrong.

  11. IrishAmericanGirl is right. The articles that I read about PAS are usually good until they get to the part that you should allow your nearly grown kids to treat you however they like because mum has them “brainwashed”. No matter there was no incidence of abuse, neglect, etc. for them to behave in such a manner.
    At what age do these kids take responsibility for their actions?
    In our case, their beloved grandmother, who spent much time with them while they grew, asked them, delicately, why they refused contact with their father? They have no answer for her, were annoyed they were asked and now refuse contact with her!
    No, Dr. Baker, when this happens with older teens, they must be called on their behaviors. If they refuse to be taken to examine why they treat formerly beloved family in such a manner, happy trails to them. It may be they have the same personality traits as the parent who preferred to target the other parent. That is sad, but may very well be the unchanging reality.

  12. Good Advice, Thank you, but unfortunately it still isn’t enough to really make a difference. . Why isn’t more emphasis being put on awareness and education for the general public ? This sick cycle just continues because people who aren’t personally affected don’t understand and care . The general public needs to understand !

  13. I agree with the previous two comments. Writing endless loving emails, etc, just gives older teens more of a taste for intoxicating power. I don’t want to reward my teens for bullying and I don’t think it’s healthy for them in the long run to see their mum as a begging, pleading doormat.

  14. I am a father of 3 young boys who have been brainwashed and manipulated by my ex wife. It seems many of the parents who are the manipulators carry the same common traits. Going through our divorce, she would constantly bash me in front of the kids, smear my reputation with the other parents we were involved with the boys sports, constantly show up on my custodial time and cause a scene and tell the boys to “call mommy anytime they need”. She would often call multiple times, just to check in when nothing was wrong. She would always tell them I abandoned them and call me a piece of sh!t father in front of them. If she says that in front of my children what does she say when I’m not around. She would send them over to my apartment to wage her war against me. It was like 3 little hers, ganging up and fighting mommy’s battle. I finally threw up my hands after 2 years of being treated like a piece of trash. Come to find out, after a month of not picking them up and taking a break from the situation, they now have a new father figure whom they love and respect. Hmmmm. This is just the beginning and barely scratches the surface. It feels like a death in the family. Any advice from other targeted parents out there in a similar situation?

  15. I’m a 54 year old father with two alianated kids aged 10 an nearly 4. I haven’t been allowed any contact or to be able to send gifts on birthdays or Christmas since my ex walked out in July 2015. She made serious false allegations I’ve mentioned to social services about her past accusations against seven men from the age of sixteen of rape.and her diognosed f60 emotionally unstable personality disorder. However they are not interested this has caused high blood pressure and this then cause a stroke. I would just love to see my kids for even a minimum of 15 mins to be able to just tell them I will always love them and I will be there when they are old enough to find me themselves

  16. PAS has destroyed my life and almost took it. The alienation in my situation has been very severe. My ex-husband has custody because I developed PTSD from his 13 years of sociopathic abuse. The courts do not care that he is a drunk with 3 DUI’s, 2 DVO’s, assault charges. I have never been arrested. The PTSD kept me from working and I looked unstable so he got the kids. The kids are not the same. They are disrespectful to me, and my ex allows them to decide if they want to come see me for my weekends, which is against the law in the state of KY,. The courts have not helped me. They discredit the term/syndrome in general. I never know when my kids go to the doctor, He tells me nothing going on in their lives. So, as I am alienated from the 4 children I gave birth to and nursed for 18 months, my PTSD continues to get worse instead of better. I cannot heal without my children. Parental Alienation is worse than a death. I lost my father suddenly last year. As devastating as that was, it does not match the pain of never getting to see my children. Something needs to be done. This is tearing families apart and robbing children of a loving relationship with both parents. I feel hopeless about it. It is beyond tragic.

  17. watttyler, I know I’m late in the game, having just located this site, while experiencing my own present situation with what I feel is PA.

    I don’t feel that you are showing your teens that their mum is a “begging, pleading doormat.” What you are telling your teens with notes, and texts and emails, is that while the problem with you belongs to them, that you are letting them know that you love them. That you aren’t going anywhere and that you are available at anytime.

    You are showing them, that their choice, is theirs and yours is yours. And you choose, love. That’s the difference between immaturity and maturity and real unconditional parental love.

  18. We need to make some noise about this problem. It needs to be illegal, punishable with jail time. These people are destroying their children, simply to hurt their exes. Very few people in the family court system understand or care, and the ones who do are powerless to stop it. That needs to change!

  19. Personally, I’m certain I have done some alienating behaviors, but I very much identify as the alienated parent.
    Professionally, I work with families of all walks of life, many split families, and work with many fathers and mothers who are dealing with PAS.
    My question relates to a specific family. The teenage daughters (13 &14) are encouraged to not call their mother “mom”, and reserve that for the stepmother. This has been going on for over a year now. The mother just accepts it. Is it ok for the mother to put her foot down and demand the respect of the title “mom” or some other maternal term of endearment, and refuse them to call her by her first name?

  20. I need help in getting g my kids back. My not-too-soon-to-be-ex pulled a scam with his family in a divorce strategy to get the nastiest unethical attorney in a ploy to steal my kids through an order of protection BS corporal punishment and harassment – I am now in my third attorney because the former two threw me under the bus, and the latter was through wasting time and not having enough balls to fight. Who can help me get my kids back because apparently NY state is ok with parent alienation.

  21. Seth and Aiden, I hope one day you stumble upon this and read it, and realize that what you are going through is not your fault. You were always both good kids, and you are both growing into strong and intelligent young men with good hearts,and I am very proud of you. Your sister Haley misses you both very much, and she hopes very much that she can be reunited with you one day.
    As for me, I am broken. I can’t fight anymore. Every day my heart and mind is consumed by my grief and longing for our relationship to be restored, but after five years, I can’t go on like this. I have to put it away and focus on other things. Should you ever decide to look me up, I will be in Orlando, like always, and not hard to find. My door and my heart will always be open to both of you. Please believe that I don’t blame you for any of this, and I’m so sorry for what you’ve had to go through.
    Remember to be kind and forgiving to each other. The turmoil and strife between you two is not because of who you are, but because you have been played against each other. Don’t let the fact that you were treated differently drive a wedge between you. You are brothers, no matter what. I love you both, yesterday, today, and always.
    Walter Singleton, Dad

  22. Never Give Up. Always act out of LOVE, selfless unconditional Godly Love for your CHILD.

    WHY/ They don’t deserve it do they???

    YES THEY DO!!!! God loves them and finds them lovely and perfect and forgivable just as they are. Without reconciliation, without apology, he has already forgiven them.

    Step up and LOVE LOVE LOVE them. I did this throughout the longevity of an illegitimate restraining order and a 51 year old wife that became a lustful drug addicted teenager with an NPD.

    I am not perfect, my Dad was a preacher, I have had to come down from the pulpit. But I am here. LOVE LOVE LOVE..

    You will get them back. Never Ever Ever Ever give up.

    Never ever ever ever ever stop loving them..

    God is in control of the eternity thing. You have to understand that these things are operating in eternity, they are supernatural, they do not relate to time. So, this is why you may be wearing thin. DON’T… Just keep loving them. F Individually appreciate them Every week if you can. Texts, pictures, videos, food candy. LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!

    They are coming back if you have the faith that is unshakable. Go fo it.

    I will let you know when my three adult daughters come home.. They are being prepared. Leave the breadcrumbs in the Forest for them to follow!!

    They will see them and feel them!

    God Bless you for hanging in there. You are in my prayers. Each of you!! Where there is Love there is always hope. God is LOVE. He is always around. There is always hope.

    Add unshakable faith, and patience..


    John Martin

  23. My ex-husband has just started seeing my daughter after not seeing her for 10 years. I left him when she was just a baby and had a restraining order against him. He had supervised visitation and vanished when she was two. He took me to court last year to get joint custody and has been having her for visitation every other weekend for a year. During this time, he has her convinced that I kept him away for 10 years, he never stopped looking for her, that she would be better off living with him, showed her child support receipts that he is paying and that he is behind because he broke his leg (he is $15,000 in arrears and it’s none of her business) Our relationship is not good anymore and am not sure what to do. She seems to believe every lie he tells her. He acts like the restraining order is still active and refuses to talk and will only text.

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