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

14 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.

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