Divorce is stressful but when a parent alienates a child from the former spouse, the stress is amplified and causes harm to everyone. One parent, using sophisticated manipulation, can bring a child to a place of hatred towards the alienated parent. Adopting the feelings of the alienating parent makes their world seem more manageable and in control.
This alienation can go on for months or even years. As a result of better education and research surrounding alienation these days, we know that windows of opportunity help alienated families move towards co-parenting relationships.
According to Psychology Today author, Edward Kruk, Phd., reuniting a family should be approached with sensitivity. “Alienated children can transform quickly from refusing or staunchly resisting the rejected parent to being able to show and receive love from that parent, followed by an equally swift shift back to the alienated position when back in the orbit of the alienating parent.”
Currently there are several models of reuniting families that have gathered acceptance among experts who work with reunification:
- Warshak’s Family Bridges Program—works to bring children to a healthy relationship with both parents while encouraging autonomy, perspective and critical thinking. Warshak espouses the need for children to see through others’ eyes that the opinion of the alienating parent “is not shared by the rest of the world. This type of experience will leave a stronger impression than anything the alienated parent can say on his or her own behalf.”
- Sullivan’s Overcoming Barriers Family Camp—brings families together for intervention and group therapy resulting in written agreements of future parenting.
- Friedlander and Walters’ Multimodal Family Intervention—use of “differential interventions” for alienation and other forms of family discord.
The most important aspect of these programs is for the child to come to a deeper understanding that both parents are of equal value. If successful, the child releases his protection of the alienating parent and embraces the involvement of the absent parent.
The process of reunification is possible but a fragile undertaking fraught with emotional instability in all parties. The key is for parents to recognize the problem, have a desire to provide a more stable environment for their child and then to find professionals who can help with the process. For the sake of the child, perhaps the most important is never quitting.