Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Parent-child alienation: What’s a Rejected Parent to do?
December 11, 2012
In the event of damaged parent child relationships, many Rejected Parents don’t know what to do when faced with their children’s opposition and disrespect. Whereas before they could correct their children’s behavior with a simple warning or restriction, now such consequences trigger further defiance and contempt. But tolerating their bad behavior seems like giving up on one’s responsibilities as a parent.
Rejected Parents inadvertently make the situation worse when their trial and error efforts to improve their relationship lead them to vacillate between resigned passivity and angry assertiveness. Indeed, such inconsistency may be used as further evidence by the children and the Favored Parent that the parent being rejected can’t be trusted. One politically minded, but alienated, teenager commented: “He’s just like what my mother said about Romney, a flip-flopper. I can’t respect him.”
The Rejected Parent ’s behavior may be frustrating for family members and the professionals trying to help, but it isn’t hard to understand what lies underneath—profound helplessness to restore what had once been loving, rewarding relatedness: “Whatever I do is wrong; I send a text saying ‘I love you’ and it’s presented to the court as evidence that I’m overbearing; I stop sending texts and that is presented to the court as evidence that I don’t care. What can I do?” The renowned psychologist, Martin Seligman, has a term for this state, learned helplessness, and it’s a horrible state to be in.
Even in the worst cases of parent-child alienation, however, there are still things that a Rejected Parent can keep in mind, and do, to improve the situation. Most importantly, Rejected Parents must remember that no matter how unfairly they are being treated, the bigger victims are the children. They didn’t ask for this mess, they don’t really understand what they are doing. It also helps to remember what adults alienated as children tell us—no matter how badly they treated the Rejected Parent, they didn’t want that parent to give up. One man recalled: “I was drawn into a different mindset, reflexively rejecting everything my father said and did. But unconsciously I wanted him to win the battle, I knew if I won it would be wrong. And I did win. And now I wonder if I was ever worth fighting for.”
Not giving up is the key. Apart from legal remedies, we encourage Rejected Parents to persist—but in a calm manner devoid of drama. Sending a birthday card without expecting a thank you. Texting “I love you, have a good day” without demanding a response. Sending congratulations for their report card or extracurricular success, knowing they may say “leave me alone!” Attending their events without intruding on their experience. Providing modest gifts that say “I love you” rather than “I am trying to buy your love.” One father, for example, asked his daughters every two weeks if they would like to accompany him to dinner. For one year they said no, and he never said more than “maybe next time.” But on the occasion of his parents’ 50th anniversary, the older one said yes, she would like to go – and from there the rebuilding began.
For more tips, go to markrotis.com to learn about Welcome Back, Pluto, the only DVD of it’s kind about parent-child alienation.