Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Parent child alienation: Understanding the Favored Parent

In instances of unreasonable parent-child alienation, the Favored Parent's motivations to remove the other parent from their children's lives often come under the scrutiny of court officers.  One of the most common explanations is vengeance--the Favored Parent is assumed to be exacting payback for the other parent's perceived misdoings.

I find, however, that many Favored Parents are not driven by a need for justice as much as they are by an over-riding interest in promoting their children's success in a particular academic, athletic, or artistic endeavor that binds their children to them. Perceiving that the other parent's involvement will interfere with the children achieving the success the Favored Parent dreams for them (and themselves), they attempt to remove the other parent from a position of influence, just as they would fire a coach, or hire a new tutor, or change dance studios if they concluded their child needed something different to succeed--no matter how the child felt about the change.

While practicing in Texas, for example, I encountered several Favored Parents who dreamed that they and their children would raise cattle, live on a ranch, and rodeo together, living the cowboy life in the West. Perceiving that the other parent's lack of interest in this lifestyle would turn their children away from cowboying, they bullied their ex's to leave the community with false rumors and threats. In other instances, Favored Parents intended for their children to succeed as teen movie stars, musical prodigies, or pro athletes.  The other parent, preferring that their child have a "normal" childhood with a wide range of experiences, resisted these efforts and, as a result, became peripheral, irritating figures in the child's -- and the Favored Parent's -- efforts to achieve fame. In other instances, Favored Parents were invested in their children achieving exceptional academic success, attending Ivy League colleges, and going on to high status professional lives. When the other parent was not perceived as on board with these aspirations, the Favored Parent portrayed them to the children as unsupportive, uncaring, and unimaginative.

Although these Favored Parents insisted at the time that they were insuring that their children could follow their own dreams, I suspected that these parents were projecting their dreams onto the children, without regard to the children's preferences and interests.  The children, fearing the Favored Parent's rejection if they did not comply, went along, but sometimes only half-heartedly so.  Of course, if the children did fulfill the Favored Parent's dreams, then the Favored Parent felt justified, vindicated even, for undermining the child's relationship to the other parent.  But the long term outcome is not always what the Favored Parent planned. One teen, being groomed by the mother to attend an Ivy League college and become an international diplomat (her own unrealized goal), ended her dream by attempting suicide, necessitating his placement  with the father. In a tragic example of blowback, a teen who rejected his mother while being raised to be a cowboy by his father shot him in self-defense during a subsequent confrontation.

In other instances, a Favored Parent's dreams for participating in their children's planned successes are thwarted when a Court, recognizing the alienation, places the children with the Rejected Parent. Unfortunately, these parents then often do what the children always feared they might: They walk away, rejecting the child who no longer meets their projected need.