Thursday, March 24, 2016
Don't talk about it; deal with it.
There was a recent article in Scientific American about political leaders in South Florida who are concerned about the challenge of climate change on the economy and living conditions in the Miami area. Faced with national politicians’ reluctance to address the causes of climate change, they learned to reframe the conversation to one about sea level rise – the effects of which residents can see on a regular basis when high tides flood neighborhood streets. By doing so, they turn the conversation away from debate about the causes of climate change and carbon caps and emission controls towards the undeniable reality of rising sea levels – a challenge everyone agrees must be addressed.
I was reminded of this article during recent conversations with several parents who allege that their ex-spouses alienated their children. As you might expect, their efforts to confront their ex’s with their perceived alienating behavior triggered arguments, denials, and additional rejection from the children. One father was doubly frustrated with a mediator who denied that parent alienation existed or that parents would ever deliberately alienate their children from the other parent. In each instance, the buzz words, parent-child alienation, lead to protracted argument and mutual blaming rather than a thoughtful discussion about how to move forward. Just like arguments about climate change, such confrontations, in fact, tend to entrench parents and professionals in their pre-existing biases.
In the face of such resistance, it might help for parents and divorce professionals concerned that parent-alienation is occurring to follow the example of these south Florida politicians—focus on undeniable realities and mutual interests rather than debate cause and theory. In other words, change the language to change the problem.
DON’T TALK ABOUT PARENT-CHILD ALIENATION; JUST DEAL WITH IT
In the instance of the mediator who doubted the validity of parent-child alienation, for example, the rejected parent’s lawyer might focus on the children’s behavior (e.g., they’ve refused parenting time the past three months, their reasons for doing so are flimsy and unreasonable) rather than invoking the parent-child alienation concept. It is particularly important that parents and divorce professionals identify common interests rather than poking blame. For example, there is substantial research supporting the finding that children are harmed when they lose a relationship to a parent. Such children are at a higher risk for mood disorders and relationship problems as adults. Most parents can agree that they don’t want to increase the risk of their children growing up to lead unhappy adult lives.
By presenting undeniable “facts on the ground” and identifying such mutual interests, divorce professionals and parents may be able to shift the conversation from “Who’s to blame?” to “What are we going to do about it?”