Saturday, November 19, 2016
Reframing a straw man
One of the powerful forces at work in alienation is “frame-flipping” – portraying the favored parent as the victim rather than the rejected parent and the children. So rejected parents do not just remarry; they want to start a new family to turn the children away from the favored parent. Rejected parents don’t want to be left in peace to raise their children; they are actually scheming to marginalize the other parent through court actions. And rejected parents are not actually victims of the favored parents’ negative influences, but beneficiaries of a legal system that facilitates their harassment of the favored parent and the children. This is a more persuasive, more respectable form of bias, one that does not seek to bad-mouth or name-call, rather to reframe the subject and create a straw man.
For example, a rejected mother opposed to her ex’s plan to relocate the children because she wants to maintain proximity and involvement may be portrayed as over-controlling and only interested in destroying the father’s chance for happiness. A rejected father requesting more parenting time to repair their broken relationship may be accused of being motivated solely by a wish to pay less child support. One of the most frustrating reframes encountered by rejected parents is an alienated child’s accusation: “You don’t care about me. I know you don’t. Because if you did, you would respect my wish never to see you again.” The child is saying, in effect: “The fact that you are trying to care for me proves that you don’t care for me. I am a victim of your caring.” Rejected parents also encounter advocates who declare that the issue is not about rejected parents’ rights or children’s long-term needs, but rather the children’s rights “to have a voice” – even if that means losing a parent (would these same advocates support a 12-year-old’s voice insisting upon the right to drop out of school?)
In these instances, it is easy for rejected parents to get caught in a circular trap: justifying their actions and explaining their motivations defensively such that they run the risk of reinforcing rather than neutralizing the negative reframe: “You don’t listen, you don’t care, you don’t respect my feelings and needs, you’re selfish, you don’t consider any perspective but your own. I knew you wouldn’t understand.”
To help offset the pernicious effects of such reframing, rejected parents and professionals can encourage alienated children’s independent critical thinking skills, oftentimes with carefully crafted and timed questions. Here are five ideas:
1. Ask general questions: How do you know what you think you know? Which is likely more reliable: Something you’ve seen and heard for yourself – or something you heard about from someone else?
2. Encourage the child to question their basic assumptions: Do you think the other parent is completely unbiased, completely objective about his/her view of me?
3. Try reversing the scenario: You’re saying that you know I don’t care because I won’t respect your feelings and walk away. Does that mean that since you don’t respect my feelings about wanting a relationship and want to walk away that you do care about me?
4. Help the child evaluate the evidence: What is a deadbeat? Some parents really are deadbeats, but do you have real evidence that your father/mother fits that definition?
5. Remind the child that no one thinks critically all of the time: Do you think your mother/father get so caught up in their anger with each other that they lose objectivity? Does that ever happen to you?