“I know you don’t want to go see Grammy and Grandpa this weekend.” “We are going to go to have fun while you are with Grammy and Grandpa and I’m so sorry you won’t get to go.”
“As soon as you are older, you can tell the judge how much you don’t want to see Grammy and Grandpa and you won’t have to go over there anymore.”
The above are examples of common forms of parental alienation. Most frequently used in divorce, these techniques can also be used to alienate grandchildren against their grandparents when the parent and grandparents do not get along.
It is most frequently the mother who engages in this kind of behavior but fathers have also been known to do it, if not at the rate of frequency of their female counterparts). Since both sides engage in this practice, I will refer to the alienating parent as “the alienator” through the rest of this article.
Other examples of alienating behavior include the following kind of statements when the child speaks with the alienator by phone while visiting his/her other family:
“Your pet misses you so much. He’s been whining and crying because he’s so sad that you aren’t here.”
“I miss you so much. I’m so sad that you aren’t here. I just cry and cry and cry every night while you’re away.”
“The house so so empty without you. I miss you and can’t wait for you to be back here.”
“You sound upset. Are you okay? Do you miss me? Do you? You really sound upset. Are you crying? Are you crying because you have to stay with Grammy and Grandpa instead of being here with me?”
You may notice, especially if you have been forced to go to court to secure rights of access and visitation to your grandchildren, that the child grows sad, quiet, or withdrawn after speaking with the alienator.
The child may also cry or be upset during exchanges. Children are incredibly sensitive to their caretaker’s wishes and, since their caretakers are those who provide , clothing, shelter, and love for the child, the child will, naturally, wish to please them and keep them happy. The alienator preys on this innocence and uses it to get the child to act out, crying, screaming, throwing tantrums, declaring hatred for the other party, etc, in order to confirm the alienator’s beliefs. The alienator cannot accept that the child can love and have a good time with people the alienator does not like so the alienator will frequently prompt the child to say that they are having a horrible time, that they are bored, that they hate being away from the alienator. The alienator will also prompt the child to cry.
Alienation is very subtle in some cases. In others, it can be quite blatant. You must be on the watch for it and be prepared to handle it with the child in an age-appropriate manner. First of all, you must realize that even if you think that the alienator is a complete waste of a perfectly good zygote, the child does not see it that way. The child loves his/her caretakers even if you don’t. Do not project your dislike of them onto the child’s relationship with them. Instead, speak positively about them and encourage the child’s relationship with them. Remember: this is the child’s relationship, not yours.
When the alienator engages in the above kinds of behavior, try to remind the child that the child does enjoy being with you, that the child does have a good time with you, and that you understand that the child misses the alienator.
Validate the child’s feelings. Help the child to express them. Help the child reality-test any claims made by the alienator (ex: “We do have fun over here. Remember last month when we went to FUNPLACE2 and you did FUNTHING?”) Then remind the child that these are adult problems and that the child should not be involved in them. Let the child know that the child can love both you and the alienator and that you will never, never make them choose between you.
As the child grows older, especially into the teen years, try to temper your understanding of the difference between alienation and normal teenage independence. While you should never make the child your confidant or speak about court proceedings with the child, it may be okay (I am not a parent so take this with a HUGE heaping of salt) to explain a little more — in an age-appropriate manner — about why you and the alienator do not get along. Still, remember to validate the child’s feelings, to help them express those feelings fittingly, and then to remind the child that the child can love both of you.
Remember that, no matter what, you should not seek to involve the child in an adult matter. Even teenagers do not have the life experience or emotional maturity to understand or deal with adult strife. Teenagers may think they do (I certainly did!) but they do not. No parent worth the name would allow their children to be dragged into a conflict between the parent and another adult. Indeed, a good parent and would forbid the child to even think about participating in the conflict. The adult arena is no place for a child — not even a teenaged child.