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Parental alienation can tear a family apart

My dying mother waited in vain for the phone call from her adult grandchildren.

They’d been part of a tangled, acrimonious divorce years earlier, yet they had kept a warm place in their hearts for my mom, until the end.

I don’t know who started it all way back then — as in most divorces, I’m assuming both sides were to blame.

All I know is that in the end, my brother was persona non grata and my mother died without a word from her adult grandchildren, though at least one had promised to call as she lay dying.

I was there beside her. The call never came. They were mad at my brother. Again. So they punished my mom for the last time. And me. I had to watch her hope fade.

Parental Alienation Syndrome is the term now used to describe the insidious and concerted efforts by one or both divorcing parents to make their kids hate the other parent, to the point that the kids want nothing to do with the other half of their own biology.

Various methods are used, ranging from carrot to stick — tempting offers of toys, money, fun times; vicious tirades against the other; revealing adult information that children can’t quite understand (but that makes the other parent sound terrible); or just the drip, drip, drip of incessant badmouthing.

Children copy what they see and hear.

A couple of years of whisking the kids away when it is visitation time, planning events for the same weekend they’re supposed to spend with the non-custodial parent; making up fevers and lame excuses.

Pretty soon it’s easy to forget and then to hate the other parent. And until that child becomes a parent, it’s impossible to understand adult dynamics.

As the alienated kids become adults and have children, the growing flock of grandchildren will not have normal relations with one grandparent or certain cousins — these cousins will fade into the mist until perhaps a generation later someone will say, “Didn’t we have family that went to . . . ?” and perhaps an Internet or genealogical search will reveal then what a phone call could reveal now.

Years ago, I was in group therapy for depression after a business failure.

The shocking stories of how some participants survived abusive childhoods were only topped by my astonishment at the expressions and depth of love and affection they still held for their brutal parents.

Parental alienation is typically not about escaping the jaws of such horrible parents — it’s more about a power trip where the kids are the pawns and hostages in an elaborate game of life chess.

Sadly, it means that subsequent generations will probably repeat dysfunctional patterns — mistaking the cold shoulder, silence and rejection as legitimate means of communicating.

Today the courts try to grapple with legislating custody and visiting rights in a more even-handed way, but the only place there can ever be an impact is in the hearts of the children.

Tragically, the vindictive parent takes care of that by threatening the child with the withdrawal of love (or money or property) if they don’t accept the vindictive parent’s judgment of the situation.

Consequently the children, who have already lost one parent due to the divorce itself, quickly step into line with the vindictive parent, in fear of total abandonment.

Few children raised in this way ever find it within themselves once they’ve grown up to ask their other parent about their point of view.

Maybe it’s too painful, or maybe they honestly believe the brainwashing that their biological parent was the epitome of evil.

If so, then what are they?

Today, April 25, is Parental Alienation Awareness Day. Maybe all those kids who grew up hating their other parent will become aware that everyone has a story to tell — and that each parent’s story is relevant to their existence and understanding of life. The courts can’t do much to address PAA, but the grown-up children can.

If they are grown up enough to take that step.

Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka freelance columnist.

 
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