Restricting access to the other parent from seeing their children, when there is no safety issue is child abuse.
The children are already suffering trauma from their security and foundation of the family unit crumbling, creating a domino affect of loss of time with parents, loss of home, and loss of financial security. If that was not enough a vengeful parent denies them access to their other parent causing them to feel abandoned.
So why do parents withhold their children?
There are often reasons why parents withhold the children from the other parent such as;
Grieving for the loss of the marriage, partner, home - so they don’t want to lose the kids too
Fear the children may want to stay with the other parent more
Punishing the ex for leaving so they feel the pain of loss too
Not wanting their ex in their life, so they try to erase them
Worry about young children not being cared for as well as they can
Distressed that the children may be distraught being away from them as their caregiver
Fear the other parent won’t bring the children back
Through anger, resentment and bitterness their hatred of their ex outweighs the love for their children. It is the children that suffer not having both parents in their life. The other parent is banished from their life, their existance erased, resulting in the children becoming innocent victims of revenge.
Many alienated parents don’t see their children for months or years. According to Harman and Matthewson (2020) “Alienating parents exert coercive control over the alienated parent in many ways, especially with the use of gatekeeping behaviours.” The alienated parent misses out on sharing special events such as birthdays, fathers day, mothers day, Xmas, Easter, dance recitals, football grand finals, graduations and so much more. Daily life experiences enjoyed by most parents such as been greeted by excited kids at the front door after a hard day at work, kicking the ball around in the backyard, or receiving handmade gifts or drawings from their child are reduced to distant memories for the alienated parent.
Their attempts to connect with their children are refused, often with a tirade of insults making them feel devastated at the lack of success to gain contact but also their self worth as a parent plummets. Every attempt to gain access is like a stab in the heart, sheer torture like catching a glimpse of the child they cannot have.
The alienated parent grieves the loss of their living children hoping one day they will be reunited. Tortured daily of constant reminders of wonderful memories created which are treasured archives recalled to imagine time and connection once more with their beloved children.
Too often a power imbalance occurs with one parent dictating if and when they will allow the other parent access to the children. The poisonous words spat out about the other parent is so painful for the children to hear and yet they are expected to support and love the vindictive parent unconditionally. Over time the poison infiltrates the very soul of the child, who may reject half of themselves, as the alleged bad blood also runs through their veins. The hatred from the alienator can spread like a cancer causing the child to reject the other parent as they have been brainwashed to think their other parent abandoned them, doesn’t want them or doesn’t love them.
Conflict created by the alienator with the other parent in front of the child can be touted as "look what happens when you see them" creating anxiety and fear in the child who can refuse to go with the other parent at handover. Traumatic experiences endured, created by their alienating parent in their strategy to create an alliance with the child against the other parent.
Caution should be heeded to the vengeful parent who may one day walk in the shoes of the alienated parent if court orders are constantly breached not allowing their children to have a relationship with both parents. Alternatively, the children once they reach adulthood, released from the clutches of the vengeful parent into the wide world may seek the alienated parent to help heal their souls from a childhood deprived of unconditional love. The alienated parent has always held unconditional love for their children as they wait on the side line of life for a chance to see their children smile, hold their hand or give them a hug. One day, the vengeful parent may be seen through a clearer lens exposing their selfish love and ultimately exiled as the alienating parent to walk in the shoes of the alienated parent.
So how can this trauma and pain endured by the whole family be avoided at the onset of separation? By gaining the support needed to help parents separate how they feel about the breakup from their coparenting responsibilities. Family therapy, counselling or a parenting after separation course helps separated parents gain an understanding of the emotional rollercoaster, how to be good role models, minimise conflict and create a successful coparenting relationship. Psychologist Joan B. Kelly of California recommends divorced parent education classes. “Many parents think, ‘I don’t need this,'” Kelly says. “But research shows that separated parents who attend divorce education classes are the most confident.”
Ultimately as parents we should want what is best for our children, so it is no surprise that research shows that there are three factors that help children of any age adjust after separation/divorce;
A strong relationship with both parents
Minimal exposure to conflict
To love your children is to let them love both parents and be loved by both parents.
Author – Cheryl Duffy Divorce Coach, Mediator & Author