Susan Cook Mediation and Family Counselling Services York Region and South Simcoe

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Parent Alienation ~ Where does it start, how does it stop?

          

Much of the alienation that I see as a professional starts in what might seem to be innocuous and unnecessary comments to a child on their way to spend time out of your care.

 

“Call me when you get there so I know you made it there safe!” “Call me if you get lonely!” “Pretend you are with (anyone else) and you will be home before you know it!”

 

How many times have you, or someone you know, made these statements to their child when they were leaving to spend time with their other parent?  I have heard far too many parents expressing these as caring messages to their children made in an effort to comfort them as they go on their way.

 

What all parents need to understand is that when you say these types of things to a child you are sending them a very clear message that they are entering in to a situation that you perceive as one that could be an unsafe or unpleasant environment.  Unless you have very clear reasons to believe this to be true, you are embarking on that road to parent alienation and contributing to a possible breakdown in a vital relationship in your child’s life.

 

Children should be encouraged to spend time with both parents and that time should never be minimized or denigrated by anyone.

 

I have heard rationalizations, “They are more comfortable in my house” “They don’t like their room over their” “They have to share a room at (the other parents) house” “They are mad at their (other parent) for breaking up the family.

 

When we are talking about children not yet old enough to make decisions regarding their own time, we are talking about children who are generally not old enough to conceptualize these thoughts as important enough issues to interfere with their desire to spend time with their parent.  If your child returns to you and shares that they had chicken for dinner two nights in a row, and you respond with unnecessary negativity, the child will perceive it in a negative way.  If you can ‘hear’ the information and make a positive comment, “Well that’s nice, you love chicken”, then your children will be able to look at it in a positive light.  

 

As a parent, it is your job and your duty, to protect your child.  Sometimes that will mean  protecting your child from your own negative feelings and fears of losing your position with your child.  Don’t give your children issues that do not belong to them, that do not belong in their lives.

 
WHAT CAN BE MEDIATED?
 
I am often asked, "What can be mediated, is it just for people breaking up?"
 
No, is the answer.
 
Mediation has taken broad steps into many areas of everyday living. 
 
For instance, couples have come to my office for assistance prior to the marriage even taking place.  Some to work out decisions directly related to the wedding, some to work out decisions needing to be made for the everyday of the marriage.
 
The most interesting growth that I have experienced is the use of my services to prepare a Prenuptial Agreement. 
 
Many wonderful relationships have been broken because of the stigma of the "Prenup".  Many because of the lack of communication.  When preparing a Prenuptial Agreement, each party has their own lawyer looking out for their best interests in the event of marriage breakdown.  But who is looking out for the relationship. 
 
By mediating the terms of the Prenuptial Agreement prior to taking it to the lawyers to be converted to a legally binding contract, the couple has the opportunity to sit with a neutral third party to discuss their fears, concerns, desires and, most importantly, their feelings around the agreement.
 
Participating in this process has assisted many couples to reach a mutually acceptable agreement without long term anxiety and resentment.
 
Another growing area for mediation; families with teenagers are turning to mediators to find resolution to difficult relationships.  Often times these difficulties arise from that old cliche, 'the generation gap', which seems to be growing with each new generation with the expectations of independence at an ever younger age.
 

Parenting Coordination ~ Not just for after the fact!!

 

As a Mediator I am always attempting to encourage people to make every effort to keep their separation and divorce issues out of the courtroom.  As a realist, I understand that this is not always possible and many families do end up litigating many issues.

 

What many parents, as well as legal professionals, are either not aware of or not accessing is the service of a Parenting Coordinator to assist in the preparation and maintenance of a Parenting Plan outside of the legal arena.

 

While the lawyers are diligently working toward financial settlements for your matter, would it not make sense to make decisions for your future relationships with your children together?  Make a plan with the assistance of a professional experienced in Family Dynamics as well as being familiar with the various laws that affect your family unit?

 

It has to be about the children.  It has to be about what is best for them.  It has to stop being about ownership and “the win” if you wish to maintain a long term and healthy relationship as a parent.

 

Since when did our children start taking on the role of surrogate spouses? 

 

I have been working with divorcing families for several years, both in and out of the courts, and I have to say that the most disturbing practice that I have encountered is the use of our children as sounding boards to the anxities, fears and angers about the marital relationship.

 

When did the job of being a parent lose its responsibility to provide an emotionally safe, child friendly environment?

 

Also, parents vent about their children in intact, happy families without one running to the children to share those negative thoughts and feelings about them by their other parent.  So why is it okay to do that after a separation?

 

The obvious intent is to alienate the child from that parent, and while I recognize that not every parent is conscious of the reason for this practice, I do assert that every parent should consider taking on the services of a qualified professional to assist them in making good choices for their children.  No matter how difficult, or bitter a pill to swallow.

 

What every divorcing parent needs to understand is that while you may win a battle or two today, you will lose the war when the child grows up and realizes the intended alienation.  And make no mistake, they will realize it.

 

Learn, my friends....It has to be about the children! 

 

 

What is it about the end of a relationship that causes us to revert back to our ‘terrible two’s’?

 

One of the most common characteristics that I have observed in my clients throughout the separation and divorce process has been the digression in character to using the tactics we all see in our children.

 

Grown men and women using passive-aggressive techniques to undermine the confidence and/or stability of their former partner in an effort to regain some personal footing in an effort to achieve a ‘win’.

 

Or we have the adult use of the ‘even bad attention is attention just the same’ concept by creating chaos, distress and inconvenience to get a rise out of their ex.

 

While these kinds of behaviour can be self-satisfying, for say a minute or two, they are a counterproductive and dangerous strategy in terms of your ultimate end-goal.

 

No one is an expert at managing the processes of separation, custody and access and property settlements.  Even if it is your second time around, every situation is different and how you behave, communicate and carry yourself will have either a positive or negative impact on the outcome.

 

I also find these behaviours screaming along throughout the ongoing co-parenting of the children which can continue for years.

 

Your children rely on you, as the adults, to provide role models of appropriate behaviour.

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susancookmediation@gmail.com  
236 Elman Crescent, Newmarket, Ontario L3Y 7X4 905-717-8454