In my 25+ years of counseling patients, many of my cases also involve attorneys and the legal system. As a Certified Mediator for many law firms in Dallas, Denton and Tarrant Counties, I’ve seen this story I am about to share happen far too often.
Dax, age 9, walked into my office carrying a clay pumpkin, the size of a basketball.
By the looks of this uniquely painted masterpiece, I immediately knew Dax had more than likely applied his incredible artistic skills to create this magnificent pumpkin.
“Wow, Dax, that pumpkin is amazing” I admiringly said. With no eye contact, nor acknowledgement, Dax silently walked by me and sat on the floor with his buddy, Dexter, our therapy dog, and sat the pumpkin next to Dexter.
This behavior was completely out of character for Dax. I had seen him several times before in session but had not seen him in about a month.
My mind began racing, wondering what I was going to be hit with during the next hour and a half… What on earth has happened that would shake this child to the point of the polar opposite behavior from the previous sessions I had spent with him?
“Where is Charlie (therapy bunny)? “I really need Charlie today”. Dax sheepishly said.
“I will go get him”, I responded.
I returned with Charlie and joined Dax, Dexter, and the pumpkin on the floor.
After a couple of minutes of loving on Charlie, and cozily wrapping him in a blanket, Dax looked at Dexter square in the eyes and said, “Dexter, tell your mom y’all can have this pumpkin” while he scooted the pumpkin close to Dexter.
Okay, I take cues well…this session is going to be one of the unique ones…
I was now in a session with Dexter, serving as my co-therapist.
“Dexter, tell Dax thank you and how amazing we think his pumpkin is”.
Dax didn’t even seem to take a breath and said, “Charlie, (okay, now Charlie has been quickly appointed another co-therapist), tell your mom I didn’t really make it for her” as huge crocodile tears streamed down his face.
Why can’t Dexter and Charlie magically help me out here and talk to this precious child?
I jumped in to stop the deafening silence and said, “Charlie, ask Dax who he made his pumpkin for?” and the flood gates of conversation opened between Dexter, Charlie, Dax and me.
This incredible 9-year-old boy sat for the next hour sharing with us the story about his pumpkin.
Dax had spent days meticulously designing, molding, drying, sculpting, painting, and decorating this pumpkin for his dad. He was not only proud of his creation; he shared an artistic ability with dad and the two of them had created many art projects together over the years. Dax had been looking forward to Halloween and wanted to give dad his pumpkin. He wanted to go “trick or treating like we always do”.
Dax’s parents separated 9 months ago and Dax, like many other children, had sadly been placed in the middle of a heated volatile divorce. I had not seen Dax in about a month but knew he had been seeing both dad and mom and adored them both.
Dax was a different kid this day.
He proceeded to share with “Dexter and Charlie” details of his parents’ divorce that no child should ever be put in the place to know. He knew details about the court case, dad’s affair, dad’s girlfriends’ name, where she lived, her kid’s names, financial matters, attorneys’ names, and much more. He seemed to have enough details and information shared with him regarding what a “jerk” his dad was, he had decided dad “probably is a jerk” and “wouldn’t want the pumpkin anyways or his girlfriend will break it”.
Dax’s ideal of Halloween was shattered. His upcoming holidays were also doomed.
Dax was parroting…
After speaking with Dax’s mom, I clearly determined Dax was being alienated from his dad. Mom did not report any danger, violence, mistreatment, irresponsibility, abusive behaviors, neglect, or lack of love towards Dax by his father. Mom was furious with her husband’s cheating and lying. I get it. Her feelings were justified towards dad but sharing these details and feelings with her son was not acceptable. He had proved to be an unfaithful jerk of a husband. He had not proved to be a jerk of a dad.
Introducing Parental Alienation Syndrome.
Unfortunately, Parental Alienation occurs during divorces, separations, or when the other parent has a new partner. Parental Alienation Syndrome is the systematic vilification by one parent with the intent of alienating the child against the target parent. In most cases, the purpose of the alienation is to gain custody of the child and exclude involvement by the target parent. In some cases, the alienator wants the target parent out of the way to start a new life, or the alienating parent wants more of the marital money and assets than he/she is entitled to and uses the child as a pawn. The alienating parent hates the target parent and the children become false weapons. The alienator typically has an extreme amount of power over the child and will transfer their own bitterness, anger, and resentment towards the other parent onto an innocent child.
I have seen Parental Alienation Syndrome way too many times over the years. I commonly see it being an effective device for gaining custody of a child. Through systematic alienation, one parent may slowly brainwash a child against the other parent. The parent involved in such alienation behavior then may gain the misplaced loyalty of the child. Kids need and want both of their parents. When there is not a safety issue, kids should be allowed to have a healthy relationship with both of their parents!
I have witnessed far too many patients who their primary objective during their divorce was to make the experience as unpleasant as possible for the former spouse; despite the effects such attitudes and behavior have on the children. Many times, individuals can’t see the damage they are instilling in their children during the heat of the moment of the divorce, but the child has this engrained in their souls and this can’t be taken back. Children who are fed lies or sometimes too much truth do not forget the things they have been told.
Warning signs of a Parental Alienation Syndrome Child:
- The child is a “parrot” of the alienating parent with the same delusional and irrational beliefs and consistently sides with this parent.
- The child develops serious hatred for the target parent and rejects a relationship with the target parent without any legitimate justification. The child sees nothing “good” about this parent and only wants to destroy the relationship.
- The child refuses to visit or spend time with the target parent.
- The child’s reasons for not wanting a relationship with the target parent are primarily based on what the alienating parent tells the child.
- The child feels no guilt about his/her behavior toward the target parent and will not forgive past indiscretions.
- The child’s hatred extends to the target parent’s extended family without any guilt or remorse.
Parental Alienation is a form of emotional child abuse.
Children having some of these symptoms may be experiencing Parental Alienation by one of his/her parents which is a form of emotional child abuse. Parents in hostile separations may suffer depression, anger and anxiety or aggression. The expression of these feelings results in withdrawing of love and communication which may extend to the children through the alienating parent. When one parent is the alienator, it is a mechanism employed to stop the other parent from having contact with the children; and can be described as the alienator holding the children “hostage.”
The children generally want to believe their parents and need a safe place to fall. The parent they are with is generally this parent. They have already lost one parent and fear losing another.
Most of the time, kids blame themselves for the destruction of the relationship.
This thought rarely goes away…
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CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.