Leo Terbieten MFT
The process of separation/divorce is one of the most challenging experiences you can have as an adult. There are few life transitions that rival the sheer emotional intensity and threat level of dissolution. When child alienation is part of the process the stress level at times can seem unbearable. These are cases in which there is no legitimate reason for the children to need protection from a parent. Yet the co-parent restricts, through various emotional and logistical machinations, the children’s ability to have a relationship with them.
It’s understandable, then, that at some point during the process one may have thoughts of simply capitulating unilaterally to the unreasonable demands of the controlling parent and give up the struggle. Often these states of helplessness and futility are accompanied by fantasies of faraway places, a new start in life, in essence, an escape. Or perhaps fear is the basis of your desire to give in. You may have spent a lifetime capitulating to unreasonable parents and partners and use resignation as a means of dealing with conflict.
You may even believe that by committing “custody suicide” you’ll make the other parent see the error of their ways; you have fantasies that your surrender will give them pause, stop them in their tracks and make them come around to a more compassionate stance. On some level, however, you are aware that this is a highly unlikely outcome.
There are, unfortunately, a small number of cases that involve such a deep level of alienation that fighting for a relationship with your kids can seem counterproductive. These are cases in which the kids are adamant that they will not visit solely out of loyalty to the alienating parent. Despite creative, diligent intervention by the Family Court these situations are intractable. There comes a point where forcing an emotionally programmed child to have close and continuing contact with the other parent can actually further damage the parent/child relationship.
In a no-win situation such as this perhaps it is wiser to throw in the towel and walk away. Some would say that perhaps the same logic can be applied to all contested custody cases. Maybe when the kids are older they’ll realize what really happened and want to reconnect with you. Certainly there are cases where this has occurred. No one could blame a parent going through such trauma for walking away. But ultimately, I believe, this approach is the result of fear or self-interest. When viewed from the perspective of the children’s best interest the solution is clear. You can never give up.
Your strategy may have to be tailored to the severity of the situation but it’s crucial that your kids know that you will always be there for them despite their rejecting, hurtful behavior. By consulting with a clinician or attorney with child custody expertise you can create an approach to staying connected with your children that will best match your specific needs. In my books, “The Custody Manual” and “Change Your Mind”, I examine some common false steps made in these difficult situations.
Fighting to stay in your children’s lives shows them that you haven’t abandoned them and provides important role modeling for responsible relationships. From your example they’ll learn the value of supporting their loved ones in the face of insurmountable obstacles. They’ll know that you fought for them even when all odds were against success.