Fixed - 10/23/2020
From Heartbreak to Healing is a comprehensive introduction to a common but often unrecognizes family dynamic called parental alienation, which is a serious form of both child and spouse abuse that occurs when one parent turns their child against the other parent for no justified reason—often during divorce or separation. It is a serious form of both child and spouse abuse that occurs throughout the world.
This go-to book for parents who do not know what to do when their child rejects them, is based on the author’s personal experience as an alienated parent years before the experience had a name. It reveals her story and how she healed her own grief, summarizes her research of the literature on this new field of parental alienation, and shares the results of the author’s nation-wide survey to interview other rejected parents firsthand about their experience of alienation.
As a recommended resource on the International Parental Alienation Sudy Group website, this book is an excellent resource for social, legal, and mental health professions who want to understand and provide best practices to families suffering from parental alienation.
Positive parent-child relationships are a critical key to the future wellbeing of our children. They are the foundation for life-long mental health. But we often do too little too late to help nurture these fundamental relationships--from early childhood to adult preparation for marriage and raising children. Especially lacking are effective interventions when marriages falter. They are not timely and are often inappropriate. Sometimes these interventions do even more harm. Lasting trauma from divorce is a world-wide public health issue. What more can be done in your community to support healthy family relationships?
This past year there has been an increased awareness about how inadequate our current systems are for addressing family dysfunction and marital breakdown. A new resource is available at www.TwoWishes.org for sharing resources about best practices from around the world and networking to imagine creative ways to help families before, during and after parents split. A world-wide organization called THE CHANGE FOR CHILDREN has been tackling key issues to resolve so children are not overlooked during divorce. Also, a new Magazine ,The Contemporary Family now offers the latest information to help hurting families all over the world.
Since I wrote this book a year ago, there has been a growing world-wide discussion about whether the family court offers the appropriate type of expertise to assure the well being of children and families when they break up. What sort of alternative can we imagine that would utilize the skills of professionals with expertise in child development, family systems, relationship dynamics, and communication skills? What about teaching children to be resilient and to think objectively? Could there be a resource/s where parents can access help much before they are at the breaking point? What if some of these skills were accessible through the school system, to better prepare future parents for successful marriage? If some of these resources are already available but not coordinated or readily available and affordable, what changes are needed so all families have access to them? If such services could be coordinated with mediation and, if needed, mandatory arbitration by professionals with appropriate skills, would it be possible for most families to avoid family court totally?
Pitting parents against one another in family court creates an atmosphere that can breed dysfunctional relationships before, during, and after divorce. This adversarial approach can create an incentive for parents, many of whom do not realize the potential lifelong damage to their children in doing so, to turn their child against the other parent in an attempt to win a court battle over who “gets” the children, and who pays for their support. With current research in child development making clear that children need a good relationship with both parents, surely it is time to reinvent how we support children and their parents when the parents split up. We need to recognize that an important characteristic of a good parent is one who actively supports their child's relationship with the other parent.
Watching the evolution of the COVID pandemic, one of the most important take-aways is the importance of family relationships—and their fragility. We are likely facing an avalanche of family breakdown due to the recent emotional and financial stress on families. Considering the already overburdened situation with family courts, is it not time to ask, “How do we best ensure the safety and long-term wellbeing of children when parents split up?” Pondering that question leads one to question the use of family courts and legal professionals as the best resource to address the interpersonal problems of marriage and family. What if, instead, we looked to professionals who specialize in interpersonal relationships and family dynamics? Someone who can help families prevent harm before it starts so when parents do break up in the future, all family members are better equipped to avoid the damaging outcomes of today? Right now we have the best opportunity in generations to give our children a better chance. Can we acknowledge that family breakdown is a major health and social issue, and that family law is not the best suited avenue to address it? We have the knowledge and expertise to create new and better ways of assuring the wellbeing of all families, whether or not a marriage stays intact.
After reviewing the weaknesses and inconsistencies of current custody laws outlined in this excerpt, it is high time we examine the question of how we might better assure the safety and wellbeing of children when families break up. Surely, we can come up with something better than our outmoded system of pitting two parents against one another in court, where the parent with the most access to money hires an attorney to “win” the prize of custody of the children, along with financial support. Why do we not have a system that instead utilizes professionals who are trained and experienced in child development and family relationships, family dynamics, communication skills, mediation, and arbitration? These specialized professions offer skills to help families address and resolve problems before a breakup becomes necessary, or to help them negotiate a fair and equitable sharing of parental responsibilities that assures the wellbeing of the children AND both parents.
What if countries around the globe prioritized family wellbeing by: PROMOTING awareness of children's vulnerability during family breakdown PROVIDING services to enhance interpersonal communication skills and promote health relationships ENSURING and promoting affordable, accessible high-quality counseling and therapy for all children and families who need it. REPLACING family courts with agencies whose purpose is to provide professional counseling, therapy, mediation and arbitration, thereby replacing adversarial strategies with supportive services that assure fair and equitable treatment for all family members.
This story, one of the many discovered in my national survey, illustrates the ineffectiveness of our current system of looking to family courts to resolve family breakup. The problem with courts is that they are an adversarial system that pits parents against each other using attorneys who are trained to "fight" with availability is based on ability-to-pay, rather than an equitable system available to all. Why do we promote attorneys rather than relationship specialists as the go-to resource when a marriage breaks up? I invite you to reimagine a preventive system that includes child development and family relations training in high school; a marriage and parenting center staffed with professionals trained in human relationship building, mediation and arbitration so families can receive appropriate guidance in resolving their problems in a way that protects the children and serves the best interest of all? For more ideas on a reimagined vision, check out the Two Wishes Foundation on the internet.
Even when you 'win' the court battle, if you child continues to reject you the core issue is not resolved. What does it take to change the mind of a child who has been taught to reject a parent? After decades of trying to explain "what really happened" to my son, I now know this approach does not work. Instead, an alienated child needs to feel support and compassion from you so his experience of you does NOT match the negative stories he has been told. For example: "I am so sorry you felt that way, Tommy. That must have been awful for you to believe I abandoned you and didn't care. What was that like? I want to know all about what it was like for you, because I do care." This response shows empathy and compassion while not agreeing that you were the cause of his belief. It opens the door for real sharing so Tommy's feeling can be heard and acknowledged as he experiences the real you.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Ben Franklin's wise saying can well be applied to dysfunctional family dynamics and family breakup. If parents learn the basics of interpersonal communication, principles of child development, and family relationship skills before ever becoming parents, much heartache from marriage breakup could likely be prevented. Waiting until the damage is done and then trying to sort out the disaster in family court with an adversarial system that pits one parent against the other in an attempt to "win," with children and financial support being the prize, is an outdated and inhumane solution that belongs to a past century. For more information about reimagining an alternative that uses supportive services rather than adversarial legal services, go online to www.TwoWishes.org.
There has been much effort spent during the past 30 years discovering how to resolve a child’s rejection of their parent when the cause is psychological manipulation by the other parent. Because it takes much specialized knowledge and experience to do this work and because specialized training is not yet required for licensure in either the mental health or legal professions, it is extremely difficult for families to find qualified experts to resolve parental alienation. As with any scarce commodity, such experts come at a high cost. From the perspective of those living this nightmare, 30 years is a long time to wait for an affordable solution. Therefore it is my opinion that a focus on prevention is what is needed so this problem can eventually be eliminated. We need to reimagine new ways of offering support services to families long before toxic family relationships occur. What if the go-to service were a team of affordable child development and family relation specialists, therapists, mediators, and arbitrators who could help parents solve relationship problems, rather than a divorce attorney and family court where parents are pitted against one another? Then the well-being of the children and the adults could be better assured whether or not the marriage remains intact.
The ineffectiveness of family court in helping families who experience the rejection of a parent has led me to the realization that the solution to this problem must occur “upstream.” If you discover a child drowning in a river, your first reaction is to pull the child out of the water and administer first aide. If you discover more children have fallen in the river, you eventually go upstream to see why they are in the river in the first place. Likewise, going upstream is the logical approach to address the problem of parental rejection that is a world-wide crisis today. Close you eyes and imagine how different it would be if parents could choose professionals with therapeutic, conciliation, mediation, and arbitration skills to support the family and assure the well-being of all family members before the breakup of the family. Rather than contacting an expensive lawyer to help them battle it out in court using children and money as the weapon and/or prize, parents would have affordable resources to guide them in working out the best solution for moving forward with their lives. Such a system could keep most families from ever needing to go to court. For more information check out www.TwoWishes.org.
If you suspect that your child is rejecting you due to the influence of his or her other parent, it is critical that you get professional help to determine if this is true. If you follow the steps outlined in the excerpt and use the interview guides for interviewing therapists and attorneys on pages 227-229 of the book, you can develop the support you need to assure the well-being of your child and yourself.
It was 22 years after the term, "parental alienation" was coined in 1985 before I ever heard the term. This was the first I knew that others had experienced the nightmare I was living. Today most parents and mental health professionals are still unfamiliar with the term. Family Court judges depend on the recommendation of mental health professionals when they make custody decisions--but if the mental health professionals are uninformed, about the complexity of this tragic family dynamic, is it any wonder that so many parents believe that courts often get it wrong? To find out one reason why professionals are not better informed, read this excerpt from my book.
Experts say that parental alienation is difficult to recognize because it is counter-intuitive. This excerpt explains what they mean.
When your child's resistance or hostility toward you is the result of psychological manipulation by their other parent, it is critical that you work with clinicians and legal experts who are trained and experienced in working with this complex family dynamic. Use the interview checklists for hiring a therapist and an attorney found on pages 227-229 of this book. Also, make sure they know to use the reference book, PARENTAL ALIENATION: SCIENCE & LAW by Larandos and Bernet to guide their preparation for court.
Childhood trauma is not something you just get over as you grow up. The repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or issues such as substance abuse, has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. The best way to counteract this is through prevention. This means we as a society must find ways to better support families before, during and after separation. How about teaching child development and family relationships in high school, before people become parents, as a beginning?
Used to predict future health of children, Adverse Childhood Experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing the world today. A child's resistances or hostility toward a parent that is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent is a form of ACE. The 10 ACE's fall within three categories: ABUSE: Emotional, Physical and Sexual Abuse. HOUSEHOLD CHALLENGES: Domestic Violence, Substance Abuse, Mental Health, Parental Separation/Divorce and Incarcerated Parent. NEGLECT: Emotional Neglect, Physical Neglect. ACE's can have life-long effects! 67% of the total population has at least one ACE. People with 6 or more ACE's can die 20 years earlier than those who have none.
Creating a safe transition bridge requires understanding the importance of parental bonds for a child's well-being. Adversarial family separation/ divorce is one of the greatest, least-recognized health risks to our children because it creates psychological trauma that can last a lifetime. This public health issue could be better addressed by investing in earlier, safer, more cost-effective measures than the family law system offers. Measures such as well-targeted education of children, parents and society at large; could provide prevention and intervention. They could include creative apps and online tools to help kids and parents navigate family separation and foster healthy relationships during and after separation. Quality conciliation and, where necessary, an arbitration process instead of hostile court proceedings would become the norm. Measures that give families a chance to reinvent themselves rather than guaranteeing their destruction would be a creative alternative to our current system that pits parents against one another.
If you are a parent whose formerly loving child has suddenly become resistant or hostile toward you, you may be shocked and hurt, not knowing how to respond. The first thing you must do is determine the cause. Find out IF your child is being brainwashed. The Five Factor Method described in my book is the recommended way to do this. Once you are clear about the cause, it is important that you learn all you can about the psychological split your child is experiencing that causes you to be seen as all bad and the other parent all good. This will help you have compassion for your child, who is no longer able to think for him/herself. You then realize the unacceptable behavior is not an issue of discipline; you realize you need to find a way to connect with your child to counter the manipulation. This begins with a compassionate response such as, "That must feel awful to you, believing that you cannot trust me, your own mother! No wonder you are so angry! If I had believed that about my mother, I would have been just as angry." With this response, your child experiences you as compassionate, and that you are trustworthy of understanding his/her feelings.
Some parents who have been unjustly rejected by their child due to mind manipulation by the other parent believe that when their child grows up they will automatically realize the truth; therefore they will reconnect of their own accord. Sadly, there is no guarantee of this happening, especially if the level of PA is moderate to severe. In order to reverse it, rejected parents need to first understand in depth the dynamics of alienation--what it is, how it happens and why. Once you know in your heart that it is not your child's true "self" that is speaking the hostility and hate, you will be able to fortify yourself to withstand it and respond constructively. You will realize that their "bad" behavior is driven by their need to survive psychologically. You will then see that a constructive response is not a simple matter of disciplining bad behavior.
This letter was the first communication with my 8 year old son after my former husband took him away four years previously. I had tried many times to reach out to his father during that time, but the phone call in response to this letter was the first time I was ever able to talk with my son. Little did I know what was in store. My story of what happened following the phone call demonstrates what can happen to a child when his or her bond with a loving parent is distorted and buried through mind manipulation, be it unconscious and not intentional or clearly intended. This book also reveals my own grief and struggle as a parent who has lost a dearly beloved child. I walk you through my existential crisis and what I learned so I could begin to come to terms with what happened. It is the process of a lifetime, and I am still learning.
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