“We may be done with the past but the past is not done with us.”
What are the long-term effects of warring, separated or divorced parents, where one is determined to exclude the other from contact with their child or children? The short answer is that it is extremely detrimental to the development of a fully realized adult who is capable of self-love and loving others.
Studies report that adults who grow up with Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) suffer from low self-esteem, self-hatred, lack of trust, depression, and are prone to addiction and substance abuse.
The negative ripple effects can poison their later adult relationships due to the modeling they received from observing the unhealthy ways in which their parents chose to interact with each other.
Is this a form of child abuse?
Let’s consider how a child must feel growing up in a household where one parent is purposefully excluded from having a loving, grounded relationship with both parents. Typically, the kinds of strategies employed by one parent in discounting another parent include the following: bad-mouthing the other, effacing a parent from the life and thoughts of a child, limiting contact, perpetuating the notion that the other parent is dangerous, forcing the child to choose between parents, and/or making the child believe that he/she is unloved by a parent.
It is no wonder that children who grow up in this environment have feelings of unworthiness. It is no surprise that they may even experience severe guilt related to feelings of betraying the alienated parent. Sadder still is the notion that adults who suffered through these difficulties may one day perpetuate the cycle by unwittingly committing the same types of destructive, alienating behaviors on their future partners and even their own children.
How do we stop this? Do we throw up our hands and resign ourselves to accepting parental alienation as a byproduct of our divorce-rampant modern day culture? Or can we be mindful and intentional about strengthening, repairing and improving our relationships? It is conceivable that a paradigm shift can turn around this dreary cycle. Let us replace hate and alienation by first recognizing that both parents are needed in each child’s life.
Let us be cognizant of the ways that we may be polluting our kid’s lives by letting the hurtful, destructive dramas of our adult relationships spill over into theirs. Let us strive to do better by our children by protecting them from the ugliness that emerges when one parent is vilified. We owe it to our children (and one day their offspring) to offer the olive branch even when it is so much easier to resort to finger-pointing and laying blame.
Our children need us to be better.
What can we do today to ensure that our children grow up well-adjusted and feel loved?