Q: I read your article, Defending Against Parental Alienation. I seem to be already doing all of these things, but my 2 kids (9 and 12) are not speaking to me. They live out of state, and I have custody of them in summer and on school holidays. Their stepmom is very angry with me because I told someone in confidence that I was concerned that she may be trying to alienate my kids from me, and somehow, word got back to her.
Since then, my kids won't return my calls or text messages, and periodically send me texts saying I am mean and demanding that I "take back" what I said about their stepmom. I am working with my counselor on this, but wondered if you would also have any suggestions (which I would bounce off of my counselor first before implementing) on what to do or not to do? I will see them for spring break, but they don't know that because they think they can just decide not to come.
-Sad Alienated Mom
A: Dear Sad Alienated Mom,
My heart goes out to you. I'm so glad you have a good counselor - this is one of the hardest possible situations for a parent to face, and you'll need a source of support where you can be completely candid and release all of your feelings in confidentiality.
I agree with your counselor that it would be best to continue seeing your kids at this stage of the game, whether they think they want that or not. They need your presence so they can recalibrate their awareness back to who you really are, in contrast to the persona that your ex and his wife have created for you.
Keep calling your kids (on their cell phones, rather than the home phone, if possible), and keep texting, whether you hear back from them or not. Send short and sweet messages like, I hope you have a nice day, or Happy Friday, or I love you.
You may also want to name what is happening in a voice message, and say something to your kids along the lines of: I'm so sorry for any stress this giant misunderstanding has created for you. I don't blame you for being angry and upset with me. I understand why you might not want to see me based on the stories you've heard. I am willing to listen to anything you want to say to me, and I mean ANYTHING. I love you no matter what, and I am REALLY looking forward to seeing you.
And then when you do see them, be prepared for the fur to fly. They will have A LOT of angry and confused feelings to release. You'll want to have as much support as you can for yourself so you can be a good listener for them without getting defensive. The goal is for them to feel safe telling you anything.
Don't try to tell them The Truth, just stay with their feelings:
You are very angry with me because you think I said something unkind about your stepmom, and you love her.
You wish you weren't stuck in the middle of all this.
You just want to be a kid and not have to think about this stuff.
It's so frustrating to love people who aren't getting along with each other.
Just keep reflecting their feelings, without getting into clarifying the facts or telling your side of the story. They will eventually release the burden they have been carrying, and settle back down to the business of remembering who you are.
Keep your time together light and playful, and have as much crazy outrageous fun as you can. Build in plenty of opportunities to laugh and to get physical, so their bodies can release the neurochemicals that result from stress. This will help them to clear the slate and get to know you again.
I've written several articles about joint custody on my blog; perhaps something there will be useful as well: http://www.advice-for-parents.com/search/label/divorce%2Fjoint%20custody\
I hope this helps. Thank you for writing, and I wish you all the best.
Please let me know if you'd like to schedule a phone or email parenting consultation at any time.
For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit www.karenalonge.com
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