The Difference Between Estrangement and Parental Alienation Syndrome

Posted on August 17, 2012. Filed under: story | Tags: , , |

Have your children been alienated or did you behave badly?

By , About.com

Parental Alienation is defined as the deliberate attempt by one parent to distance his/her children from the other parent. An example would be the mother who shares too much information about the father’s affair with the children in a covert attempt to cause the children to harbor ill will toward the father.

A mother or father may wish to alienate the children to pay back for the pain experienced due to an unwanted divorce. They may attempt to alienate the children due to mental illness that keeps the parent from putting her/his children’s best interest before their own. The reasons parents participate in Parental Alienation are numerous and costly.

On the other hand, estrangement follows multiple conflicts and blowouts between parent and child, says relationship expert Irina Firstein. “There are extremely hurt feelings,” she says. “There are feelings of betrayal and of disappointment.”

The father who leaves the family for another woman, neglects time with his children and dismisses the harm done to his children is likely to become “estranged” from them. It is fair to say that no one responds positively to poor treatment, least of all children.

PAS results from a parent actively working at causing hard feelings between a child and parent. Estrangement results from a parent behaving badly toward his/her children which, in return causes the children to cut off contact.

It isn’t uncommon for a parent who is estranged from his/her children to blame the other parent of PAS. It is easier to blame others for bad behavior than to accept and acknowledge bad behavior.

How does one tell the difference between a parent who is a victim of PAS and one that is estranged due to bad behavior? The behavior of the parent during the period of alienation or estrangement is a good indicator of what is truly going on in the parent/child relationship.

Behaviors Common to an Alienated Parent:

A parent who has been alienated from his/her child will continue to pursue a relationship with the child. The parent will attempt to communicate on a regular basis, will send emails and cards. The same parent will use the court system to fight the alienating parent and retain their legal rights to a relationship with their child.

The alienated parent is not a parent who gives up or gives in. David Goldman is a good example of what an alienated parent will do in response to the alienating parent. His son was taken to Brazil by the mother who refused to return to the United States and pursued a divorce in Brazil.

The Brazilian courts gave the mother custody of the son and David’s ex wife remarried and her, her family and new husband used their status and influence to keep David away from his son. David spent five years fighting in the Brazilian courts and finally regained custody of his son. No battle was too big, no expense too great for this father who had been alienated from his child.

Behaviors Common to an Estranged Parent:

The parent who is estranged from a child due to his/her own bad treatment of the child has a “wait and see” attitude. They don’t pursue a relationship with the child because in their mind the child is the one responsible for mending the relationship.

The estranged parent will find it hard or impossible to view the situation from their child’s perspective. They don’t see their own behavior as playing a role in the problem; they feel entitled to behave badly with no repercussions.

More often than not it is the estranged parent that I come into contact with in my business. These are people who go months at a time without contacting their children because they are wrapped up in an affair and spending time with the other man/woman or busy building a new life post divorce. They don’t understand why their children aren’t waiting with open arms when they do find time to fit them into their schedule.

One man in particular comes to mind. He never went to a school function, refused to enter into counseling with his children when the therapist suggested and spent six years with minimal contact with his children. According to him though his ex-wife is guilty of parental alienation.

His words when asked about his children’s anger toward him were, “it is what it is, I can’t change it, I can only hope they come around one day.” The truly alienated parent would be jumping through hoops to try and reconcile with his/her children. The estranged parent can’t do such a thing because doing so would mean admitting and taking responsibility and the relationship with the child is not worth the discomfort that would come from acknowledging the damage they did to the parent/child relationship.

Parental Alienation Syndrome is dangerous to the emotional well-being of children and the continued parental bond with a parent. It is too often used as an excuse by bad parents to justify to themselves the results of that bad parenting and hurtful behaviors toward their children.

In both cases innocent children suffer due to the inability of a parent to put the needs of their children before their own needs and if, as a parent you can’t do that then maybe you don’t deserve a relationship with a child who is only looking for what any child has a right to expect, love, consideration and valuation from a parent.

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One Response to “The Difference Between Estrangement and Parental Alienation Syndrome”

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My partner’s children were made fully aware of everything going on between him and his wife, but only from the wife’s point of view.She would tell them everytime she and he had sex (!!!!), when he was too tired to do it. When he was grumpy because of lack of sleep (she would poke and prod him all night, nagging him, when he was on shift work) but she never told the children what SHE was doing to cause him to feel like this! Each weekend he had total care of the children whilst she went ‘shopping’ ten hours Saturday and Sunday (How can anyone go shopping for that long and yet buy hardly anything?). He would take them out, cook their meals for them etc etc. He was physically and mentally and financially abused by his wife, yet she obviously didn’t tell them that! She just told them of his ‘reactions’. When he eventually found the courage to leave her, after 3 suicide attempts, she told the children he had left THEM for me! I had been a friend for about 2 years, and had tried to help them stay together, but she was incredibly cruel and spiteful and eventually I, along with many of his other friends who knew what was happening to him, told him he would end up dead if he stayed with her. She blames us his friends for destroying their marriage and told the kids a pack of lies about it all, naturally making herself out to be the victim of it all. They don’t contact him even though they are in their teens. This causes him much pain and distress and for three years after he left their home, he tried to contact them via emails, texts, phone calls, letters etc. but everytime they fell on deaf ears. We know the mother intercepted all communications to the youngest two, but the older girl, who was extremely close to her dad when he was there, has not contacted him at all. This hurts him very much as he feels she was old enough (16) to have understood a lot of what was happening to him. He has not gone through courts for contact because he feels the children are old enough to make their own minds up, but the wife has clearly told them everything from her point of view and they are judging without hearing his side of things. He was sending them Christmas and birthday cards and gifts too, up until last year, but he says he feels if they don’t want to know their father they should not be accepting his money or gifts. I feel so sorry for him, because he is a lovely man and adores his children and did a lot with them. I don’t understand why, particularly the older girl, they won’t at least talk to him. The mother is exceptionally nasty and has no friends or family she gets on with because of her ‘caustic tongue’, but still the children won’t contact their father. I have always supported him and done everything I can to help him, and would certainly never try and influence him in any way where his children are concerned. Sometimes, it is not a case that a father who doesn’t pursue his children through the courts etc is estranged. If his children were small and not old enough to understand or if they had not been told all the ‘personal and private’ stuff that should have remained private to him and his wife, he would have gone to court, but as it is, he knows his wife has destroyed their love for their father with her lies. He says getting a court order would be wrong. He doesn’t want them forced to see him. He would like them to come to him freely, and ask his side of things, and even then, he would not slag off his ex wife. He is a morally right and decent person and would never run down their mother even if she has done most of the damage! He accepts there are two sides to every story and knows he should have ended it before all the nastiness got out of hand, but he cannot undo the past and he has done what in his own mind, was the best thing for all of them, and left, thereby ending the unhappiness everyone was suffering. He never imagined his children would not want to see him, as they were always close until he left. It is not always clear cut alienation or estrangement.


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