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September 4th | THE TELL-TALE SIGNS OF PARENTAL ALIENATION
Parental alienation is when kids are being encouraged by one parent to unjustly reject the other parent. Rick is joined by nationally recognized expert on parental alienation and parent-child relationships, Dr. Amy Baker. When alienation successfully occurs, because not all children exposed to parental alienation strategies succumb to the emotional manipulation, but some do, and when they do, they begin to act in a way that’s very, very unique. And then we say that those children are exhibiting behavioral manifestations of alienation or we say that they are alienated. Dr. Baker discusses how a parent alienates a child, how you can tell if your child is being alienated and what to do when you start to feel the backlash from your alienated child.
Rick: Good morning everyone and welcome to Divorce Talk with Rick Goldberg. If you’re going through a divorce, been through a nasty one or struggling with your ex right now, I think you’re in the right place.
This morning we’re going to talk about a pretty heavy topic. If automobile accident is the biggest killer of teenagers throughout the country, parental alienation is probably one of the most wounding things that a parent can do to their children. There are lots of definitions of parental alienation and for my view, it’s when kids are being encouraged by one parent to unjustly reject the other parent.
Now, these behaviors of parental alienation most often accompany high conflict marriages. They occur while couples are going through separation and of course, they even occur after couples are already divorced. And whether it’s verbal or nonverbal, these behaviors cause children to be mentally manipulated and bullied into believing that a loving parent, a parent that really truly loves them is the cause of all of their problems. They start making up stories in their heads that that parent is now an enemy, to be feared, hated, disrespected, and even avoided.
So we’re going to talk more about parental alienation today. And if you’re just tuning in, I want you to know, you are on KPRC 950 listening to Divorce Talk Radio with Rick Goldberg. And who better to talk about parental alienation than Dr. Amy Baker. Amy is a nationally recognized expert on parental alienation and parent-child relationship.
She is from New Jersey. She has co-authored or written eight books and over 65 peer articles including Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to Do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You and Surviving Parental Alienation: A Journey of Hope and Healing, just to name a few. I’ll let you know again later in the show about both and all of her books are available on Amazon or even through her website at AmyJLBaker.com.
So I’d like to welcome Amy to the show. Dr. Baker, are you with me?
Amy: I’m here.
Rick: Hey. Well, thanks for getting up so early and joining us this Sunday morning. I really, really appreciate it.
Amy: It’s my pleasure. I’m always happy to talk about parental alienation. It’s such an important topic and there’s a lot of information out there that I think can really help parents dealing with it. Well, I’m happy to be here.
Rick: One of the things I wanted to ask you about, Dr. Baker, and would you rather I call you Dr. Baker or Amy?
Amy: You can call me Amy. That’s fine.
Rick: OK. One thing that I was interested in Amy, is what – was there in your life that led you to focus your practice on parental alienation?
Amy: Well, I have to say that the topic has always fascinated me. And let me back up and say that all my research since I got my PhD way back when has always been focused on children and families in trouble in one way or another. And parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse. My research had definitely established that fact. And so, it really fit in with all the other works that I do.
But I have to say, of all the different kinds of research that I’ve done, this is the topic that has really grabbed my heart more than any because from the very beginning, as soon as I wrote my first paper, I did my first study, I was flooded by phone calls and emails and letters and everything from parents dealing with this.
And so from the very beginning, I had a sense that this topic was really different because there were people living and breathing right this minute who are hanging on every word and looking for me to do research that could help them answer question. And that’s a little bit different than your typical research study, which ends up being – you write the findings in a journal article and maybe it gets up in a library shelf somewhere. I mean this is like an immediate consumer-base for the work that I’m doing. And so in that sense, it has just grabbed my heart.
Rick: I gave our audience my short definition of parental alienation. Perhaps, you can tell our listeners and help them understand just exactly what parental alienation is to you.
Amy: Sure. That’s a great place to start. So I refer to it as a family dynamic in which a parent engages in parental alienation strategies in order to foster a child’s unjustified rejection of the other parent. And when that successfully occurred because not all children exposed to parental alienation strategies succumb to the emotional manipulation, but some do, and when they do, they begin to act in a way that’s very, very unique. And then we say that those children are exhibiting behavioral manifestations of alienation or we say that they are alienated.
Rick: So how do they begin to act?
Amy: Well, once the child is alienated, they take on 8 behaviors that are so bizarre, so unique to alienated kids that nobody else exhibits these behaviors. And so, one of them is what we call the campaign of denigration. It’s not just that they say, “I’m not comfortable with my mom or dad,” whichever parent is the targeted parent. They don’t just say, “I don’t like it when they do this or that.”
They’re like, “I hate everything about that person. I never had a good time. I don’t want to be with them ever, ever, ever and I can’t imagine ever having a good relationship with them again in the future.” So they wipe out the past. They are completely negative about the present and they have no interest in a future relationship. That’s just one of the eight behaviors.
Rick: Now, that can’t happen overnight, can it? How long does it typically take for a parent to effectively infuse this strategy with their children?
Amy: Well, there are 17 parental alienation behaviors that parents can gauge in. Generally, in order to be successful, they have to do more than just one. And typically the cases that I work with, they’re 13 out of the 17 or going on.
Now, to answer your question about how long it takes, it’s very hard to know. One of my studies I did, I surveyed about a hundred parents who had lost contact with their kids. Their kids were severely alienated. There was no contact. The kids were exhibiting all eight behaviors and I ask them when did the alienation start?
And it was fascinating because they couldn’t put a pen on it. They couldn’t say it happened on this day because it really is a process and then there’s the tipping point. And once you’ve lived it, you can then look back and realized that many targeted parents do that it really had been going on throughout the marriage but they weren’t aware of it until they lost their kids and then they become educated and then they see my list of 17 alienation strategies and they’re like, “Holy cow! This has been going for years.”
So it happens overnight in that there’s a tipping point and all of a sudden a kid is being disrespectful and arrogant and entitled and negative and really sort of ramping up to be alienated then there’s a tipping point and they’re gone.
Rick: I really enjoyed reading your book and especially when you talk about a concept and a term I had never heard before which you called loyalty conflict. Is that like your stand on parental alienation? Is it the same or is it a little bit different?
Amy: So first of all, I certainly didn’t create that term. People talk about loyalty conflicts all the time. And generally speaking, it just means that a person, you can even have a person, an adult in a loyalty conflict. They might have two friends who they love both of them but they don’t love each other and that feels like a loyalty conflict or maybe your spouse and your mother doesn’t get along and that you can feel divided loyalty. You love both of them but they don’t love each other and it’s very difficult for the person in that situation.
Rick: A lot have been lost I think out there apart of loyalty conflicts, right?
Amy: Yes. So it’s possible for a child to have a loyalty conflict in which there isn’t alienation. But I can’t imagine a scenario where there’s alienation without a loyalty conflict. So there are lots of different kinds of loyalty conflict. They don’t all involve alienation. But alienation, you could say that every alienated child is a child who is in a loyalty conflict. Meaning, the child loves two parents who don’t get along and one of those parents is telling the child that he has to do.
Rick: I got you.
Amy: And so the child has divided loyalty. And the way to solve that problem is to – for the child is to denigrate one of the parents who say, “You know what? I never loved my mother anyway. She is a piece of garbage. The child is consumed with the alienation and then he is not in a loyalty conflict anymore. He sort of solved that problem by deciding to hate one of those parents. It’s not a good solution for the long run but it’s a good solution in the moment.
Rick: I got you. So I just want to recap and make sure I’m tracking you. So a loyalty conflict occurs when a person feels that he must choose between two people rather than having a relationship with both of them. When that happens to a child and maybe it impact different kids at different ages differently but how does it affect the child when they find themselves in the middle of a loyalty conflict?
And we’ve about two minutes, Amy, before this segment is over so I might cut you off towards the end and then we’ll pick it back up on the other side.
Amy: I’m used to being cut off. Don’t worry.
Amy: So the bottom line is it really depends on how the parents react. So the other child, his parents are divorced and the kid loves mom and dad and mom and dad are fighting, if one of those parents engages in alienation behaviors and encourages the child to think the worst of the other parent to be hurt and angry with that other parent then the child will solve the loyalty conflict by siding with the parent who is engaging in alienation.
Alternatively, you could have a child whose parents are divorced. They’re not getting along. The child feels loyalty conflict. And if both parents say, “You know honey, you can love mommy and daddy even though we’re not married anymore.” If the parents can release the child from the conflict and then you don’t have to go from loyalty conflict to alienation.
Rick: I like it. I like it. We’re going to cut away for a break. But coming up after the break, Dr. Baker is going to discuss how you can tell if your child is being alienate, how they’re being alienated, and why on earth someone would want to do this. So stick around we’ll be right back.
Rick: Welcome back everyone and thanks for listening to Divorce Talk Radio on 950 KPRC this morning. I’m Rick Goldberg and I’m the host of your show of course. You can catch us every Sunday morning at 8:00 AM. And if you miss some minute of the show, you can always get to us on our podcast online at KPRCRadio.com or you can go to my website too at RickMGoldberg.com and catch our podcast.
I’ve been visiting with Dr. Amy Baker. Amy has her PhD in Developmental Psychology from Columbia University and is an expert and an authority on the topic of parental alienation. And if you have a question for Amy this morning, you can call us here at KPRC at 713-212-5950.
Amy, I want to ask you, how can you tell especially if you’re already divorced and your child is residing half the time with you, half the time with your ex, how can you tell when your child is being alienated? Maybe you can go over that list again that you began to hit on.
Amy: Well, let me start by saying that you – if you’re a parent, if you’re having conflict with your child, don’t assume that it is alienation. In other words, not all parent-child conflict is due to the other parent. And in fact, if you start from the assumption every time your child criticizes you that that is an implanted criticism from the other parent, you’re actually denying your child integrity and authentic, organic experiences. So I don’t want to make the assumption that every time there’s conflict that it must be alienation.
So I do encourage parents to look at themselves, look at their relationship with their child. Make sure that they’re not doing something that is actually upsetting their child. I mean children do have a right to have conflict and upset with their parents. It’s not all implanted and manipulated from the other parent.
But there are telltale signs both within the behavior of the other parent, there are 17 behaviors that parents engage in that are statistically likely to result in a child unjustifiably rejecting you. And so that list is in my book Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex. But just to rattle off a few, it’s interfering with communication, throwing out your pictures, referring to you by your first name, withholding information from you, not putting your name on school records, et cetera, referring to a new spouse or significant other mom or dad, encouraging the child to do that obviously denigrating you.
So there are these 17 behaviors that result in a child coming to believe that the targeted parent is unsafe, unloving, and unavailable. That’s the root of alienation, when a child falsely believes that their other parent doesn’t love them.
Rick: Got you. Well, Amy …
Amy: Yup. Sorry. Go ahead.
Rick: I was just going to say we have a caller on line 2. Allyson, are you with me this morning?
Rick: Hi. Thanks for listening to the show and thanks for calling. Do you have a question this morning for either myself or Dr. Baker?
Allyson: Yeah, I do. I’ve been listening and it’s really interesting and it seems point on something I’m going through right now. I have a six-and-a-half-year-old daughter. I’ve been divorced three and a half years. And I guess I just have concern about maybe not full on alienation but maybe some roots that I want to tackle.
Basically, the signs I’ve noticed are that she never feels comfortable talking about her dad how – like what she does with him and his fiancée with me. Like basic stuff like how is your weekend, things like that. It seems like it’s very uncomfortable for her but of course she’s welcome to talk to me about any of that and I encourage her to.
And then the other big thing that I noticed kind of when I was feeling this other issue was it became known to me as a fact that her dad was talking to her about where she could live when she turns 12 and I feel like one, it’s really inappropriate at her age and second, it’s just – I’m just not really sure how to tackle that because I don’t want to talk to her about it but he completely thinks it’s OK to go ahead and be discussing and priming her to change residence in six years.
Amy: Well, I do think you have cause for concern. I’m always amazed at how savvy alienating parents are about that law for when children have a preference. Now, it is important to know that a child’s preference in most state is just one factor. It’s not the determinative factor for custody. And so even if your child did say the preference at the age that is allowed in your state, it doesn’t mean that the judge would automatically grants you custody because your child stated that preference. Every state has a list of factors that judges are supposed to consider when determining best interest of the child.
But you’re absolutely right that it is inappropriate for dad to be talking about that to your child and it does put you in sort of a classic parental alienation maneuver where if you do nothing you’re not protecting your relationship but whatever you do risks looking bad because a lot of targeted parents don’t want to engage in counter alienation. And it’s sort of a rock and a hard place.
Rick: So, how would she handle that, Amy? I know how – I know the kind of feedback I would give to Allyson but how would you recommend she handles it?
Amy: Well, I think it would depend on how your daughter is sharing the information with you. In other words, if she is doing it in a petulant angry way like you say, “Sorry honey, you can’t have ice cream for breakfast.” If she says, “Well, I don’t care because in six years, I’m going to move in with dad.” I mean it depends on the content. If she says it like she’s angry, I would say to her, “You seem really angry. I wonder what’s going on?”
In other words, I would stick with these feelings that the child is sharing you. If she said it like she is worried then you could say, “It looks like you’re worried about where you’re going to live and what’s going to happen.” Then you could just reassure her like it’s a long way away and you’re never going to have to choose. Mommy and daddy love you and we’re always going to be here.
And so the point is, it’s not like there’s a magic word that you could say to make this problem go away. The alienation occurs when one parent encourages the child to think that the other parent is unsafe, unloving, and unavailable. So your job is to behave in a way that’s safe and loving and available even if your child is doing something that’s scary or threatening to you.
So even if your child says to you, “I hate you.” The appropriate response is like, “What’s going on? You seem so hurt and angry right now.” Rather than, “How dare you say that to me? Your father is putting bad ideas into your head and that’s a rude and nasty thing.” Because then all your kid feels is your anger.
So whatever it is that your ex is encouraging your daughter to think and feel about you, the best antidote is to behave in a compassionate way towards your child.
Rick: And would you ever encourage mom as in this case to go have a direct one-on-one clearing of the air and dialogue with dad?
Amy: I would suggest sending an email because then you have a paper trail. I would suggest having a lawyer look at it first. But it could say, “Dear so and so, I believe that our daughter has some idea that when she’s 12, she is going to speak to a judge or have some say in her custody. And I’m concern that this information is being shared with her and I want to express my concern to you.” And then see what he does with it.
If he’s a hardcore alienator then nothing you do will make a difference but you will have documented it. I mean he might write back and say, “Oh my God! I didn’t realize I did that.” That would be awesome if he did that, not likely. Or he might say, “I have every right to talk to her about it.” Then you have solid evidence. I would go write to a parental alienation informed attorney and show him or her that evidence that dad thinks it’s OK to talk to a 6-year-old about custody, which is highly inappropriate.
So the first step is always document, document, document but do it in a way that you have – every time you write an email or a letter or whatever to your ex is you have to think what will the judge think when he or she looks at this letter? And you have to write it in the most appropriate terms you can.
Rick: Allyson, do you have anything else? Was that helpful for you?
Allyson: It was. I mean I guess kind of on the side note, and I have …
Rick: Did we lose Allyson?
Allyson: Yeah. Can you hear me?
Rick: Yeah. Now, I can hear you.
Allyson: Yeah. And I have discussed it with him but I think what makes it difficult and you kind of hit on it was he is about to get remarried to somebody who has a child and so he’s kind of promising her the world plus a sibling. She’s an only child. So she’s very excited about the thought of kind of being in that environment.
So it’s not something that I want to burst her bubble. I just like you said kind of want to handle it with him more because it felt like she is upset or nervous. I would probably make it easier to talk about. It’s something that she thinks sounds like fun. And so, I felt like she has got the next five and a half years to really catapult on that and that kind of puts me in a down position where I’m sitting.
Amy: So another thing you might want to say is something like, “You know, moms and dads make those kinds of decisions. Mom and dad will work out what’s best for you every single day between now and even when you’re grown up.” Like I would try to disempower her but in a very loving way because that kind of power is really a burden. And again, you don’t want to get her into all the nuts and bolts of it but I want to reduce your anxiety that she really doesn’t have the power that dad is thinking that she has.
There are lots of kids who have a preference and the courts don’t follow that preference if there’s a parental alienation expert or a parental alienation savvy attorney who can show the judge that that preference needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt. So I think if your anxiety goes down then you’ll be more able to not be freaked out when your daughter says it. And I would just say, “You know, children don’t make those kinds of decisions. Thankfully, mom and dad will work out all of that as you grow up.”
Rick: Allyson, do you have a good attorney on your team?
Allyson: I think I know somebody. And I really appreciate the advice and I’ll definitely have to take a look at things.
Rick: Good. Well, everybody, I want you to stay tune because when we get back from our break, we’re going to find out exactly what types of situations can potentially trigger a parent to alienate the other parent. So we’re at the halfway point. We’ll see you after the break.
Rick: Welcome back everyone on this Sunday morning to Divorce Talk Radio. I’m Rick Goldberg. Boy, we’re not suggesting Ramon that Julian Lennon was alienated by his mom or dad. I would hate to think that. I’m such a big Beatle’s fan.
Anyway, welcome back to our show. We have Dr. Amy Baker on the line with us all the way from New Jersey. Amy is an expert in the area of parental alienation.
And when we left you last segment, we began to talk about some of the reasons, some of like inner conditions that people go through that turns them into an alienator. And Amy, right out of your book, you have a nice little list. And I think what’s challenging is that let’s just say the parent that’s being alienated against to try and find compassion and empathy for that ex-partner or current parent that is alienating against you who is exhibiting jealousy and fear and guilt and shame, sadness, even possibly loneliness and anger to have some form or empathy actually for them while they go through this really horrific behavior.
But can you talk a little bit more about why the heck parents engage in this behavior and what’s maybe the emotional condition going on within them that gets them to this level?
Amy: Yeah. Everybody wants to know every time I do a show or talk to people, they ask, why would somebody do something that’s so obviously bad for their child? And I think the bottom line is the alienating parents, a lot of them aren’t intentionally trying to hurt the child. I think that there really are different types of alienating parents. And the smallest subset from what I can see are people who are very, very intentional in what they are doing and they will say, “I want to ruin your relationship with the children and I don’t care who gets hurt in the process.”
But it seems much more common that people are acting from a very primitive emotional place whether it’s jealousy or fear or shame or guilt or anger and they’re lashing out at the parents, their former spouse. And the best way to hurt that other parent is by stealing the children from them. And so again, I don’t think that these parents are trying to hurt the children so much as they’re trying to just keep the children all for themselves.
And one of the things I say when I’m testifying in court about this is it’s certainly hard to share your child even if you’re happily married. If you’re deeply, deeply invested in your kid having a certain personality or a certain skills or talents or interests or whatever, it’s hard to share your child with somebody else. But you’re motivated when you’re married to bite your tongue or to be more flexible or to let the other parent have as much control over the child as you have. But the minute the marriage is over, there’s no real motivation to share your child with that person anymore.
And so, there are a lot of different emotional states like I said. It could be shame. It could be jealousy. It could be – I see a lot of these parents that they simply can’t tolerate the worry that the child will prefer the other parent and how humiliating that would feel for them. And so they do everything that they can to seduce the child over to their side. What they don’t realize is how incredibly damaging this is to a child.
And one of the things that I try to point out in my research I’ve learned is that to turn a child against the parent is really to turn a child against himself. And these children who were taught to hate and fear and despise and denigrate and condemn and have contempt for their other parent really what they have contempt for is themselves. And so, alienation is associated with a host of negative outcomes but you could look an alienating parent in the eye and say, “You know, what you’re doing is going to hurt your children and they will not for the most part, modify their behavior.”
Rick: Often, they just don’t know any better. It’s just the same condition that they were taught by their parents. If you’re just tuning in, I’m Rick Goldberg and you’re listening to Divorce Talk Radio. We’re talking about parental alienation. And if you can’t catch the show live, you can always download our podcast at KPRCRadio.com. And as you all know, I just want to remind you we’re here every Sunday morning at 8:00 AM.
Amy, we have a caller on line 2. His name is Mark. He is calling us here from Houston, Texas. Mark, are you with us?
Mark: Yes, I am.
Rick: Mark, you’re currently involved in a situation you were sharing with us on the intermission where you have a sense that there’s some alienation going on with you and your current wife as you go through this divorce process. Can you give Amy a little background on that and if you have a question for her, let her rip?
Mark: Yeah, definitely. Dr. Baker, good talking with you and I’ve listened to the segment so far and I think when I first initially heard about the show, I was kind of – the first question that bubbled at the top of my head is am I actually dealing with parental alienation? And from the few things that you said before such as interfering with communication, not putting the other parent down on the school records or keeping them from that part of the child’s life, taking away pictures or displaying that the child’s life is really just a single parent and that instead of having another one. I think with those few things, I can pretty much come to the conclusion that I am. Really looking forward to getting your book and seeing if it needs the other one.
And then the other interesting thing that I heard was is that we sometimes don’t realize how long we’ve been dealing with it. And in my feeling, I think I’ve been dealing with it since the birth of the child. And I kind of wanted to discuss that before really, we were bringing the child back two weeks from the hospital, a brand new baby, I was – while we were still together, I was already being told that, “Well, when you go to work, maybe we would not be here when you get back.” So there was this extreme fear of me just even leaving my home to go to work to provide for the family because I was the only income to see if I would even have a family when I came back.
And then since then, since the separation, our child has been relocated hundreds of miles away to where visitation is extremely difficult. And my main concern is, is that with the flexibility of my job that offers me today, I’m able to bend and break certain normal standards that allow me to stay involved in the child’s life. But at some point in time that may not be so.
And so, I think right now where my main concern is, is how does one go about dealing with the other parent and their efforts to do the parental alienation? And you just made the comment recently about how we could say to them you’re doing it and we wouldn’t get any change of behavior. So that’s very concerning to me.
Amy: Well, so a couple of things you said I want to comment on. The first is most states have relocation laws where a parent isn’t allowed to move out of state. But I really think that it should be about mileage, not about states. In other words, in a large state like Texas, somebody could still stay within state but move so far away that it makes back and forth visitation very, very difficult. And I think that’s something that really the federal government should deal with where every state could have a law that says no parent is allowed to move away with the child more than 20 miles away. And that would really I think solve a lot of these problems.
Now, it’s not all about geography because you could have your child could live next door and I know families where that’s the case, and the kid is still alienated from the targeted parent, but preventing people from moving away I think would be really an important first legal step that could be taken. So that being said, you’re already in the situation where your child is hours or hundreds of miles away.
Really, it’s about your relationship with your child. There isn’t that much you can do to shape the behavior of another adult. I mean the truth is if – this is the way that I think about it. You have three parties to this drama. There are three actors in this play. There’s the targeted parent, the alienating parent, and the child. There is only person you have any control over, and that’s you. And that’s supposed good and bad. There isn’t much you can do to change the behavior of the other parent. You can’t stop them from whispering in your child’s ear daddy is a monster especially if you’re not home. I mean you know what I’m saying? Like you just can’t control what another person does to a large extent.
But what you can do is as long as you have access to your child whether it’s Skyping, emails, texts, calls, and actual face to face visits, which is essential, you have to have actual time with your child, if you have that time on a regular basis then there’s work you can do to enhance the relationship and there are actually things that parents can do to inoculate their children from the alienation efforts of the other parent. So I would say to a large extent, give up trying to change the behavior of the other parent and as long as you actually have access to your child, work on improving that relationship.
So for example …
Rick: Hold on a second, Amy. We’re about at the end of this segment. Mark, can you stick around into the next segment?
Rick: OK, great. Everybody, stay with us right here. We’re going to be heading into our final segment. It’s Divorce Talk Radio 950 KPRC with Rick Goldberg. We’ll be right back.
Rick: Welcome back everyone and thanks for listening this morning to Divorce Talk Radio with Rick Goldberg. We’ve had a very interesting show. We’ve been talking about parental alienation. We have a caller from Houston named Mark. We’re being joined by Dr. Amy Baker from New Jersey who is an author an expert on parental alienation.
And what I’d like to do in our final segment is pick up where we left off. Dr. Baker was about ready to talk about ways to inoculate the child from the efforts of an alienating parent. So Amy, if you could go into a little bit more about that and we still have Mark on the line with us, and so how can you inoculate your child?
Amy: Well, the main thing is to always be safe, loving, and available. So that’s sort of the bottom line big picture message. But one way – one specific strategy that I recommend a parent is to invite criticism. And I know that sounds crazy because in alienation, the other parent is constantly undermining and denigrating you and interfering in your relationship and inviting conflict. And so there’s already enough criticism coming from the kid.
I’ve heard alienated kids like, “I hate the way you boil water and everything you do is horrible and you’re so stupid.” And so the targeted parent might say, “Why do I want to invite criticism? There’s already enough criticism. I want my kid to see the best in me not to be focusing on the negative.”
Rick: Sure. And so what could Mark do in his situation to inoculate his child who he feels is in that situation?
Amy: Right. So what I’m saying is a lot of what happens in alienation is counterintuitive. So it would be obvious to say, “I don’t want to invite criticism because my kid is criticizing me enough.” So I’m saying counter intuitively, what Mark could say to his child and I didn’t catch the age or gender but this works for any kid even as young as 3 and as old as 18.
Rick: How old is your child, Mark?
Mark: It’s a little boy who just turned 6.
Rick: Six-year-old little boy.
Amy: You could say, “You know what dude? I have never been a dad of a 6-year-old before. I want to be the best dad I can be to you. So tell me. Lay it on me. How could I be a better dad? I want to hear anything that I’m doing that bothers you. I can’t promise I’m going to change but if I can, I will.” You could even have a suggestion box in your house.
So you’re bringing in just like a vaccination brings in a little bit of the disease in order to help develop an immunity to it. If you invite criticism in, you’re basically protecting the relationship from the criticism of the other parent because it gives you a chance to work through all the little seeds of discontent that the alienated child has before the faded parent latches on to the child criticism and makes a mountain out of a molehill. You’re dealing with all the molehills as they come up and you’re showing your child that you love him or her so much that you’re willing to do this – to focus on the negative if that’s what’s called for.
But you can do it in a light way. Don’t say, “I know your mother is trying to turn you against me.” Just like, “Hey, you know what? I’d love to hear how I could be a better parent.” And if your kid criticizes you whether you’ve invited it or not, you have to start by appreciating it, “Thank you so much for telling me you don’t like how I boil water. I am so glad to hear when you have issues with me.”
Rick: Safe, loving, and available. Mark, you got that?
Amy: And I have a 5-step process for dealing with criticism. So I only got to the first one. The rest, people can call me for my coaching services and I go through it with specific examples in their situation but you have to start by being open to the criticism of your child so that the seeds of discontent do not take over. And when they do, that’s when you have an alienated kid on your hand.
Rick: Mark, did you have a follow-up with Amy before you sign off?
Mark: Yes. Just a real quick one, sort of trying to flip the table here. How to identify whether or not I am conducting an alienation unbeknown or subconsciously doing it? I don’t think I meet any of the qualities that you were discussing before about what would make a parent wants to alienate.
But I am concerned about one and that would be pride. The pride that I am able to provide for my son in a manner that maybe his mother can’t. And then sort of not saying, “Ha ha ha daddy can do this and mommy can’t.” But just talking about the fun things that we do get to do or that we may have a swimming pool in the back of our house and she does and does he have more fun here, where does he like to spend most of his time. Making those kinds of comments or asking those questions, is that a form of alienation I need to avoid?
Amy: Well, that’s a great question. So let me back up and say that everybody has those human emotions, jealousy, pride, shame, anger, guilt, all of that. So the feelings don’t make you an alienator. What makes you an alienator is engaging in alienating behaviors. Everybody feels pride or jealousy or shame or anger or whatever. So the feeling is the starting point. It’s what you do with it.
Likewise, your pride is a beautiful thing. You have every right to feel proud of the things that you think you’ve accomplished and can provide for your child. What might cross the line is when you try to induce your child to prefer you. That’s what turns into alienation. So it’s not like, “I’m so glad I have this awesome pool that I can share with my awesome son.” Nothing wrong with that. But, “Don’t you like it better at dad?” Now, you’re creating a loyalty conflict for your kid.
First of all, I want to say that I really applaud you and any parent who says, “Gee, I wonder if I’m engaging in alienation.” Because that shows humility and cognitive flexibility and openness and a true spirit of love for your child so I think that’s really, really great.
If you have any doubt, consult that list of 17 primary parental alienation strategies which is around within my book so you could ask me for the list. I have a little paper you can buy on my website called Beyond the Highroad. It takes each of the 17 strategies so you could look at it and say, “Am I doing these things?” And then if you are, you could say to yourself, “What’s my goal? Do I want to just make sure my kid is having a good time? And if that’s my goal, maybe there’s another way to do that without having to draw a comparison with mom, his feelings about mom.”
Rick: Well, Mark, I want to really thank you for calling this morning. It has been really insightful. I really want to honor the journey that you’re on and best of luck to you as you continue to go through this divorce.
Mark: Thank you very much, Rick. And thank you Dr. Baker.
Rick: Amy, we have just a couple of minutes left or literally about a minute left, can you tell our listeners about the program that you have called Restoring Family Connections?
Amy: Sure, I would love to. So in my coaching work, I work with a lot of adult targeted parents who have adult alienated kid. Meaning their child is over 18. And I help a lot of these parents reconnect with their formerly alienated child. So they might have a 20-year-old who they haven’t spoken to in ten years. I can help them sometimes reconnect. But there’s so much damage done to the relationship. And I’m not a therapist and I don’t live everywhere in the country so I can’t help all of these dyads, the adult child and the targeted parent, restore the relationship.
So what I did was I created a program for mental health professionals to use to help all around the country these targeted parents who once they’ve reconnected with their adult alienated child to help them restore trust and balance and communication into their relationship so that they can move forward because it’s not just about like, “Oh yeah, maybe dad was wrong. Maybe mom isn’t a monster.” It’s like how do you make up for ten years of no contact.
Amy: How do you repair that relationship? So that’s what Restoring Family Connections is all about.
Rick: Let our listeners know where they can get a hold of that and also where they could buy your book.
Amy: So everything starts from my website which is www.AmyJLBaker.com, just my name, Amy J.L. Baker. And then from there, there’s a link to the website for the Restoring Family Connections Program. All my books are listed with a little blurb about each one and you can then link right to Amazon to buy the books. There’s also information about my coaching practice on my website and I also am an expert witness. I travel around the country educating judges. And anybody who wants to know more about that can email me and my email address is on my website.
Rick: Well, Amy, I just want to really thank you for coming on the show this morning, getting up so early and I really, really had a great time. It has been super insightful.
Amy: Well, it was truly a pleasure. I’m happy to get up early anytime to talk about parental alienation.
Rick: You know, it’s critical that we as parents maintain the boundaries between adult problems and children. I want to invite everyone to protect your children’s innocence and just allow them to remain children. They must not be burden by your problems that kids don’t have the coping skills or the intellectual ability to understand money worries, adult relationship issues, or their parents’ unhappiness. So take deep breaths. Do what you can to keep your kids out of the situation.
I want to thank everyone again. This is Rick Goldberg. Thanks for listening to Divorce Talk Radio. We’ll see you next week, Sunday morning at 8:00 o’clock right here on …
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