© 2010 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
For the next few months, I’m going to be blogging about child alienation – the subject of my new book: Don’t Alienate the Kids! This is such a huge and important subject these days. It appears that about 15% of children become alienated when their parents go through a divorce (and it appears higher for unmarried parents). And this number seems to be rapidly growing in the last few years.
Why do I care about this problem? For the past 30 years I’ve been working with children and parents, first as a teacher, then as a child and family counselor, then as a family law attorney, and now I also train judges on managing high conflict people in court. I have seen dramatic changes in how children are raised over these 30 years – especially the influence of TV shows, news programs and the internet. I believe these influences are increasingly negative and beyond the control of any one parent, and there are many people who have similar concerns.
We need to support each other and we need to help parents – rather than criticize them – when going through a divorce. Children are the future and belong to all of us. They become adults who lead successful or disabled lives in their relationships at home, at work and in their communities. I believe we are disabling children in many of today’s divorces, as they learn lessons that will undermine them as adults – unless all of us help redirect some of the basic values of today’s society.
With this in mind, I’ll be blogging about three Cultures of Blame:
1) The Family Culture of Blame when there is a high conflict parent (often with a personality disorder) who unconsciously teaches his or her children all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions and extreme behaviors from birth. I don’t blame this parent, as it’s a condition they didn’t choose and they can’t see. Instead, we need to intervene and stop or change this behavior as soon as possible. From my informal surveys of professionals, about half of such families have two high-conflict parents, and about half have one parent who is reasonable and just trying to manage the situation by “walking on eggshells”. In many ways, I am gearing this blog to such “reasonable parents” who are searching for explanations and answers about dealing with a high-conflict spouse/partner.
2) The Family Court Culture of Blame, where parents and family law professionals fight over who to blame for one issue or another. Child alienation is one of the biggest fights these days, as some parents and professionals blame it all on “the alienator” – the favored parent who they believe has purposefully alienated the child against the rejected parent. Other parents and professionals blame it all on the rejected parent as “the abuser” who must have done something wrong, even though the worst behavior of that parent is usually so minor that it just doesn’t fit.
Of course children need protection from child abuse and child alienation, and that is what makes these cases so difficult. We need to address the real underlying mental health problems, rather than making it a contest with a winner parent and a loser parent – which doesn’t help either of them or the child. This parent contest is part of the problem, as it makes it harder to see abuse and alienation, and properly manage them. In many cases, there may be both alienation and abuse.
We need to stop the parent contest, and take a much more broad and supportive approach to parents dealing with a child who rejects one parent – who could be Mom or Dad; who could be the custodial parent or the non-custodial parent. It’s no longer a gender issue. I have dealt with the full range of these kinds of cases, and the full range of professional behavior – some are part of the problem, while many are trying hard to be part of the solution. My focus is on behavior in family court, not who to blame. We all need to take responsibility, including me! We all have made mistakes and need to learn.
3) Society’s Culture of Blame, promoted by the full range of today’s media, which seems to have become addicted to conflict and extreme behavior. By pushing violence, disrespect, self-centeredness, extreme emotions and individual blame for complex problems, this culture is stressing and alienating ALL children. The rate of anxiety is higher than ever for all children. I believe it is a significant factor in children becoming alienated from a parent as a way of coping with divorce in today’s Culture of Blame. They have been trained to blame.
So I hope you will share your comments, questions and experiences. I look forward to a spirited (and respectful) discussion of this controversial and important subject!
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.