One of the most common boilerplate orders made in child custody matters states something like this: “Neither party shall make disparaging remarks about the other parent, either directly to the minor children or in their presence, nor shall they allow a third party to do so.” Why do we put that language in a court order or judgment, and what does it mean?
It’s emotionally damaging to children to hear one parent, or anyone else, talk badly about the other parent. Stating negative remarks about the other parent can be a form of parental alienation. If children are constantly hearing how bad their other parent is, it can easily become their reality.
Although men can be the alienating parent, in my experience, it’s usually the mother who is the offender. Mom is so angry at Dad that she can’t help herself when talking to others, or even to the children. The alienating parent becomes obsessed with making certain the world knows what a bad person the other parent has become. Sadly, their anger is so intense, they become blind to the fact that they’re really hurting their children. The children become the weapons against the other parent, and the children’s own needs become irrelevant to the accusing parent. This causes undue stress for the children and is a form of child abuse.
Recently, a family friend connected with his father, who he had been told his entire life had abandoned him and his mother when he was only five years old. He grew up with the story in his head and with the feeling that somehow, he wasn’t good enough. But the story wasn’t true. The truth was his father had been searching for him for years and had never stopped loving him. My friend was very conflicted. Here was this man, professing his parental love, with physical proof of all of his searches, yet he was also the man my friend had grown to hate because of what he had been told by his mother. My friend’s reality turned out to be a tragic fairy tale. They lost 45 years of their lives together, and my friend grew up without a father.
Although this was an extreme case, I see attempts at alienation every day. It’s very sad, because although the alienating parent thinks they’re hurting the other parent (and they may be), the true victims are the children.
If you find yourself saying bad things to your children about their other parent, please seek help from a professional to get over your anger, as you’re hurting your children, whether you realize it or not.
Pamela Edwards-Swift is a Certified Family Law Specialist and has been recognized as a Southern California Super Lawyer for the past 10 years