You might have heard about the Judge in Michigan who put three children in juvenile detention for refusing to visit with their father. Well now the same Judge has ordered the children to attend reunification therapy with their father.
What is reunification therapy?
When children grow up in an atmosphere of parental alienation, their primary role model is a manipulative, dysfunctional parent. It is for this reason that many family law experts recommend custody reversal in such cases, or at least a period of separation during the reunification process with an alienated parent. I have come to believe, however, that the means of combating alienation should not themselves be alienating, and that co-parenting being the primary goal. Thus engaging and involving the alienating parent in reunification programs, whenever possible, is critical.
Parents and children who have undergone forced separation in situations where there was no abuse, including cases of parental alienation, are highly subject to post-traumatic stress. Reunification efforts in these cases should proceed carefully and with sensitivity. Alienated children typically have a secret wish for someone to call their bluff, compelling them to reconnect with the parent they claim to hate; despite strongly held positions of alignment, alienated children want nothing more than to be given the permission and freedom to love and be loved by both parents.
Research has shown that many alienated children can transform quickly from refusing or staunchly resisting the rejected parent to being able to show and receive love from that parent, followed by an equally swift shift back to the alienated position when back in the orbit of the alienating parent. While children’s stated wishes regarding parental residence and contact in contested custody after divorce should be considered, they should not be the determining factor in cases of parental alienation.
Alienated parents should try to expose their children to people who regard them with honor and respect as parents, to let children see that their negative opinion, and the opinion of the alienating parent, is not shared by the rest of the world. This type of experience will leave a stronger impression than anything the alienated parent can say on his or her own behalf.
Patience and hope, unconditional love, being there for the child, is the best response that alienated parents can provide their children, even in the face of the sad truth that this may not be enough to bring back the child.
With alienating parents, it is important to emphasize that as responsible parenting involves respecting the other parent’s role in the child’s life, any form of denigration of a former partner and co-parent is harmful to children. Poisoned minds and instilled hatred toward a parent is a very serious form of abuse of children.
Finally, it is often quite difficult to discern who is the alienating and who is the targeted parent in alienation cases. Thus equal or shared parenting is clearly preferable to primary residence or sole custody orders in potential alienation cases, as courts are ill-equipped to assess the dynamics attendant to parental alienation, and co-parenting is preventive of alienation.
If you are seeking a reunification therapy I highly recommend:
Dr Deborah Lewis Harris
Clinical Psychologist for adults