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Children Resisting Contact and Parental Alienation

  • Fiona
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03 Oct 12 #359043 by Fiona
Topic started by Fiona
Retired child and family psychiatrist, Nick Child, has recently added a new section to his website about children resisting contact and parental alienation. Nick was a consultant child and family psychiatrist in the Child and Family Clinic, Motherwell for 22 years. Retired in 2003, he still works part-time as a Family Therapist.

Although it was written for family therapists Nick adapts his guide to demystify children resisting contact and parental alienation for a much wider audience of legal and other helping professions if not for policy makers, lay people and families too.

The guide is obviously written from the Scottish perspective, but I think it is the best resource for children resisting contact/parental alienation I have come across and it will be helpful to those involved in children disputes both north and south of the border, particularly for its international reading list complete with links.

Family Therapy and other helping professions in Britain are hugely, almost religiously, committed to being against sweeping generalisations and prejudices, and to being open to hearing the individuals and the particulars involved in unique situations. That''s why we don''t like labels in general. Yet somehow we can forget this aspiration when the allergy to PA jumps on us and we want nothing further to do with it. We need to step past our allergy and persist until we find a more nuanced picture. Read the opening paragraphs of Fidler and Bala as the next step past your allergy:

... As with so many issues in family law, there are polarized, strongly gendered narratives of alienation. Some men’s rights activists claim that mothers alienate children from their fathers to seek revenge for separation, some making false and malicious allegations of abuse. These groups may further assert that the courts are gender-biased against fathers in dealing with child custody matters generally and especially when addressing alienation. Some feminists dismiss all, or most, alienation claims as fabricated by male perpetrators of intimate partner violence, often also abusive fathers, to exert control over the victimized mother and maintain contact with children, who justiably resist or refuse contact with them, this being an adaptive and positive coping mechanism. While there is some validity to both of these narratives, each has signicant mythical elements, and furthermore, in our view, neither is especially helpful for improving the lives of children. The reality of these cases is often highly complex and not captured by either of these relatively simplistic explanations. ...

Take note: "There are polarised strongly gendered narratives .. each has some validity .. [but also] significant mythical elements .. and neither is especially helpful for improving the lives of children."

Abuse AND alienation can and do happen in families separately or together. And they both appear especially when families are separating. We will do better to open our minds and study this field as it is in wider complicated distressing reality, not just how we imagine it is in our simple imaginations and the inevitable bias of our own limited experiences. Luckily people around the world have done a lot of research and thinking already – even in the UK actually – and they’ve published it. Especially since the UK and Scotland seem not to have much access to that research and published literature, let’s just read what others have said before thinking we know it all, eh?!

Here''s some thinking that may help us avoid unhelpful oversimplified polarised myths:
There are loads of well managed family separations. In other words, many if not most men and women / fathers and mothers and their children collaborate with love and care, putting their children first even if it is hard for them to do. Those of us who get to see the problematic separations may forget this. So let''s remember that there are many good parents of both genders. So when anyone appears to damn all Xs and praise all Ys remember that just cannot be true.

Some men and some women are not as mature and balanced, and not so good as parents. But they are still mostly doing the best they can. Their children still mostly love them and want to be loved by them.

Good separated parents set aside their own negative feelings in order to actively support and encourage their children''s relationship with the other parent. They may even have to make special contact arrangements.

Remember that if there are ''bad'' parents they are not all the same gender. Men / fathers can be ''bad'', and women / mothers can be too. Again anyone who seems to universally praise one gender and damn the other is mythologising.

''Bad'' is in quotes because ''bad'' is a label and presumption others may have to make that does little or nothing to help the person. Evidence shows that even the most ''evil'' criminals were themselves victims as children of terrible combinations of neglect, violence, sexual abuse, and brain damage. See e.g. Lewis; Pincus. It''s hard to sustain the natural ''bad/evil/psychopathic'' thinking when you know what nearly all these children suffered without any of the protection or help that we aspire to for today''s children.

Which reminds us why protecting children of separated parents is important. That sometimes means that someone does have to assess the quality of each parent''s parenting, residential and contact parent (not just assume it is ok).

But the commonest ''bad parenting'' in this situation is the joint result of parents in conflict over their children - sometimes with legal and other agencies virtually cheering the fight on from the sidelines. A child caught between warring parents is being neglected and emotionally abused whether or not there is any other abuse identified. Everyone involved needs to find a better resolution.

Probably the less happy separations are most often a messy mixture of feelings, facts, allegations and truth. It is best to always assume there is no single simple pattern happening. It is very common for both sides of a conflictual separating couple to give entirely believable but opposite stories against the other. If professional adults find this hard to understand and resolve, just remember the far harder position of their children who mostly hope to love and be loved by both their parents. The children have to find non-simplistic answers if they can. So must we.

It is important to be repeatedly clear that if there is any chance of risk or abuse (by either parent), then that risk is the absolute priority to assess and manage. Abuse or concern for child protection are not merely part of a dispute; they are (true or alleged) serious offences to be treated as such.

When there is abuse mixed in with alienation it is even harder to assess and separate them out. But if there is any actual risk from the rejected parent of abuse (neglect, physical or sexual abuse), it is by definition not the PA pattern. It is not PA, it is not PA. When there is good reason for the rejection, then it is reasonable alienation. No caring person or parent ever wants a child to have to face contact - or at least not unsupervised contact - with a parent where there is real risk of abuse. So abuse and risk do happen sometimes (and may produce CRC patterns). Elements of alienation may be mixed in as well along the CRC spectrum. And equally the distinct pattern of Parental Alienation can sometimes also happen. See below for the likelihood of PA/S amounting to emotional abuse of the child, and the much harder thinking required to sort out the who and the what about that.

One way for Scotland to be ahead of the game is for those who emphasise any particular position here to always acknowledge the complexity, that many patterns happen, that each troubled family must be carefully assessed rather than presumptions made.

We in Scotland could aim to neither make nor accept any mythical statements. Mythical statements are recognisable because in one powerful assertion they tend to induce an emotional paralysis of our proper thinking and talking about a complex range of difficult things.

I posted a link to the full article a few weeks ago but I think a lot of posters might find it useful and it''s worth flagging up.


  • Nick234678
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12 Sep 14 #444313 by Nick234678
Reply from Nick234678
Hi Fiona
Long time no contact. Sorry about that. It''s not that we haven''t been busy, just not possible to do everything!
You might like to note and add that I have created a shorter clearer webpage on CRC here:
Best wishes

  • Fiona
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12 Sep 14 #444319 by Fiona
Reply from Fiona
Hi Nick,

It is indeed a long time. I know what you mean about being busy, it doesn''t get any easier does it?

Thanks for the link I''ve had a quick look and I''ll read it properly over the weekend but I''m sure posters will find the page very useful.

Cheerio the noo.

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