When Mount Royal Universityprofessor Christine Giancarlo, a PhDin human services, began to study thephenomenon of parents alienated fromtheir children, she had no difficultyfinding research subjects.
Parental alienation is when oneparent deliberately poisons a child’srelationship with the other parent. It’sa frequent and unfortunate result ofhigh-conflict divorces and separations.
“I included 28 alienated parents inthe study but I easily could have had5,000,” Giancarlo says. “This is a hugeissue and it has terrible consequences,both for parents and children.”Children who are turned againsta parent can experience toxic stress,which can lead to poor self-esteem,anxiety and depression, anti-socialbehaviour and a number of otherconcerns.
For example, as adults they canabuse substances, have trouble formingsecure, intimate relationships and be
When high conflict
Families can pay the price
Keep in mind
low achievers. They are also more likelyto divorce and separate and becomealienated from their own children.
“To grow up and be emotionallywell, children need loving, supportiverelationships with both parents—evenwhen they’ve separated,” Giancarlosays.
Alienated parents also face problems.Giancarlo’s study specifically looked atwhat happened when alienated parentsused the courts to gain access to theirchildren.
“One of the saddest findings wasthat most participants said they losttheir homes or had been bankruptedbecause of the legal costs they incurred.They turned to the justice system asa last resort and said it failed themmiserably,” she says.
Parental alienation appears to be onthe rise, Giancarlo says. One estimatesays 13 per cent of all divorces are high-conflict, with the children caught in themiddle.
But divorce and separation needn’tbe so financially and emotionallycostly or turn into a court battle. Onealternative is collaborative practice,which focuses on helping couples andfamilies “restructure” by encouragingmutual respect, emphasizing the needsof children and adopting a problem-solving approach.
Ultimately, prevention is the beststrategy. “The key is for parents to riseabove their broken relationship andcommit to their children’s well-beingby cooperating as parents,” Giancarlosays.
— Greg Harris
For more information about avoidingconflict during divorce, seeCo-parenting Through Divorce in theWinter 2013 issue of Apple.
For more information on collaborativepractice, visit collaborativepractice.ca.
In divorce and separation, parents need to rise above their broken
relationship and commit to their children’s well-being.