You know the story: two women come to King Solomon with a dispute about whose baby a certain infant is. The king comes up with a plan: He'd get a sword and slice it in half, so that each of the women could have a part of the baby. Woman #1 says (I'm paraphrasing), “Sure! That seems fair to me. Sounds like a good plan.” Woman #2 cries out, “No! Don't hurt the baby! The other woman can have the child – just don't hurt it!”
Now, in the story, at this point wise King Solomon swoops in and recognizes that the woman who doesn't want the child to be hurt must be the true mother, and gives that woman the child. A nice, happy ending to an otherwise somewhat gruesome tale. Hoorah!
Unfortunately, while actual swords and physical slicing aren't too common, the concept of splitting children in two happens. All. The. Time. When one parent bad-mouths the other parent to the child(ren) – in overt or subtle ways – and the child begins to express reluctance to be with that parent, that's what is generally referred to as “parental alienation.” It's sick, and it's wrong, and so sad for the kids ….. and in some cases, it's illegal.
What do you do when one parent is willing to split the baby in two like that? If you use the same tactics back, then you are no better than the other parent. If you act like Woman #2 and in essence offer for the other parent to keep the whole child so long as the child isn't harmed, then you're essentially giving in to the tactics. Hate to break it to you, but unfortunately there often (usually) is not a wise king who swoops in and sees what is really going on and makes things right. So … what do you do?
I am not going to suggest that there is an easy solution or a 9-step plan to follow that will result in guaranteed success. But there are things that can – and should - be done. The three most important ones are these:
Even if your ex has successfully interfered in your relationship with your children, try to ignore those efforts as much as the circumstances will allow. Remember, as best you can, this is not about you! If the child is reluctant to hug you, don't force him to – backing off may give him assurance in new ways. If the child is spending less time with you than before, just make the time that you do have count all the more. Do not try to talk your way back into the child's heart or ask what the other parent has said about you. Your ex is already putting the child “in the middle” of the conflict, so if you can just act normally and remove the child from the conflict altogether, you will be doing him or her a great service.
Keep a log of things that happen in this regard. Preferably in handwriting, and in a journal or notebook that is only for that purpose. While the events may be upsetting, to the extent possible, try to just write what happened, factually. Describe the “when, where, who” of the situation. Include as many descriptive details as you can. Avoid opinions and adjectives describing your ex. You may very well need to vent or express strong emotions, and should do so … just grab a different journal and do that there. Keep copies of any relevant emails, texts, or other exchanges.
Parental alienation is hard on the children, of course, but it's also hard on the parent experiencing it. Do not hesitate to get help dealing with it – whether from a family member, a counselor, a friend, a religious leader, or whoever else you can gain strength from. You will be stronger for your children if you are sure to take good care of yourself on this front. (At New Leaf Family, we have a team ready to help you if you'd like.)
Meanwhile, it's going to be extremely important that you find a lawyer who can deal with these issues. Not all lawyers can – not even all family lawyers. This is not an easy thing to have to deal with. It is complicated. It is messy. Often neither parent is without fault .. but that doesn't make it right. We work with parents, when necessary, to see their own role too. Ultimately you may need to get a court to see what is happening, and exercise the “Wisdom of Solomon,” and it is important to get your house in order first. Many times in order to get a formal court order the children will have to be brought into the court process (which of course may make the effects of the parental alienation efforts even worse, since the children may be led to believe that them having to go to court is “your fault”). However, there may be other strategies that your lawyer can help you put into effect that may be at least as effective, if not more so, in helping the adults figure stuff out, and get the kids out from the middle.
Image: 'Fresco of the Judgement of Solomon' by F Bucher;