Family Issues: Parental Alienation

PAS syndrome

How to Deal With a Hostile or Non-cooperative Ex When You Have Kids

Are you dealing with an angry ex? If you have children, have gone through a divorce or separation, and are dealing with a hostile or a non-cooperative parent, you find yourself in a difficult situation where parental alienation is often the result.  Ideally, both parents would put aside their personal differences in order to do what’s best for the child’s emotional health and well-being.  Yet, often one parent is filled with unresolved anger, resentment, and hostility towards the other parent. Hopefully, they would address any unresolved issues through therapy rather than acting out. That step would greatly improve their ability to be an effective co-parent.

Unfortunately, the same reasons that stop a parent from being an effective co-parent are the same issues that stop them from searching out a positive solution to their personal issues. Unless you are involved in a potentially abusive situation (and these do exist) and have been told that any contact with your ex is dangerous, see if they will take this step with you.

Anger, frustration, disappointment, and other feelings are common at the end of relationships.  If the ending has been unhealthy and filled with animosity, one or both parents may feel challenged to reconcile their new role; a role that has you connected through the child but disconnected in other relationship areas. It’s crucial the parents learn to make the switch from partners to parents. Too often, one parent has unresolved anger that has them falling into the trap of using their child as a means of revenge against the ex, or playing the role of therapist and/or spousal substitute.  They either vent and rail against the other parent or their hatred and anger infect the child in subtle ways that negatively affect the child.

In a majority of these relationships one adult has a hard time letting go and moving on.  These are often the parents that become hostile or non-cooperative. The question is why?

Why would a parent go out of their way to poison a child against another parent, knowing that this harms the child and has long-term consequences including lowered self-esteem and depression?  Why would a parent use hostility against another parent?  Does that seem effective or good modeling for the child?  Why would a parent be passive-aggressive or noncooperative?  There are no good answers to these questions because what is happening is that they are living out their anger issues to the detriment of the child. They are self-focused (some would would say narcissistic) forgetting about the overall welfare of the child.

Despite the anger or frustration that a parent may feel toward another parent, attempting to deal with these situations in the above manner harms the child more than the ex.  Many times this is a rudimentary attempt by a person who feels powerless to exert some type of power in this situation- at the expense of the child.  By avoiding or attacking with hostility, the parent feels some pretense of power.

So what can you do when you are dealing with this type of situation.  The real answer-not much.  When the situation is this severe you may be dealing with someone who has a personality disorder that’s beyond the scope where your efforts can succeed. Here are three broad solutions that you can use depending upon the particular situation you are in.

1.  Depending upon the age of the child you may be able to seek a legal remedy for parental alienation or have a forensic psychological examination performed in a custody hearing.  Unfortunately the expense related to this “solution” is beyond the reach of many people.

2. The next possible solution would be to suggest to the other parent that they attend a counseling session with you in an attempt to resolve these issues.  What often happens is that the hostile parent cannot separate out their personal issues with the other parent and much of the time is spent with them expressing their unresolved anger toward the non-hostile parent. This only works when the hostile parent is honest enough to see that they are contributing to this problem.  What often happens is that this parent would rather be hostile and is often afraid of attending counseling sessions since it is obvious that their behavior is inappropriate.  They would rather not face this and so counseling is often out of the question.

3. You could also ask a mutual friend to suggest to the other parent that counseling may help improve the parenting relationship and point out that this would directly benefit the child.

Parallel Parenting describes this situation– where you are simply dealing with a parent who refuses to co-parent with you.  If you find the hostile parent simply refuses all attempts to effectively parent, take the time to develop a support system for yourself.  There is a lot of pain and frustration associated with these types of situations and it is important for your well-being, and the well-being of your child that you develop the support that you and your child need.

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