Parental Alienation and DemocracyBy penumbrook
I don’t pretend to be an expert in Parental Alienation, but I do know that it exists. PA is what we do to–and what happens to–a child when parents, especially in divorce and child custody situations, badmouth each other.
In general, the process applies to target parents that, in reality, have not abused the child. I add the words “in reality” because a PA child may not be able to discern the difference. Alternatively, a PA child may not wish to cross the ire of the alienating parent for fear of painful retribution.
PA can get so bad that the child becomes brainwashed against the targeted parent. The process can affect the child for the rest of his or her life in some or all of the following ways:
- The child can’t have a normal relationship with the targeted parent.
- The child’s ability to love and trust the alienating parent is diminished or destroyed, usually because that parent has used their power and control to destroy the target parent’s love of the child; and, finally,
- The child may never form a lasting relationship with another human being.
The severity of these three fundamental symptoms of PA varies from divorce to divorce and child to child.
One divorce may be extremely hostile and the child may have found defenses against the alienation early on; so the worst is mitigated. Another divorce may be less filled with conflict, but the child may be extremely sensitive to the world, thus leading to an irresolvable conflict within the child that leads to an inability to deal with anything to do with human interaction.
But, PA is not only limited to divorce situations. There are times when battling parents stay together for the sake of the children, only to verbally or physically battle everyday in front of the child.
My intent here is not to pass judgment on any particular family, but to give insight into the multi-generational aspects of PA that degrade democracy in our country.
About my family:
I grew up in a family where nearly every time I remember my parents interacting, they did so with respect. There were moments of physical displays of affection and there was cooperation when performing a task, such as getting all seven of us kids to Grandma’s house every other Sunday.
PA was nearly absent within my nuclear family. So my firsthand knowledge of PA does not come from my childhood experiences.
What does come from my childhood is a fundamental belief in mutual respect as a part of every relationship. With seven siblings, my family was not a perfect union. There were many clashes, both physical and ideological. In a sense, we functioned like a miniature democracy.
The Founding Fathers of our Country knew that the family, then the community, then the state, then the nation would be the natural organization of a democratic-republic. Democracy itself is founded upon the family. When the family produces children with a healthy understanding of life, liberty, and happiness, democracy thrives.
The numbers may be argued, but I think most people agree that more than 50 percent of marriages fail and many failed marriages have kids.
If a group of persons were entering a business venture that failed as often, there would be some serious investigations. When the business relationship is called marriage and the where the intent of the relationship is to raise children, no one seems to be adequately questioning the failure of families.
Families don’t have to be broken by divorce. Yet, it is a shameful fact that our adversarial divorce process encourages sole custody that actually creates broken families. Sole custody enables a controlling parent, the custodial parent, and disables the parenting ability of the non-custodial parent.
When the custodial parent wants the family broken, the non-custodial parent has no choice and no voice. The process of divorce is not simply adversarial–where adversaries at least have a voice–; it can be tyrannical and antithetical to democracy itself.
Estimates are that in about 80 percent of divorces with kids, one parent badmouths the other; some slightly and some more so. It is a natural thing to experience heightened emotions in divorce and it’s not always easy to keep children protected. However, in slightly over 20 percent of divorces, the badmouthing and other behavior is consistent, intentional, and malicious. In these cases, it is so severe that it results in a child losing the parental bond and having strong feelings against the non-custodial parent.
About 50 years ago, there was a severe social stigma to being divorced. Over, the next 20 years, the stigma diminished. Common mantras in the nascent feminist movement were “Kick the bum out” and the leading question “Would you be better off with him, or without him?” Men could only agree with the logic. Everyone wants to live in a perfect marriage and family.
But about 30 years ago, the mantras became embedded in the pre-marital minds of young people across America. Marriage didn’t have to be about romantic love and living happily ever after. Marriage could be the ticket to a better life. Multiple marriages were providing many women with power and wealth. Sadly, children are a part of the wealth created during marriage and a woman gets to take those possessions with her over 85% of the time.
Also, the false idea that “a divorced woman’s economic status suffers in divorce” has been repeated too often. Better statistical data, today, shows that after five-years custodial women are far better off, economically, than their divorced husbands. Additionally, these ex-husbands have lost the experience of their children’s childhoods and most importantly, the children have lost their father.
The net gain of divorce–in just one single divorce–is not a gain at all. It is a loss.
Questions of Synthesis:
In relation to the above concepts, I present the following questions:
· What happens when we multiply the net loss of a single divorce by the number of divorces?
· What happens when we multiply the number of divorces by the children who have diminished, damaged, or destroyed relationships with the non-custodial parents? And;
· What happens when we multiply the children of these divorces over the last 50 years of increasing divorces in this country?
To the first question:
In a single year, the number of divorces happening in this country exceeds the number of families coming together. The more that sole-custody is pushed by adversarial parties, the more likely that one parent will be left without a voice.
We not only have broken families; we have a new under-class of citizens against whom a prejudice has not been widely recognized.
Tyranny ascends and democracy declines.
To the second question:
If parents cannot get along for the sake of their children, there will be children suffering from all severities of PA. These children will know three truths;
a) It is acceptable to treat some people (non-custodial parents and by extension others) with prejudice and bias.
b) Figures of authority (the custodial parent and by extension others) can take away anything you have, including the love of another human being.
c) People are expendable. Therefore, it is ok to use everyone and anyone for maximum profit and gain. Love, marriage, and families have no meaning beyond a person’s own satisfaction.
The effects of this will be widespread.
To the third question:
Marriages and even the willingness to engage in relationships will decline. No man will be acceptable to any woman except for her short-term profit.
For those men who risk marriage, the state will have full control over their lives at the whims of the women to whom they just pledged their life. The smarter man will fear and avoid the power and control women can exert over their life, liberty, and happiness.
Our evolutionary tendency to gather in groups for protection and well-being will be permanently altered.
The family–the fundamental unit of democracy–will cease to exist.
It is not irrational to fear for democracy itself.
None of us, alone, can undo the worst decisions we have made in the past as a culture. But, we do have time to stem the tide of anti-family behavior that is now rooted in Family Courtrooms around the country.
If we remove the mechanism of power and control–sole custody–, we must replace it with a mechanism that will foster child bonds between both parents. That replacement is often referred to as “Shared Parenting.”
A second step is to understand the powerful principles of respect and dignity within the family. For too long, Freud and Jung have thwarted the family with sexually rooted excuses and introspective “cognitive behavioral” trips to nowhere. Instead, Alfred Adler has a practical way to short circuit the destructive tendencies of individuals within the family and beyond, in separation and divorce.
The basics taught in parenting programs, such as Active Parenting (activeparenting.com) or the Family Education Training Center of Hawaii (efetch.org), should be brought to a wider audience at a younger age. Sex education in high schools should include, not just physical anatomy, but education of the emotions of passion and the principles of family life.
Finally, opponents of Parental Alienation should acknowledge that blaming men, fathers, and other non-custodial parents puts us all on a slippery slope. Blaming others is easy. But it is not what our children or our democracy needs.
Doing nothing for our children is not an option.
I can’t duplicate, for my own children, the positive effects of democracy within the family that I learned through my parents as I grew up. But I can write against the scourge.
Even in divorce or separation, a family does not have to be destroyed.
To find out more about PA and other issues affecting parents of children of divorce, visit my web site at http://www.mywiferanoffwithourkids.com/.