Question of the week: Can you help me understand parental alienation?


“We have a couple divorcing in our church. It appears there is a lot of conflict, and lately I’ve heard the term ‘parental alienation’ being thrown around. I’m not sure I understand what this is all about.”

The term “parental alienation” first appeared on my radar back in the late seventies. It is a very tough issue to deal with. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being caught in the middle of some really hard cases in the past.

Basically, parental alienation is when one parent deliberately tries to destroy the relationship between the child and the other parent. The parent does this over time. The situations I’ve dealt with didn’t necessarily start out that way but developed over the course of the separation and then the divorce process. They have all been high-conflict divorces where the fighting started before the separation and continued throughout and even after the divorce.

One parent gets upset about something and sets out to hurt the other parent, using manipulation and other means to keep the child away from the other parent. Then the parent starts talking bad about the other parent in the child’s presence. The parent criticizes the other parent for everything and make a big to-do about little things.

Sometimes the parent goes to school or speaks to church leaders, trying to turn everyone against the other parent. The child sees and is a party to all of these conversations.

If you are dealing with the parent trying to alienate the other parent, here are some tips for you. Be forewarned: the parent might not accept your help. Instead, the parent may look at you as if you are meddling in private affairs.

  • Pray for that person.
  • Ask the Lord to reveal to you how to talk to that person before you ever approach him.
  • Set a time or make an appointment to talk to the parent.
  • Visit in a neutral public place where the parent can relax.
  • Speak in loving terms, and bring God’s word to the situation.
  • Show how the parent is really hurting the child and not the other parent.
  • Talk with the parent about forgiveness.

If you are helping the parent being alienated, here are some tips for you.

  • One thing I learned from a lawyer is that the parent being alienated needs to document how he reaches out to the child.
  • Keep track of when the parent attempts to visit or visits the child. Include the
    • Date
    • Time of arrival
    • Time of departure
    • Location
    • Other people present
    • Excuses given for the parent not being able to see the child
  • Keep track of emails, texts, and attempted calls to the child.
  • Keep all emails and texts sent by the child and the other parent.
  • Document what the kid shares with the parent. Although this might be considered secondhand information, it is what the child is saying to the parent. It might not even be true, but it can sometimes help paint a picture for the legal system.
  • Be sure to have dates for everything. To write out the documentation, use a pen, not a pencil. If keeping documentation on an electronic device, make sure that it dates the documentation.
  • Keep all electronic documentation, emails, and such in one folder on a computer, or print out this information, and keep it in a physical file.

Now comes the tough part—as the alienated parent tries to heal, move forward, and keep positive images in mind, it will be difficult because the parent will constantly relive the situation.

I’d encourage the parent that once he documents, reads an email or text, or hears what the kids are saying about him, he should go straight to the Lord and ask the Holy Spirit to intervene in his mind to stay free of bitterness. Encourage the parent to read uplifting Scriptures. You might even provide some Scriptures for him to read. Tell the parent to write them on the bathroom mirror to see them each morning. Put them into his phone.

Last, take time to pray with this parent. It is hard not to be judgmental toward the parents, but remember you represent the kingdom of God. You very well may be the quiet, calm, reassuring voice this family needs. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God, but God is a forgiving God.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on March 9, 2015.

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18 thoughts on “Question of the week: Can you help me understand parental alienation?

  1. This is a great article! It really hits close to home!
    May I suggest to the alienated parent, please do not talk poorly of the other parent, even if you feel like you are defending yourself!

  2. WOW! Great words of wisdom and insight, Linda. I am sure that our family gave you plenty of material in forming some of your advice.SO important to share with families who are struggling with this serious, life-altering experience for ALL people and agencies involved, especially documenting efforts. Praying for everyone who is currently in the middle of this or are trying to heal from it. Thanks for sharing !

  3. Very hard to deal with this. It effects so many people within both parents lives. It is very difficult to be manipulated and watch your children look at you like you are the problem.Linda you hit the nail on the head when you said the parent who is being alienated can never heal. It is like being punched in the gut every day. Children involved see the parent stressed and emotionally torn. Then that parent is blamed and made to look bad. My suggestion is if you are going to talk to the parent who is alienating that usually these people are one way thinkers , selfish and will and quickly deny anything. Thank you so much for this topic!

    • You are very welcome. One point though, I think the alienated parent can heal but it takes much longer! It’s not impossible with the help of supporting church family, DivorceCare and of course a relationship with Jesus Christ. 🙂

      • Linda so true! My situation there is no one in the church family, family or friends who understands any of this.

        • Take this article to them. You can print it out if you wish. Just print it as is and leave all the contributions on it.

  4. This is such a important subject. Speaking as someone who tried to control everything and really having none I wish I understood. It is so important to share this knowledge with families in this pain and looking for help . Thank you for sharing. Keep up the good work!

  5. Thanks for the wonderful article. It gave me an opportunity to reach out to a single parent whom is struggling this very minute with the above mentioned situation. It also gave me direction in how to approach them. May God continue to bless you with His wisdom.

  6. Thanks for someone understanding this in the Christian community! I am going through parental alienation right now (preschool child), so this article came at just the right time. Parental alienation is very hard, and seems to extend to my parents. Thanks for the reminder to PRAY. Like you said, parental alienation can happen over time… Any suggestions on how to reinforce to my child that they are not responsible for the separation or for the adult decisions that are being made Thanks.

    • For a preschool age child I would make sure my home is a place where my preschooler can feel safe. A place where your child can just be a little kid with a loving mommy surrounding him or her. One of the best things you can do for your preschool age child is to find a DivorceCare group for yourself. (Go to and click on Find-A-Group). As you heal and find joy in your life, your child will sense your calmness and joy.

      • Thanks so much for the caring response. I am in a Divorce Care group with a wonderful facilitator who mentioned this this specific blog (parental alienation) last meeting.

        • Tell you DivorceCare leader thank you for mentioning our blog. I hope you find other useful information here also.

  7. Thank you for this article! We have been fighting a case of parental alienation. Trying to get it proved in a court is an uphill battle because it’s not recognized a by most courts. We are the grandparents, and I have definitely learned to not be so judgemental when it comes to “the other parent” because what you get told isn’t always the truth. The little minds of divorced children work in amazing ways to protect themselves and survive. It’s sickening when a parent uses that to hurt the other parent. But, I believe that even though we don’t get to see our grand daughter at this time, that God is still with her and will eventually bring healing.

    • Jo, yes we know God can take care of those little ones. While it hurts you as a grandparent, you have the Holy Spirit that can intervene. I’d like to suggest you pray for a substitute grandparent to be able to minister to your grandchild. While it might not be you, another older person can make a lasting impression on a young kid. My husband and I are substitute grandparents at our church. We call ourselves GrandBuddies. Two little girls don’t have a grandma and another boy doesn’t get to see his grandparents. Thanks for commenting. Linda

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