Understanding and encouraging the alienated parent


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In the article Parental alienation—is it real? we defined what parental alienation is and how to help the children affected by it. Another part of effectively ministering to the child is ministering to the parent. Parental alienation is a family issue, and everyone in the family is affected in one way or another. In order to help you better understand the parent’s issue, this post will give you a glimpse into the life of an alienated parent. Hopefully it will encourage you and deepen your resolve to reach out to these hurting families.

As we learned in the previous article, lies and manipulation are used to potentially destroy the parent-child relationship. Imagine being the targeted parent in this scenario.

The eleven-year-old daughter arrives home after a visit with her father. As she walks in the door, she starts shouting. “I don’t know why I have to come to this house. I hate this house. I hate living with you. Dad said this house is too big for you and you just need to sell it. If you’d sell this house, he wouldn’t have to give you all his money. And oh, by the way, he said you had spent my entire college fund on stuff you want. How could you do that to me? That was my money.”

The daughter stomps off to her room, slamming the door in the face of her distraught mother. With tears streaming down her face, the mom walks away, not knowing what to say or what to do.

What would you say to this mom? Is there any hope that she and her daughter can ever resume a loving parent-child relationship?

Being an alienated parent is a very lonely existence

The targeted parent is experiencing a crisis, and the very people who would normally help the parent cope with the pain and agony of the situation are the ones who are causing the crisis.  

Friends, extended family, and even church members most likely will misunderstand the situation. The misunderstandings include thinking the targeted parent is overreacting to the situation or being melodramatic. Some think the child will automatically get over the anger and want to come running back and resume a parent-child relationship. Many will take the “just give it time” stance, assuming everything will blow over if given enough time. Other people will strongly suggest the parent go to court and fight for the child.

As a church leader, you may very well be the only person who can empathize with the alienated parent. One pastor who understood the depth of the pain had this to say about a mom in his congregation: “The mom was fragile because she’d been hurt to the core.”

Alienated parents are grieving

Bryan Hale, a DivorceCare leader and a children’s ministry volunteer at his church, says, “Parents that are being alienated often exhibit things you’d see in extreme cases of grief—depression, suicidal thoughts, that extreme grief that come with extreme loss, like the child has died. They tend to lean more toward grief and depression instead of being angry and acting out in their anger. Some anger can be part of the process, though.”

Is it possible for these people to move forward in their grief? Is it possible for them to turn their lives around and contribute to the kingdom even if they lose their children? I couldn’t image that until I met one special woman.

She was a single mom at a single-parent conference. I observed her taking notes on what was taught. I watched as she worshipped the Lord in song and raised her hands in praise. I saw her bend over other single moms and pray with them. I saw her minister over and over again, and then I heard her story.

She was an alienated mom who had lost custody of her children. She had fought with all her might in court. Accusations and blame were brought forth, and in the end her kids were taken from her and moved out of state. She hadn’t seen her children in several years. Letters, gifts, and cards were returned unopened. She had every right to be angry and despondent, but she wasn’t.

She said, “I have wept bitterly in the past. Now I have turned my life over to the Lord. My children are His children, and I trust Him to care for them, to close their eyes to things they shouldn’t see and their ears to things they shouldn’t hear. I now spend my time and use my mothering instincts to help other single moms care for their kids. In time I trust He will allow my kids to come back to me. I keep the goal of reconciliation at the forefront of my mind always.”

Words from alienated parents

In researching this post, I contacted several alienated parents. Here is what they encourage you to pass on to other alienated parents:

  • Encourage the parent to continue to pray for the ex-partner—this is so very difficult to do. As Becky said, “Praying for my ex helps keep me centered in God’s will for my life. Prayer draws and keeps me close to the heavenly Father.”
  • Sometimes you have to endure hearing your kids tell you how horrible you are while trying to maintain a relationship with them. (Bryan)
  • God can be faithful through all of this. Cling to His promises. (Single mom)
  • Trust God’s time frame for healing and reconciliation. Leave it in God’s hands, and be patient. (Susan)
  • Susan said, “Immerse yourself  in God.” One way she did this was to go through several DivorceCare  cycles and other Bible studies.
  • Don’t respond with negativity. Try to be honest and truthful. (Jennifer)

Parental alienation is a complex topic. However, there are few Christian resources available. It is a topic that few church leaders understand. That might be because it is hard to fathom how any parent could consciously set out to destroy a parent-child relationship that has been sanctioned by God. Parental alienation is real, and it hurts everyone involved. In the next post in this series, we’ll talk about tips you can pass on to the alienated parent in your ministry.


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6 thoughts on “Understanding and encouraging the alienated parent

  1. Pingback: DC4K » Tips to help the alienated parent maintain the parent-child relationship

  2. Pingback: DC4K » Parental alienation—is it real?

  3. Thank you for this very pertinent, often over looked subject. It is more common to see alienation in divorce than some realize.

    • Lynn, thanks for the encouragement. I agree this is an over looked subject. The kids suffer the most so I think the attention we can bring to alienation in the long run helps the children.

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