Parental Alienation

Parental alienationFathers’ Day in the U.S. is coming up in June. If you’re a dad, make sure you give yourself a break if you feel out of sorts on your special day.

In case you missed our April article, it was about how to survive holidays and special events during estrangement.

We also have a podcast episode called 4 Steps to a Better Mothers Day, which definitely applies to Fathers Day as well.

Since fathers are highlighted this month, and since this is a newsletter for estranged parents, it seems fitting to talk about a problem that affects fathers disproportionately, and that is parental alienation. (It happens to mothers, too, but today we’re talking about dads.)

Even if you’re not alienated from your child(ren) by your ex, there’s something in this article for you if you’ve ever been alienated from your child by ANYONE.

In addition, read on if you consider yourself a tad emotionally unavailable, and also to find out why your child might be reluctant to reconcile (Hint: Human nature strikes again.)

Alien Nation

According to Jennifer Harman, PhD, parental alienation (a deliberate campaign to turn a child or children against one of their parents) affects about 13% or 22 million Americans. Of course, those numbers don’t include the untold millions in other countries suffering from the same damaging behavior.

While both mothers and fathers can see their children turned against them by the other parent, fathers seem to make up the majority of targets, since they remain more likely to get the short end of the custody stick.

Lack of contact with their children, fueled by parenting stereotypes, makes fathers vulnerable to alienation by the custodial parent.

In the video below, parental alienation expert Jennifer Harman talks about what parental alienation is, how it affects children, and how we can support non-abusive fathers in cultivating lasting relationships with their children.

By the way, alienating behaviors affect not only children and the targeted parent, but research shows they can have a rebound effect on the alienator. Thus, alienation is like a nuclear weapon; it’s impossible to deploy without collateral damage.

Dr. Harman discusses the impact of parental alienation, and a solution.

Alienated by Others?

Even if your child’s other parent hasn’t tried to turn them against you, someone else may be driving a wedge between you and your child.

It could be your child’s spouse or partner, other relatives, or anyone in a position to influence them. Both mothers and fathers are susceptible to the impact of negative influencers.

What can you do about it?

I found a helpful video^ that offers the following steps for alienated parents. Although the advice in the video is aimed at fathers of younger children, the advice is spot-on for anyone whose child has been turned against them by anyone else.

Here are the steps suggested in the video, modified to fit a broader range of situations:

1. Stop talking to your kids about the alienation
2. Maximize time spent with them+
3. Give them options, ask for their opinion
4. Be a better person than the alienator
5. Be empathetic (e.g., use validation copiously)

Watch the video below for full explanations of each of these restorative steps.

+Unless you’ve been asked to reduce contact.

Make sure that even if you have only one interaction with them a year, it’s an unequivocally positive one in the eyes of your child. The Reconnection Club provides ideas and tools for how to do that.

If you live in the same city as your child, be sure to prepare for unexpected contact as well.


These steps are relevant for anyone alienated by another person.

Dad’s Emotional Availability

I found a sensitive article about emotionally distant fathers, and the impact they have on their children. You might think such an article would be a downer, but I found it to be full of hope.

The article was written by a disappointed daughter who’s decided to make the effort to meet her dad where he is. That’s one ray of sunshine.

The other is that, from my professional point of view, it’s never too late to develop your emotional life, and to share that gift with your children.

If you’re a dad — or a mom — who tends to keep your feelings inside, you can inject new life into your most important relationships by experimenting with being more emotionally available.

If you don’t know what that means, let alone how to do it, find a therapist you like and tell them, “I think I might be emotionally unavailable. I want to change that, but I don’t know where to start. Can you help?”

A good therapist will be able to help you identify, label, and effectively share emotions with the people you love.

Here’s the article that inspired this tidbit: Life With an Emotionally Distant Parent (Tip: Skip the video at the top of the page; it’s just celebrity news.)

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