Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents


Parenting an Alienated Child

A Labor of Love

Posted Aug 25, 2015

As Labor Day approaches, I am struck by how hard it is to be a loving and involved parent to an alienated child. It is hard in at least four ways.  The first is that the child and the favored parent create many logistical barriers to the targeted parent actually spending time with the child. Targeted parents are constantly having their time and relationship interfered with and undermined. This is not easy. Visits are canceled at the last minute, plans are changed, the favored parent imposes him- herself wherever s/he can to monopolize the child’s love and attention.

The second way that parenting an alienated child is hard is that these kids are not always easy to like. They can be extremely rude and rejecting in the demeanor, words, and actions. They behave in a most unlovable way. They are cold and unkind. They make the time spent together so unpleasant. They seem to be trying to pull for the worst from the targeted parent, in order to confirm that the targeted parent really is in fact unloving, unsafe, and unavailable. To parent a child in this frame of mind requires the patience of a saint.

The third way in which parenting an alienated child is hard is that it involves watching the child be untrue to his/her best self. Alienated children will discard people who are important and loving. Alienated children will cast off hobbies, talents, and passions as if they mean nothing. They will deny themselves important and pleasurable opportunities if that is what they think the favored parent wants of them. It is very painful to see a child’s talent and pleasure being diminished if not extinguished.

And yet another challenge in being a targeted parent is being ashamed and misunderstood by one’s family and friends who blame the parent or become angry at the child for not behaving better. This can create a feeling of isolation and hopelessness in the targeted parent and a feeling of guilt at letting one’s family down.

So, what does a targeted do with all of the sadness, grief, and struggle involved in parenting an alienated child? The only answer that makes any sense is to carry on in the most loving manner possible in order to bring out the love in the alienated child. More about specific ways to do will be offered in posts to come.