Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents

The Role of Hope and Skill in Navigating Parental Alienation

Targeted parents need hope to energize them and skills to guide them.

Posted Jan 02, 2019

Calendar milestones often induce comparisons with where one was last year at the same time. No milestone is more likely to invoke thoughts about the passage of time than new year’s eve, a likely impetus for this kind of reflection and comparison-making. Targeted parents are certainly not immune from comparing where they were last year especially with respect to the distance with their child. Have things gotten worse? Will things ever get better? How can another year have gone by without a relationship with a beloved child? How many more years will this pain and suffering have to be endured? These are the typical thoughts of targeted parents during this time of year.

More than anything I wish I had a magic wand so that I could (A) promise all targeted parents that they will get their children back and (B) make it happen immediately! Absent a magic wand, I offer the two next best things, in my opinion: hope and skills. These are what I work on in my coaching practice with targeted parents. Having studied and seen in my work so many cases of parents and children reconciling, I can personally attest to the fact that there is often cause for hope even in some pretty bleak PA situations. As an outsider, I can usually see the instances or signs that suggest that the child has not completely closed his/her heart to the targeted parent. Not clouded by grief and pain, I can sometimes see these signs of hope better than the parent. Sometimes pointing them out to the targeted parent can be very helpful (as long as promises are not made and false hope is not generated).

I have found that realistic hope can be very energizing for targeted parents because it can fuel the desire to persevere. Without hope, there is little energy or appetite for the painful acts of reaching out to a child who is not likely to respond. With hope, there is reason to pick up the phone and send that text or knock on that door or show up to a school or athletic event.  

Hope, however, is not enough. It provides the energy but not the direction for the energy to move in. That is where skills come in. Undirected hope can lead to ill-timed or poorly worded efforts to connect with an alienated child that can inadvertently entrench the alienation. It is such a sad irony that many times the efforts of the targeted parent to remain connected to the alienated child can backfire because the action inadvertently reinforces the distorted belief that the targeted parent is unsafe, unloving, and unavailable. Responding with anger, attacks, disdain, contempt, and counter-arguments, as many know, do not work. They simply create more strife, ill-feelings, and tension between parent and child. As many know, a range of alternative strategies and responses are offered in my books and through the coaching. Of course, there is no one right response to an alienated child’s distorted accusations but the skill that is most needed is that of compassion and reflection rather than arguing and explaining.

So, in this time of a new year, I extend my compassion to all targeted parents. I offer you genuine hope that your child will come back to you. I offer you the understanding that engaging with your alienated child is an act that requires enormous amounts of energy and skill. May you be blessed with both in the upcoming year.