Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents

Coaching Targeted Parents: Additional Observations

Why unconditional love may feel counter productive to a targeted parent

Posted Aug 15, 2012

I have now been coaching targeted parents for about two months and am still really enjoying the opportunity to work closely with individual parents as they try to make sense of the often bizarre behavior of their alienated children. Even when parents know “in their head” that their child is a victim it is sometimes hard to see that when the child is behaving in such an entitled, rude, arrogant, and nasty manner. I coach parents to find a photograph of their alienated child from a time before the alienation took hold and to look at the picture every day (perhaps keep it on the refrigerator or by the night table). This should help to spark a sense memory in the parent about the little child who is trapped inside the alienation. Somewhere inside each alienated child is a little boy or girl who wants to love and be loved by both parents.

I am also noticing an interesting paradox in that if the alienated child is aligned with the favored parent at least partly out of fear of that parent’s rejection should the child not tow the party line of hating the targeted parent, will the targeted parent’s unconditional love actually perpetuate the alienation? As one targeted parent asked me something akin to, “If my child knows that I will love him no matter what and he can always come back to then maybe he will remain alienated for a longer time.” While that may be true the solution to that problem, it seems to me, is worse than the cure. The logical conclusion would be for the targeted parent to let the child know that s/he will not love the child if s/he continues to behave badly and thus, perhaps, spark a fear of abandonment in the child with respect to that parent. Essentially the targeted parent is playing hard to get in order to activate the child’s desire for that parent.

The real answer I believe is to take a slightly longer view and hope that by offering unconditional love the child will ultimately come back. Besides, once the targeted parent acts like an alienator then it validates the appropriateness of the behavior of the favored parent. That is hardly the message that any targeted parent wants to give to their child.

The sad truth is that the favored parent—at least in the short run—is able to win the child over by a combination of fear, lies, flattery, and gratification of material desires. This is a daunting combination to go up against and my heart goes out to every targeted parent dealing with parental alienation.

I have found in my coaching that I am able to help the targeted parent both understand their particular alienation story a little better and to craft more effective responses to both the child and the favored parent.