One of the common tactics of resident parents who set out to alienate the non-resident parent is counter-parenting,
This is typified by constantly contradicting or deliberately doing the opposite to the other parent. It undermines them and plays a percentages game with the childrens’ psychology. It is based on the following logic “I spend most time with them as they live with me and depend on me so I don’t have to compromise on anything and they will come round to my way of thinking or will have to deal with the consequences.”
Examples of counter-parenting range from the petty, like fashion choices “Why would he make you wear that? It’s not what we girls like, is it?” Or “Those trousers? You wouldn’t want to end up like him would you?”. Through to more complex scenarios involving values, ethics and morals, like religious choices, choices of and at school and questions of right and wrong in relationships, etc.
The consequences for the child of the parents contradicting each other in this arena should be obvious and can lead to some extreme developmental dilemmas in later life.
Counter-parenting is clearly a tactical ploy to constantly undermine the stability of the child’s relationship with the other parent in a very practical sense. It causes anxiety, insecurity and is a form of bullying and abuse.
More explicit examples of this include agreeing to the child accepting invitations to stay with friends during scheduled time with the other parent, consciously scheduling special events when they should be with the other parent and not managing any genuine clashes as adults between the adults, but leaving it to the children to resolve.
Over time, little issues grow into a pressure cooker of uncertainty and insecurity as the non-resident parent can’t plan and the child becomes nervous of every event or date. It becomes stressful for all but the resident parent, in fact who, after all, will be taking the children to school on Monday as usual, tucking them into bed 10 nights out of 12 come what may and has no real negotiating to manage if they create the problem. It’s deliberate and it’s spiteful.
Many of us, even in stable marriages, encounter a taste of counter-parenting when unexpectedly having to manage our children’s relationships with their grand parents, especially if they see them a lot. Inevitably, some differences between generations manifest themselves at some stage whether it’s about birthing plans, development goals or setting boundaries for younger children.
Where there are healthy relationships, we tend to take responsibility for our own parents and quietly sort these differences out between us, especially if the previous generation are mature and wise, as they should be. The aim of parenting, after all, is to raise children who are the sum of the learnings of the adults, plus some. But we all know someone who struggles with say an over-bearing in-law, who has unresolved issues with herself and her relationship with son/daughter and needs to impose and dominate in order to validate themselves in some way. These issues are accentuated when a grand child comes along as suddenly their fragile self esteem screams “this is your time, this is the one thing you can really do better than them”.
A large number of our members have reported how modern parenting practices that see dads playing a much more hands on role in the home and especially with their children, have jarred with their in laws in particular.
“It is not uncommon for people who exhibit alienating traits to care more about the needs of their own parents than their child’s. It’s as if they have returned with a child trophy for their parents, as a form of personal validation.”
Some may have talked a good game about wishing their “Bernard” or “Brian” had been more involved when their kids were babies. Yet they just can’t resist elbowing their way in when grand children arrive often coming between their sons in law and their grand children and undermining their own daughters, however unwittingly. And they certainly get involved should problems lead to divorce, venting all that pent-up fury from their own years of frustration. They also have to avoid any blame, come what may.
To quote one of our family law friends “It is not uncommon for people who exhibit alienating traits to care more about the needs of their own parents than their child’s. It’s as if they have returned with a child trophy for their parents, as a form of personal validation. But they are fated to repeat all the same patterns of their youth and look how that story ended.”
So just how much of a link is there between the selfishness of people like this and the patterns of deliberate parental alienation we are witnessing, especially where there is conscious counter-parenting?
And how significant a role are former mothers/parents-in-law playing in reinforcing their parenting models at the expense of all else, dominating their daughters and now grand children, oblivious to the long term costs?
Alternatively, are there actually examples people would like to discuss where in-laws have tried all along to do what’s right and are actively trying to resolve the alienation tactics of their own daughter or son?
As ever, the goal is to share learnings with the aim of ending parent alienation for good. So we are very interested to hear your comments, views and experiences in the comments below or in the Facebook group.