May 13, 2014 by Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D
As mother's day approaches I want to take a moment to unequivocally state that yes mothers even good mothers can lose their children to parental alienation. One common myth that seems to be "out there" in the world is that parental alienation is something that only happens to fathers and that mothers, because they tend to have residential custody and because (the theory goes) the courts are biased against fathers, rarely lose their kids this way.
While no one has data about the exact gender break down, I can say that without a doubt some mothers do and have been victimized in this way. I believe that part of why this is not talked about as much as fathers' experiences of parental alienation is that mothers who do lose their kids this way are overcome with shame and humiliation and tend to not want to go public with their story. In my conversations with targeted mothers a common theme is that they perceive other people as thinking that they must have done something wrong for their child to reject them.
Many stay silent for this reason, to avoid being blamed and shamed. Another complicating factor is that many women's rights group denounce the existence of parental alienation, claiming that it is a fabricated problem designed to hurt mothers. Thus, women seeking support and guidance from these groups may be given the message that they are mistaken and/or must stay silent. It is time for targeted mothers to go public and be open about their experience, and make it clear that it is possible to be both a feminist and a victim of parental alienation. I strongly believe that the more people talk about this problem, the more likely it is that it can be prevented and treated.
Too often custody cases get bogged down in whether the problem is real rather than focusing on how to resolve the alienation and help heal parent child relationships. In my experience an alienating parent needs three things: (1) motive to undermine the child's relationship with the other parent, (2) access to the child, and (3) skillful use of alienation strategies. These are not the sole purview of either gender.
I encourage all parents (mothers and fathers) to become educated about parental alienation, to help create awareness in their community, and to work towards improving prevention, intervention, and treatment of this terrible form of child abuse.
Dr. Baker has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Teachers College of Columbia University. She is the Director of Research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection at the New York Foundling. She is the author of Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the ties that Bind (WW Norton) and author or co-author of more than 60 peer reviewed articles on parent-child relationships.
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