By Rayna Brachmann, Esq.
When the kids are put in the middle of their parents’ divorce, parents can inadvertently, and sometimes purposefully harm their children. While most parents going through a divorce will occasionally let their anger at their spouse show in front of their children, there is a greater level of estrangement a parent can cause called Parental Alienation Syndrome. Parental Alienation Syndrome is significantly greater than the occasional slip of the tongue demonstrating a parent’s anger, frustration, sadness, etc. While all divorcing parents must use their best efforts to avoid any such comments in the presence or earshot of their children, Parental Alienation Syndrome will most often require professional intervention by a mental health professional to address it effectively. Parental Alienation Syndrome can be deeply detrimental to children and the effects can be long lasting.
Here is a link to an article by a psychologist describing the syndrome and its attributes.
A newly divorced friend recently reflected on comments that are getting back to her by the children regarding her spending habits, (wrong in the view of her former spouse), how she spends her time (selfishly in her ex’s mind) and other negative commentary about her as a person. Needless to say, this is deeply upsetting to her and the children, and objectively the “wrong” way to deal with the emotions following divorce. That is not to say the stray negative comments rise to the level of Parental Alienation, but they are still impactful and to be avoided by parents going through a divorce.
Kids love and need both parents. Even if the relationship is over, in most cases, both parents have something to offer the kids, and the kids are bonded to both parents despite the divorce. Parents who are unable or unwilling to address their anger in more constructive and appropriate ways risk doing long term damage to their children. Below is a song by Ani DiFranco processing the anger her mother bore towards her father in her childhood and its effects on her.
While the artistic contribution is a good one, I’m guessing Ani DiFranco could have found inspiration elsewhere, and likely would have preferred that her mom not immerse her in her own anger after divorce.
It’s natural to have strong emotions during and after divorce. Talk to a counselor. Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. Talk to your lawyer. Start a regular exercise routine. Take up a new activity. DON’T TALK TO YOUR KIDS about it. That’s not their role. And it will impact many of them in a significant and long term way. Your kids deserve better.