Dr. Jennifer J. Harman
Jennifer J. Harman, PhD is an Associate Professor (Social Psychology) at Colorado State University and the coauthor of Parents Acting Badly: How Institutions and Societies How Institutions and Society Promote the Alienation of Children from their Loving Families.
What is your PA story?
There are many parts of my PA story. Many years ago, I dated someone who had children, and his ex launched a campaign to destroy our relationship the minute she found out about it. She used the kids, and her behaviors worked - she essentially destroyed our relationship and severely damaged his relationship with his children. I couldn’t believe what happened given that she was a respected person in the community who worked with children and families. If her colleagues only knew the things she did! I have never been an “eye for an eye” type of person, so I never reciprocated.
After that relationship ended, I did not date for some time. Then I met my husband, who is the most wonderful man in the world. Unfortunately, he brought with him the same dynamic I experienced in the other relationship, but worse (if that was even possible). I thought to myself, “How can mothers get away with doing this? How can they not understand how it ultimately hurts their children?” These types of questions drove me to seek answers.
I am a social psychologist who studies and tries to change public health problems. I saw that this was a neglected and misunderstood public health problem that needed addressing.I decided to make lemonade out of the lemons by doing research on this problem in order to help others.
What made you want to get involved with Simply Parent?
When Michelle Darné and the other Board members approached me to join Simply Parent, I immediately signed up. From the moment I started researching, publishing, and speaking publically about parental alienation, I have been bombarded with emails and phone calls from parents around the world desperate for help and direction. Theirs is a hopeless and powerless situation that I know too well, and yet I had nowhere to refer people, other than academic articles and a handful of clinicians who “get it.” While my primary focus remains on conducting research and publishing my results to help understand and curb parental alienation, people need help now. By serving on the Board and contributing in any way that I can, I feel confident that we can build a strong and supportive community for parents like us.
What would you say to parents experiencing PA?
First, I say that I am sorry. I am sorry that this is happening to them. No one deserves to be the target of this serious form of domestic violence.
I say that they are not alone. There are millions of us, but we have been silenced. Many people reach out to me because I have spoken out about this problem… risking the attacks and criticisms from flying monkeys and other people who are resistant to change. So I ask that they do the same. Alone, we are tiny screams. Together, we are a voice that cannot be ignored anymore. There are ways to do this without making the situation with our children worse. We can work together to make this happen so that no other parent or child needs to experience parental alienation.
What’s the biggest hurdle in stopping PA?
I think the largest obstacle we face is changing how we as a society see the problem. I see parental alienation as a form of domestic violence because it meets all definitional criteria. Specifically, damaging the relationship between a parent and child is considered psychological aggression by the U.S. Department of Justice. When we see it that way, the protections for victims of the violence can become extended to targeted parents. Similarly, we can then prosecute parents who are engaging in alienating behaviors.
Today, many people don't see the problem or see it as something it is not. When we get people to see the alienator’s behaviors as domestic violence, we will have more protections under the law. We will be blamed less for what is happening to us. We will develop and offer better solutions for families that need them.
What is your vision for Simply Parent?
My goal is for Simply Parent to be a place where alienated parents can go and not feel judged. Not have to explain their innocence. Get support for the loss of their children or the relationship they wish they could have with them.
I hope to continue contributing a scientific perspective to the problem and use this to help parents. While many parental alienation groups (e.g., social media, non-profits) have formed over the last few years, my vision is that Simply Parent can be a conduit to amplify our voices and to consolidate research and our experiences into a clear message to the world that we are alienated, that it is not OK, and that we and our children need protections under the law. I hope that millions join us in this mission!