Who is Harassing Whom?

So much about parental alienation feels like parenting in an alien world. Good parenting often backfires, and targeted parent get blamed for everything. Are you harassing your child? Is your child harassing you? Or is your co-parent harassing you and using your child as a proxy?

Below is a post by Dr. Richard Warshak, answering these pertinent questions and reposed to enrich the debate around parental alienation.

At some point in nearly every case of a child’s severe estrangement from a parent, the child and the parent with whom she is aligned label the other parent’s attempts to reach out to the child as “harassment.” The child rebuffs phone calls, texts, emails, greeting cards, invitations, even gifts. Not only does the child deflect efforts to connect. The efforts, themselves, are cast as further reasons for the child’s rejection. Your ex might ask, “Why would my child want to have anything to do with you when all you do is harass her?” (Note that the child is no longer considered “our” child.) What is that you do that constitutes harassment? Do you harp on your child’s faults? Do you pick on your child’s weaknesses? Do you persistently tell your child what to do, never allowing her a moment of peace? Do you constantly scream at your child? Or is your sole transgression your unwillingness to accept a break in your relationship with your child—your refusal to accept that your child will no longer be able to show love to you and receive love from you? Rejected parents face a catch-22 bind. By trying to relate to their children, they prove that they are unworthy of a relationship. By trying to show love to their children, they prove that they do not love them. The alternative is to relinquish efforts to establish contact, in which case parents are accused of not caring about their children. I have seen many cases in which a child and the aligned parent demanded that the rejected parent simply wait patiently for when the child is “ready” to reach out. I have yet to see a case in which the child became “ready” within a reasonable period of time and responded to a rejected parent’s withdrawal by renewing contact. Would we ask a parent to be patient with a sick child’s avoidance of a doctor, and wait until the child is “ready” to be treated? Or wait until a truant child decides that she is “ready” to attend school? And since when do children criticize their parents using legal jargon? Teenagers certainly complain about their parents’ behavior. “Stop bugging me,” they cry. “Get off my case.” “Leave me alone.” “You’re annoying me.” Typical teen belligerence. But children rarely charge their parents with “harassment” unless the children get caught in the maelstrom of a parent’s alienating behavior. When a child’s complaint echoes the language of the alienating parent’s legal motions, we have to wonder how the child learned to use the word “harassment” to describe a loving parent’s efforts to heal a damaged relationship. When a child is irrationally alienated from the parent, often there IS plenty of harassment in the relationship. But it is not the parent harassing the child. It’s the other way around. The child harps on the rejected parent’s alleged faults and acts in ways that make the parent feel miserable. The child attempts to control the parent, makes abusive remarks and threats, and destroys property. When parents face the charge of harassing their children, we must ask: “Who is harassing whom?”

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