Simply Parent is in this to change the game, and we do so in part by connecting -- through robust science -- dots that show why parental alienation is a public health epidemic requiring urgent attention like drunk driving, bullying, or sexual assault; wrongs that we have, as society, taken on and rendered unacceptable - and we can do it again.
Just now, we've taken a major step in that direction.
Dr. Jennifer Harman, a founding Director of Simply Parent and an Associate Professor of Psychology at Colorado State University, has spearheaded the effort to prove that parental alienation is family violence. Dr. Harman has done so by challenging research methods to illustrate that parental alienating behaviors meet the criteria currently set forth for domestic/family violence. And now, this argument has been validated by publication in Psychological Bulletin, one of the major scientific journals.
Dr. Harman co-authored the review article with Dr. Edward Kruk of the University of British Columbia and Dr. Denise Hines of Clark University. Read the CSU press release here.
Why is this much-awaited paper so significant for the work that Simply Parent is spearheading?
Firstly, it has for the first time presented a research-based argument that parental alienation is a form of family violence (both child abuse and intimate partner violence) in the prominent scientific journal. If that were not enough, the paper offers another great gift to our community: it sheds a floodlight onto possibly the most significant rift that has been keeping us from meaningful progress in addressing parental alienation.
For too long, there has seemed to be an irreconcilable divide between fathers' rights groups and the advocates “protecting” women and children from abusive men. Sadly, pitting these two movements against each other has created a grave roadblock that is not necessary. Of course, the two perspectives aren’t at odds (as illustrated by the composition of the Simply Parent Boards and Working Groups) because we all agree that safety is a fundamental human right and nobody is advocating for trapping people in dangerous situations.
So what is indeed behind the seeming impasse?
We see two issues: one relates to substance, and the other - to misuse and unintended outcomes.
1. Firstly, science has dramatically changed the folklore around parenting, and to make sure we’re not part of the problem, we must go through our world-views with a fine-toothed comb. Throughout history, fathers and mothers have taken turns “owning” their children and acting as their rightful gatekeepers, and ample echoes of this old view are still everywhere we look. Modern science, on the other hand, unequivocally confirms that regardless of any “primary” parent’s endorsement, children develop an ecosystem of parental figures; an ecosystem that underpins their sense of identity and is vital to their healthy development. That’s why children suffer — deeply — when their bond with a parent is severed, especially if that parent is villainized to them. Thankfully, there are ways to protect our children from abusive parents without causing this trauma. In other words, even where there is an abusive parent, there are ways to protect the health and well-being of children without needing to use parental alienating behaviors to do so.
2. The second issue relates to the misuse — at times perilous — of the parental alienation term. Alienating parents often claim that they are being alienated, whether they are mothers or fathers, and despite good intentions, the courts often fall for this act and cut good, normative parents out of their children’s lives. However, this practice invalidates our plight against parental alienation no more than the appalling left-overs of racial profiling justify eliminating police. While false allegations are not okay in any circumstance, there will always be those who misuse the system; who look for loopholes and “cry wolf” first. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t draw a line in the sand —this means we have to be vigilant, so parents aren’t taken advantage of. Specifically — and jargon can be a pain in emerging fields of knowledge — parental alienation does not refer to estrangement, which is when a child pulls away because a parent hurts that child. Where these two polar concepts are confused, that must be rectified with education. This means that if you were extraneously sidelined from your child’s life — even if an abusive parent claimed “parental alienation” to get full custody of your child — you’re a victim of genuine parental alienation. And that’s the common ground.
Qn: If your child’s other parent has been abusive, in what ways can you protect the child without undermining her/his bond with that parent?
Qn: What specific mechanisms can ensure that false accusations of parental alienation are discredited in Court?
Qn: After a divorce, how can you nurture your child's bond with the other parent even if you really don't like that parent?
Join the conversation. It’s time. Debate these questions wherever you talk about the vital role of parenting. Send us (info@SimplyParent.org) your thoughts and questions you'd like our Boards to address, and you may recognize them as we engage further with this topic in the coming weeks.
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You can read the CSU press release here and download the paper by Drs. Harman, Kruk, and Hines by visiting Psychological Bulletin.