The Heat is On

Are you suffering from parent burnout?


The Consequences

Alienation rips children in two. In the short run, this kind of pressure and anxiety can appear in as many ways as kids are different: as fears of the dark or monsters, as fears of separation or of school. Some kids become angry and oppositional while others withdraw into depression. The worst outcome, perhaps, is for the child who feels honored to be taken in as mom's or dad's new ally and, in so doing, compromises her childhood.

Younger children may experience more immediate confusion, anger, and sadness in the face of alienating behaviors from caregivers. But they may also have greater potential to rebuild the damaged foundation later in life. Older children may have a sturdier foundation and may therefore be more resilient to those lesser parental skirmishes, but when they're finally drawn into the battle, the damage on self-confidence and -esteem and these children's capacity to engage in healthy relationships later can be profound.


What to Do?

Simply: Don't put the kids in the middle. Conflict is inevitable, but rather than allow those tense moments to become destructive, fight fair. Assume the kids can see and hear you unless its physically impossible. When they do overhear conflict, acknowledge that it's real and talk about their feelings. Don't make it a mystery. Offer reassurance at every opportunity.

If and when separation or divorce occurs, put aside the adult differences long enough to reassure the kids as the coparenting team you will always be: "The love between adults can break, but the love between a parent and a child can never break."

And when you believe your coparent is alienating the kids? First, go directly to the source: talk it over with your coparent constructively. Don't accuse, clarify. If the problem persists, avoid becoming defensive with the kids or retaliating in kind. Take the high road: help the children understand their feelings, always being the best parent you can be. If you can see the world from their point of view, you can help them to identify their emotions. "How does it make you feel to hear that, Billy?" "Maybe you should ask him what that means."

--B.D. G

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