The difference between an estranged child and an alienated child is that an estranged child has grown apart from the parent for reasons that are, to be blunt, reasonable, and realistic.
An estranged child is either absolutely ambivalent about the other parent or enraged by the other parent. These feelings are, however, justified by the child’s experience of the separation or by the child’s experience of that parent.
A parent who leaves the family home, enters a new relationship, and neglects time with their children and dismisses the harm done to their children is likely to become “estranged” from them. It is fair to say that no one responds positively to poor treatment, least of all children.
Estrangement results from a parent behaving badly toward his/her children which, in return causes the children to cut off contact.
It isn’t uncommon for a parent who is estranged from his/her children to blame the other parent of parental alienation. It is easier to blame others for bad behaviour than to accept and acknowledge bad behaviour.
When estrangement occurs, the justification is usually very understandable, troubling, and valid. The departing grown child often has been very badly psychologically ; emotionally damaged in the relationship.
Here are some of the most common root problems why parental estrangement occurs.
Divorce: Following a divorce, some children reject one parent, limit contact, or show extreme reluctance to be with the parent.
Remarriage: Parent’s remarriage may also cause tension. It can provoke or exacerbate unwarranted rejection.
Lack of routine: If there is no routine or schedule in place the child may feel anxious, children need routines to help them feel safe.
Personality Disorders: Many parents are difficult or overbearing, but some parents are too toxic to be around especially narcissist parents. They don’t see their own behaviour as playing a role in the problem; they feel entitled to behave badly with no repercussions.
Intolerance: children are going to make decisions that parents may not necessarily agree with. Parental estrangement occurs when parents fail to understand their children, never willing to look at situation from their children’s point of view.
Constant humiliation before others: Parents unaware/intentionally made their children to feel that s/he is good for nothing’; there is no regard for his/her dignity and sentiments.
Priorities and Time. These are people who go weeks at a time without contacting their children because they are wrapped up in their career life. They don’t understand why their children aren’t waiting with arms wide open when they do find time to fit them into their schedule.
Unresolved conflicts. Unhealthy conflict management create a basis for conflict to occur again. Recurring family arguments during significant holidays could deteriorate parents-child relationships leading to minimal contacts in the future.
Witnessing violence committed by that parent against the other parent
Being the victim of abuse from that parent
The parent’s persistently immature and self-centred behaviour
The parent’s unduly rigid and restrictive parenting style
The parent’s own psychological or psychiatric issues.
Behaviours Common to an Estranged Parent:
The parent who is estranged from a child due to his/her own bad treatment of the child has a “wait and see” attitude. They don’t pursue a relationship with the child because in their mind the child is the one responsible for mending the relationship.
The estranged parent will find it hard or impossible to view the situation from their child’s perspective. They don’t see their own behaviour as playing a role in the problem; they feel entitled to behave badly with no repercussions.
These parents won’t commit to a routine to see their child, they fit the child in when they have spare time rather fit their life around the child.
These are people who go weeks at a time without contacting their children because they are wrapped up in a new relationship, focusing more on their career, spending time with the other man/woman or busy building a new life.
They don’t understand why their children aren’t waiting with open arms when they do find time to fit them into their schedule.
A checklist for parents when thinking about their estranged child:
Have you asked your child what they honestly feel is the problem?
Are you really listening to what my child is telling you?
Is there a kernel of truth to any of what your child feels is wrong in your relationship?
Have you really tried to put yourself in your child’s position?
Are you being overly critical of my child’s other parent?
Does your child feel like they are the family scapegoat? If so, have you acknowledged how you may have contributed to that feeling?
If your child feels their upbringing was abusive, do you feel you can see a family therapist with them to safely talk about what made them feel this way? Can you acknowledge what might have felt abusive even if you don’t believe that it was abusive?
Are you too hurt and angry to be able to have a constructive conversation with your child?
For parents who find themselves dealing with an estranged child, Coleman offers these tips:
“I wouldn’t say take the blame, but if your child has been estranged from you, something is very wrong there,” he said. “You have to start from the perspective of really trying to understand and making yourself vulnerable. Typically in our children’s complaints about us, there’s a kernel of truth.”
Don’t defend yourself
“It’s about your kid, it’s not about you,” Coleman said. “If you defend yourself you get into the right and wrong, it’s just going to escalate.”
It’s important to remember that all families are different. “You could be a good parent and feel like you did everything right and your kid could reasonably feel you missed something important about them,” he said.
Have empathy and don’t give up
Coleman said parents should keep trying to work on the relationship, with some exceptions. “Unless you’re getting restraining orders or the kid is sending back gifts, then I don’t think you should,” he said.
Keep the lines of communication with your child open. Make phone calls, send emails, and send cards, postcards or letters. Never allow the child to believe that you are not thinking of them on a daily basis.
Maintain an interest in the child and what is going on in their life. Know who their friends are and what activities they are participating in. Participate in school activities such as parent/teacher conferences, school plays and eating lunch with the child on a regular basis. If you aren’t able to participate due to the physical distance between you and the child then communicate regularly with your child’s teachers. Request copies of report cards and school pictures. Call and help your child do their homework and keep up with what subjects they are taking.
If your phone calls go un – answered continue to call. If the child does not respond to emails, cards and letters keep sending them. At least once a week, attempt to communicate with your child in some way. You will eventually get through to your child that you love him/her and aren’t going away. Allow your child to be angry but don’t allow the child’s anger to cause you to stop reaching out as a parent. Your constant show of love is the thing that will eventually break through that wall of anger.
If you believe your child is not being told you called or your emails and letters are being intercepted take action. Send letters requesting a return receipt so that the child will have to sign for them.
If you doubt the child being able to accept delivery at home, send letters for the child to his/her school. If you have a court ordered schedule for visitation go to your local police department and request they accompany you to pick your child up. If the child is not made available to you, you will then have proof of parental interference in your relationship with your child.
Do not ever stop attempting to communicate with your child. Don’t let a birthday or Christmas pass that you do not send the child a gift and card. Don’t allow your child to ever think that you are not thinking of them on such special occasions.
Your anger at your ex-spouse should never play a role in your relationship with your child. Keep the two separate. You may not like being around your ex but if it means continued participation in your child’s life put your own discomfort on the back burner. Don’t miss a parent/teacher conference, a school play, a church activity or anything else that goes on in your child’s life just because your ex might be there also. Remember, you are the parent, not the child so, act like a parent and put your child’s needs first in every situation.
Don’t make excuses for the reason you are not a part of your child’s life. If you have made the conscious choice to not contact or see your children own it. Get honest with yourself about why you made the choice. Once you have done that you can either continue the status quo and live without your child in your life or make some changes in the way you have dealt with the situation and start trying to re-build the relationship.
If the relationship is fractured because of your actions the only way back is to apologise and be willing to put forth the work and effort no matter how emotionally uncomfortable. Be an adult and do it because, as important as you are to your child’s development, the child is more important to you and the happiness you are able to find in life.
Establish and stick to a routine. Routines give children a sense of safety and security. Children experiencing a separation can feel like their whole lives are falling apart so the routine they have, the better. Establishing routine visitation will help them deal with the separation as will know when to expect to see you again. Maintaining the same daily routine, will help ease the transition. Come to an agreement about visitation. This a good thing for children. They will be filled with uncertainty and it is important to make them feel as secure as possible. By establishing a regular visitation pattern, they will know that both parents are still a constant part of their lives.