Making Sense of Parental Alienation and PAS

Since April 25th is Parental Alienation Awareness Day, I thought I’d run apiece about it, and since our good friend Paulette alerted me to this article, now’s as good a time as any (New England Psychologist, March, 2011).

Significantly, the article is in the New England Psychologist and it provides a very balanced view of parental alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome/Disorder.  It’s a refreshing change from the high-pitched and sometimes inaccurate rhetoric often channeled by MSM articles on PAS.

As such, the article would be a good one to save and refer to for the realities of parental alienation and PAS.

For example, the article refers to Dr. Richard Gardner who pioneered the concept of the syndrome as a discrete psychological condition.  But it exchews the usual nonsense peddled by the anti-dad crowd to the effect that Gardner promoted pedophilia and the like.  Since Gardner is dead, much of what is said about him falls under the heading of “you can’t libel a dead man.”   That is, they’d never say this stuff if he were alive because they’d get sued.  And that tells you much of what you need to know about the levels of intellectual dishonesty to which some people are willing to stoop to try to keep fathers from their children.

The great irony of that of course is that no responsible mental health professional believes that PAS is solely done by mothers; they know that fathers do it too.  So the fact that those opposed to fathers’ rights shout themselves hoarse against PAS means that they’re acting against mothers as well.  You’d think they’d get that, but article after article shows they don’t have a clue.

It’s true that originally Gardner thought of PAS as something mostly done by custodial mothers trying to keep dads out of their children’s lives.  But that observation was simply an artifact of the great majority of custodial parents being mothers.

Therefore most of the parents claiming to be alienated were fathers and most of the alienators were mothers.  But the simple fact is that neither sex has a monopoly on the abusive behavior called parental alienation.

The other complaint about PAS from the anti-dad crowd is that it’s just an excuse to turn children over to abusive fathers.  The fact that that argument is little better than silly deters them not a whit.  Child abuse, along with domestic violence are pretty much pre-programmed responses on the part of those opposed to fathers’ involvement with their children.  Like the “Chatty Cathy” dolls of the 1960s, pull their string and that’s what they say.  I’ve never seen one of those folks acknowledge the fact, long established by the Department of Health and Human Services, that mothers in America do twice the child abuse and neglect that fathers do.

Needless to say, no psychologist worthy of the title is in the business of promoting child abuse and neither are courts that deal with custody issues.  As Dr. Amy Baker, one of the world’s foremost authorities on PAS and parental alienation points out,

Baker argues that parental alienation was never intended to include abusive or neglectful parents, something that Gardner also said. Rather, it refers to “strategies intended to manipulate the child into rejecting a parent when there isn’t a good reason to reject that parent,” she says.

There’s yet another irony at work here.  Those who oppose admission of evidence of parental alienation in custody cases say they do so to combat child abuse.  But of course in the process, they defend alienating behavior which is itself child abuse. 

It’s beginning to look like anti-father stances, reflexively taken lead quickly to self contradiction and self-defeat.

Meanwhile, the article gives Baker plenty of room to expound some of the more subtle aspects of parental alienation that MSM pieces routinely overlook.

The strategies used by an alienating parent to turn a child or children against the other parent tend to be pervasive, Baker says. One tactic is denigrating the other parent in front of the child.

“It can be taking a minor flaw and making it seem worthy of contempt,” she says. “There’s probably an endless list of specifics one parent could say bad about another, but what it really comes down to is that the other parent is made out to be unsafe, unloving and unavailable.”

Anything a marginalized parent or targeted parent, does can be recast in a negative light, Baker adds: The parent who calls a lot is characterized as a stalker. If the parent pulls away to give the child space, it’s abandonment.

Alienating parents often limit contact between the child and the other parent, sometimes in subtle ways – dropping the child off with the other parent 10 minutes late and picking up 10 minutes early, for instance – and not-so-subtle ways, such as texting or calling the child during visits with the other parent.

“For young children who live very much in the present, a relationship is comprised of very many little moments,” Baker says. “Whatever is in the child’s mind and heart, they can share it with the parent. But if there’s no opportunity to do that, the relationship can suffer.”

Baker and psychologist Dr. Lynn Margolies also provide some tips for parents who are targets of alienation about how to deal as effectively as possible with it.  Above all, they remind alienated parents that, however difficult the situation is, their relationship with their child is vital and that every little bit of parenting they can do helps.

What is the fate of PAS as a diagnosis to be included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that’s up for revision?  That seems unclear, although many mental health professionals promote its inclusion.

If it’s excluded, anti-father folks across the country will doubtless – if quixotically – proclaim victory.  But, since the recognition of PAS would benefit mothers as well as fathers, they’d do well to temper their enthusiasm.

But more to the point is the fact that what’s important in a court of law is less evidence of PAS than of parental alienation.  A court’s hearing evidence that one parent has embarked on a campaign of denigration and exclusion of the other parent will always be relevant in deciding custody. 

That’s true in no small part because more and more, states are including “friendly parent” provisions in their custody statutes.  That means that they require each parent to promote a healthy relationship with the other parent.  Failure to do so can affect custody decisions as the case out of New Hampshire I recently reported on makes clear.

So whether PAS is officially recognized by the APA or not is simply not very important to the equalization of fathers’ and mothers’ parental rights.  Anti-father groups oppose that equalization, but tying their success or failure to PAS is mostly a waste of time.

Thanks again to Paulette, tireless campaigner for fathers’ rights, the rule of law and good sense, for the heads-up.

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