Parental Alienation Affects Mothers as Well as Fathers

man repairing girl bike smallMay 13, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

This is why the anti-dad crowd is so wrong about parental alienation (Sydney Morning Herald, 4/19/13). Well, it’s far from the only reason, but it’s an important one.

Those who reflexively oppose fathers’ rights to custody of their children also oppose the concept of parental alienation and its consequence, Parental Alienation Syndrome. That’s because, as they see it, parental alienation is just a clever ruse devised by unscrupulous fathers to get something they have no right to – a relationship with their children that’s not solely at the discretion of the mother. Over the years, they’ve developed talking points whose only purpose is to discredit PA and PAS in the eyes of whoever is gullible enough to read the nonsense they publish.

So just a couple of years ago Ms. magazine published a short piece that utterly misrepresented PAS. The National Organization for Women is even less circumspect. NOW produced a white paper on PAS that would get an ‘F’ if an eighth-grader turned it in. Here’s my original take on it (Fathers and Families, 7/2/12).

Over almost thirty years, the science on PAS has been building steadily. In the 1980s, six different researchers working independently began advancing the idea that children sometimes were saddled with a parent who was determined to exclude the other parent from the child’s life. Unsurprisingly, the parent’s campaign of alienation often occurred in the context of divorce and child custody cases. They described the parental behavior and its effects on the children with one researcher, Dr. Richard Gardner, calling those effects Parental Alienation Syndrome.

Over the years, countless researchers and clinicians have observed similar behaviors on the part of parents and some have studied the effects on children which turn out to last a lifetime in some cases. By now, there are several book-length treatises on the subject, the most comprehensive of which is Vanderbilt Psychology professor William Bernet’s compendium Parental Alienation, DSM-5, ICD-11. That book includes papers by some 70 mental health researchers around the world as well as 630 citations to scholarly articles on PAS. The undeniable fact of parental alienation is a regular feature of custody cases in courtrooms around the country and the world. Case history after case history has been recorded by researchers like Linda Gottlieb in her recent book The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Family Therapy and Collaborative Systems Approach to Amelioration.

Given this weight of scholarly evidence, how does the NOW Foundation describe PAS?

– PAS is a tactical ploy used by attorneys whose clients (primarily fathers) are seeking custody of their children.

And who are these countless researchers who, over 30 + years have pioneered the study of PAS?

– Proponents of PAS[are] predominantly right-wing “fathers’ rights” groups…

How does the NOW Foundation describe the huge mass of empirical research accumulated by countless researchers in all parts of the globe?

– …no valid, empirical evidence exists for such a mental disorder… The intellectual dishonesty of NOW’s piece would be astonishing were it not so common.

In short, NOW’s opposition to PAS is many things, none of them good. It’s anti-science, anti-intellectual honesty and of course anti-father. Worse, it’s anti-child. After all, severe alienation that results in the syndrome is plainly child abuse. Its purpose is the removal of the other parent from the child’s life. It also seeks to convince the child that a loving parent is actually someone to be loathed and feared. Needless to say, PAS can have long-term consequences for a child’s mental/emotional health.

All of that – the blatant ignorance, the outright lies, the animus against children and fathers – would be bad enough, but actually it’s worse than that. That’s because fathers can be alienators of children just as much as mothers can. We don’t see it as often because so few fathers have enough contact with their children following divorce to alienate them. The simple fact is that alienation takes time and diligence, and when you only see the kids four nights out of 30, that’s not easy to do. And alienation is harder to accomplish if the child has a lot of time with the targeted parent. That time allows him/her to see that the targeted parent isn’t the ogre the alienator has claimed.

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