Reunification after Alienation: The Washington Post Channels the ‘Protective Mother’ Movement

June 22, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I’ve done several pieces recently about the shoddy articles that attempt to debunk the notion of parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome. They’re scandalously bad, ignoring vast numbers of pertinent facts, blatantly making up others, mis-defining parental alienation and, of course, selecting individual cases that seem to support their off-the-wall ideas while ignoring those that don’t.

Those articles invariably channel the natterings of the “protective mother movement” that takes as an article of faith that family courts routinely remove children from “protective” mothers and hand them over to abusive fathers. They do this often, the movement claims, because the dastardly dads have an ace up their sleeve – the allegation of parental alienation. According to the movement and the articles that serve as their mouthpiece, courts, as a matter of course, ignore mothers’ claims of abuse and swallow whole fathers’ claims of PA. That, in every state, domestic violence is a factor in determining custody never makes it into the articles or the narrative of the “protective mother” movement.

As I’ve said before, those articles are not only badly done, they’re fighting a losing battle. Parental alienation is a fact and it arises fairly often in child custody cases. Every family court judge and family lawyer has seen cases of it. So have the mental health professionals who work in that field. And, as the science on PA expands and the problem becomes better known and understood, attempts to discredit it by discredited methods are doomed to fail.

That may be why this article, that’s part of the same movement, takes aim at a much smaller target – reunification programs (Washington Post, 5/11/17). In cases of alienation, often children have become so allied with the alienating parent and so hostile to the targeted one, that the question arises, “How do we mend this child’s relationship with the targeted parent?” PA is widely and rightly understood to be a form of child abuse that can have long-lasting negative effects. So something needs to be done, but what?

Reunification programs are the only answer we now have for the most seriously alienated child and its targeted parent. In mild cases of alienation, other therapies may work well enough, but with severe alienation, that’s not possible. Usually those therapies involve both parents. That gives the alienator the opportunity to continue his/her campaign against the target. The child, caught in the middle and allied with the alienator, has little choice but to continue his/her hostility toward the target.

So reunification programs are driven to use some fairly extreme methods to attempt to re-establish a loving relationship between parent and child. Typically, those include a court order giving temporary custody to the targeted parent and barring any contact between the child and the alienator for a period of time, usually 90 days.

To anyone with a basic understanding of severely alienated children, those conditions are simple common sense. Alienators don’t stop alienating just because a judge tells them to or because a therapist explains that alienation is bad for the child. So creating some distance between the alienator and the child is necessary, as is a period of time with the targeted parent. The latter gives the child the chance to see the targeted parent for who he/she is and not the ogre portrayed by the alienator.

Let me first give Cara Tabachnick’s Washington Post article its due. It’s far better than Marissa Endicott’s or Laurie Udesky’s pieces on PA. It gives a casual wave to balance and traffics in only a few outright falsehoods. By the standards of the anti-dad crowd, that makes it a pretty good article, but by the standards of real journalism, Tabachnick’s piece is junk.

But before I get into picking it apart, let’s look at its gist. Taken as a whole, it claims that (a) PA is a disputed theory, (b) PA was found to be present in the only case Tabachnick reports on in any depth (c) the way reunification was implemented in their case was traumatic for the kids and (d) the program didn’t work in their case.

Now, with the exception of (b) above, those points are all extremely dubious at best. But even if they were unassailable, it’s worth noting that Tabachnick’s piece is a tempest in a teapot. It’s a long article, but attempts astonishingly little and achieves even less. Face it, the facts (if they are facts) that separating the children from an alienating mother was difficult for the kids and that those same children successfully resisted the program and retained their attachment to their mother is not the stuff of late-night horror shows.

Little attempted, little gained. And that, I submit, is perhaps the real story here. The anti-dad crowd is daily reduced by science, common sense and most people’s sense of decency to ever-smaller targets and ever more outlandish claims. Despite its small blizzard of words, there’s precious little “there” in Tabachnick’s article.

I’ll get into this in more depth tomorrow. And in the coming days, I’ll do what Tabachnick never did. I’ll interview parents for whom reunification programs worked well. And of course I’ll debunk her article that should be considered beneath the standards of reputable journalism.




National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#parentalalienation, #childabuse, #reunification

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