Anna spoke quietly in the Peace after Divorce group at her church…
Layered on top of the pain and grief of divorce, Anna is now facing the rejection of her son. Not a simple issue. Being rejected by a child can leave a parent feeling desperate and totally out of control.
Recognizing the Problem
Like an adult, a child faces many adjustments as the result of separation and divorce. Normal adjustment challenges related to divorce shouldn’t be confused with becoming alienated from one parent. A child may be grumpy with you or not want to go somewhere with you as a part of the normal course of being a child even if divorce was not a factor.
On the other hand, if the child is showing a pattern of rejecting one parent a serious problem may be developing. If you are the rejected parent and the situation is progressing you may see the child developing a pattern where he or she:
- Expresses defiance exclusively toward you or about you.
- Loses sight of happy memories of time spent with you.
- Avoids contact with you for no apparent reason.
- Stays aloof when with you.
- Verbalizes hate toward you.
- Offers ambiguous reasons when asked about his or her anger toward you.
- Rejects anyone viewed as an extension of you, for example, your friends and family.
- Chooses to always side with the other parent when that parent is in conflict with you.
Why Does This Happen?
Good question. A child may reject one parent for many different reasons. Child-parent relationships are complex and separation and divorce add to the complexity.
Some of the reasons a child may reject a parent include that the child:
- Picks up on and absorbs negative emotions the preferred parent has toward the rejected parent. This may be the result of overt bad-mouthing or more subtle expressions of the preferred parent’s thoughts and feelings.
- Blames the rejected parent for the divorce.
- Connects with the parent they feel has been wronged.
- Has bonded with the parent who is less available due to unmet needs.
- May not feel welcomed in the rejected parent’s home.
How Does Each Parent Contribute to the Problem?
Despite the child’s inability to explain why they now reject one parent, behavior happens for a reason. Actually, more likely a complex pattern of reasons. It can help to identify how each parent contributes to the problem.
Absorbing the negative emotions of one parent toward the other parent may have started long before the divorce. Sometimes a parent will unconsciously feed into a child’s hostile feelings toward the other parent. Sometimes it is intentional.
Most parents understand that children need a positive relationship with both parents. Yet, some parents are so angry with their ex that they intentionally act to create division between the children and their other parent. Each child in a family may respond differently to this influence. Nonetheless, divisive behavior on the part of a parent undermines each child’s ability to have a healthy loving relationship with both parents.
Of course, in an ideal world, parents will work together to co-parent for the good of their children. This is unfortunately not always the case. For this reason, a disparaging remarks clause is often included in divorce agreements directing that neither parent should badmouth the other parent to the children.
If your ex is badmouthing you to your children and you cannot reason with him/her to correct the situation, you may have to fall back on this clause in your agreement. If your agreement is not yet final, be sure to speak with your attorney about including a disparaging remark clause. Also, find out your legal recourse should your ex violates this clause.
Positive Steps Parents Can Take
Work with Your Child’s Other Parent in as Much as That is Possible
- Don’t jump to conclusions. If you are the rejected parent, don’t be quick to blame your ex for your child’s behavior. If you do, you will most assuredly reduce that person’s willingness to cooperate with you. The other parent may not be intentionally driving a wedge between you and your child. Get the facts.
- Be nice to your child’s other parent. When your child sees that you two can get along it will lessen his need to choose between you.
- Reason with your ex about the welfare of your child if at all possible to address the issue of the child rejecting one parent.
- Seek help when your ex is sabotaging your relationship with your child and refuses to stop. This is especially important if your ex has been diagnosed with a mental health issue. Counseling can educate you on how to best deal with the person and help you grasp what will and will not be effective in your own coping.
- Don’t manipulate your child to side with you against the other parent. You may feel comforted if your child prefers you to your ex but that is not healthy for your child.
- Don’t badmouth the other parent. This can backfire and drive the child further from you if you are the rejected parent. If you are the preferred parent, it can damage your child by inhibiting a positive relationship with their other parent. Keep in mind that your child is half from you and half from their other parent. Demeaning the other parent can also inadvertently leave your child feeling demeaned.
- Don’t ask your child to be the go-between in communications with the other parent. This can be very stressful for your child and build resentment toward you.
- Don’t assume the child will be better off without the other parent (unless there is abuse).
Invest in Your Child
- Even if the child is giving you grief, stay involved. Don’t give up on them. Give love, support, and guidance.
- Communicate with your child but don’t force the issue. Make communicating with you safe by showing empathy and understanding. Blowing up at your child when your child blows up at you is counterproductive.
- Spend time with your child. Being with your child is the only way to repair a damaged relationship.
- Stay calm with your child. Try to understand what your child is experiencing. Patience will win out over anger.
- Engage with your child, don’t ignore them when they are with you.
- Address the problem as soon as it starts to appear. The earlier you act the better.
- If you are the preferred parent, encourage contact with the rejected parent.
- If you give the child control over whether or not they have contact with the rejected parent the problem may evolve into full parental alienation.
- Be okay when your child spends time with their other parent. Let your child know you’ll be fine while he or she is gone.
- Recognize that the unfamiliar can be scary for a child. It may take a while for a child to feel at home in each household.
- Help create a sense of belonging for the child in your home. Establish routines. Create a space that the child can call their own. Being allowed to take a favorite toy to each parent’s home may help increase a child’s comfort level.
Accept Age-Related Developmental Issues
- Realize that teenagers are teenagers. They are at an age where autonomy and identity are big developmental issues. Spending time with peers becomes more important than spending time with parents. Work with this reality to schedule your time with your child. Trying to work against this reality will only frustrate both of you. Be flexible.
Equip Yourself and Your Child with Support
- Dealing with a child who rejects you is stressful. Give yourself and the child time and resources to work through the divorce experience. Build a support network of family and friends for yourself and your child.
- Guide your child in positive ways to handle challenging situations with the other parent.
- Remember, if you’re not able to resolve problems on your own you may find it helpful to seek counseling for yourself as a parent, as well as for your child.
When a child rejects one parent it can be heartbreaking for that parent. It is important to determine how each parent is contributing to this problem. Each parent can take steps toward supporting healing between the rejected parent and the child.
Parent-child relationships are complex. Separation and divorce can increase the complexity. Early intervention is important. There are many things parents can do to contribute to healing if rejection is addressed before it becomes full parental alienation. If the problem is severe or escalating to full parental alienation, or if you are unable to gain cooperation from the other parent, professional help may be in order.
Making Information and Ideas Work
- Is your child rejecting a parent? What symptoms do you see that this may be progressing to or may have become a serious problem?
- Can you pinpoint any causes for this problem?
- Are you in anyway contributing to the problem?
- What changes do you need to make to facilitate a better relationship between this child and the rejected parent?
- Do you need to seek counseling to help you with this issue?
Talk with God
Ponder this reading and share your thoughts with God. Listen so that the Holy Spirit might fill you with wisdom and peace. What concrete actions do you need to take based on what God is saying to you?
Start children off on the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6
- Download this short-read parenting eBook for only $2.99 from Amazon.com
- Learn about Renee’s book, Peace after Divorce.
- Learn about the Peace after Divorce Workshop and how you can start a group at your church or take a self-study yourself online.
About the Author:
Hi, I’m Renee Smith Ettline. Thanks for visiting my ministry website. I know first-hand how much divorce can complicate your life and I want to help you. My own divorce experiences have led me to this ministry. As a Christian who has been through divorce, and as a former educator and educational counselor, I dedicate my life to helping others like you through my writing and workshops. I hope you found this article helpful. God bless!