It is usually best when separated or divorced parents develop a cooperative parenting relationship. Sometimes managing difficult situation is not so easy, situations that need special consideration include:
- Domestic abuse – physical, emotional or sexual abuse toward a parent
- Physical, emotional or sexual abuse of a child
- Addiction issues
- Parental neglect or abandonment
- Hostile Aggressive Parenting (HAP)
Although it is important for children to maintain a loving relationship with both Mum and Dad, the child’s physical and emotional well-being and safety should always come first.
Domestic abuse and addiction
Be relentless in advocating the safety of your children:
- Don’t just try to keep the peace, hoping that the other parent’s behaviour will change. This places you and your children at great risk. Significant change can only happen if the offending parent acknowledges the problem and is actively seeking professional help.
- Seek advice from your solicitor if the other parent has threatened you, hurt you physically or sexually, or has treated you in an emotionally abusive way.
- Offer your children emotional support.
The following tips may help you support your children in managing their feelings:
Acknowledge what has happened and allow children to talk. Be open and honest, with age-appropriate explanations. Seek professional support if necessary.
Educating children about the problem helps them to understand that they cannot influence the situation and to feel empowered not helpless. It helps them identify dysfunctional behaviour and avoid repeating it themselves.
Teach your children personal protection skills – how to call for emergency help, how to find a safe adult during a crisis, how to avoid unsafe situations.
Avoid criticising the other parent.
Children need to know that their safety takes priority over everything else. Explain that the destructive behaviour is inappropriate and that you hope in the future their other parent will make better choices.
Your children may feel guilty or responsible. Explain that it is not their fault and that the offending parent is the only person who can change the situation.
If contact between the offending parent and the children is suspended or supervised, talk to your children in an age-appropriate way. Let them know what is going to happen and support their feelings. Remember that they may appreciate being safer but still wish that everything could be okay.
Try to create a consistent, predictable and peaceful home environment. Children can heal from the past with the support of one loving, stable parent.
Seek support for yourself and your children. Healing can take time.
When one parent turns a child against the other
Events for parents
Resolution’s new Parenting After Parting information workshops aim to help parents manage the impact of their divorce or separation on their children. The workshops are run in partnership with leading charities Relate and Action for Children, and are affordable and accessible.
Hostile aggressive parenting (HAP)
- Often seen in high-conflict situations where an adult is unable to get over the separation and uses the child to control or seek revenge on the target parent. These parents cannot acknowledge their child’s needs, may view children as belonging just to them and often cannot see the damage they are inflicting on their children.
- Sometimes these types of situations can develop so a child is significantly influenced by one parent to completely reject the other parent, placing them in a situation where they must view one parent as bad and one parent as good. This leaves no space for a child to love both parents. The child is forced to deny or reject a part of themselves. Any intervention should be guided by the assessment of a qualified professional.
- Can extend beyond the parent-child relationship and include other significant adults in a child’s life such as grandparents or step-parents.
- It is important to remember, however, to consider all possible causes when a child distances themselves from a parent. It may not be the fault of the other parent. HAP does not always lead to the child’s rejection of the target parent. But it greatly interferes with the development of a healthy parent child relationship.
Here are some tips for managing these situations:
- Understand the problem so that you can act before things get worse.
- Seek professional support to help you manage the stress and emotional drain.
- Seek good legal representation when necessary. Ensure your lawyer is educated about Hostile Aggressive Parenting.
- Behave with integrity. You may not have control over the other parent’s actions, but you can control how you handle the situation with your children.
- Maintain contact and be consistent with your children. Despite their attempts to reject you, follow through with what you say you will do.
- Offer children an alternative perception of reality whenever possible. It is okay to say that you do not agree with the other parent’s actions, but do not criticise them as this may push your child further away.
- Give clear messages to your children, such as ‘children should not have to choose one parent over the other’ or ‘this is an issue between Mum and Dad’.
- Put your child in the middle of adult issues.
- Blame your children for the rejection. They are being placed in a situation where, to be embraced by one parent, they must reject the other.
- Think you don’t matter to your children – you do. Your child still needs you and cannot manage this situation without support.
- Give up. It may take years before you see change.