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Keeping A Child Away From The Other Parent Can Backfire

October 23, 2016

Marriages can fail for many reasons. When they do, people can be seen on a spectrum from minimal conflict to high conflict as they sort out the task of untangling their lives to resume independent living.

Where children are involved, living can only ever be semi-independent as the needs of the children will forever keep the couple united. As the level of conflict and animosity increases between the parents the thought of being tied through the children is too much for some people to bear. As such, some parents will seek to exclude or diminish the role of the other parent in the lives of the children. This meets the dual objective of greater freedom from the other parent and punishing the other parent for perceived injustices. Here, one or other parent seeks sole child custody as if that means they can withhold access.

In excluding or diminishing the role of the other parent several strategies can be deployed. These include; undermining access by being away or planning alternate events for the children; refusing access altogether for frivolous reasons; telling the child hurtful things about the other parent; planting suggestions to the child that the other parent may hurt them; making allegations that the other parent is incompetent or even harmful, in the absence of real evidence.

Parents who use such strategies actually increase the degree of parental conflict and increase the likelihood of Court action as the parent whose relationship with the child has been limited, turns to the Court to seek a remedy. At times and ironically, the parent who is attempting to undermine the other parent’s relationship tries to use the Court action as evidence that the parent is spiteful and malicious.

In such actions, the children always lose and eventually so too does the vengeful parent.

While the vengeful parent may think their child can suffice with them alone, the social science research is clear that children develop best and enjoy a healthier psycho-social outcome as adults when they have secure relationships to both parents. Children who are taught to cut themselves off from a parent are at greater risk of using similar strategies for managing their own adult intimate relationships and thus are at greater risk of  failed adult relationships too.

Further, most children, either through Court action or when as teenagers they seek out the alternate parent, do get to know the avenged parent. When their experience of the avenged parent conflicts with what they were told about them, in other words, when a parent who was supposedly bad, turns out to be good, the children then turn on the parent who had originally undermined the relationship. Children who eventually establish relationships with parents they were kept from without good cause, feel resentful for having been misled. They come to reject the parent who sought to keep the children for themselves.

As adults, these children forgo the relationship with the parent who raised them in favor of the parent who was kept away. As the vengeful parent plans for the demise of the other parent’s relationship in the short term, in the long term these parents not only hurt their children, but also themselves. They come to lose their children when they get older.

Parents are advised to understand that it is every child’s birthright to have reasonable relationship with both parents, assuming freedom from harm and appropriate care and supervision. Any parent who seeks to disrupt a child’s relationship with the other parent may ultimately hurt the child and undermine their own chances for a life-long relationship.

The issue is not withholding a child from a parent, but structuring the situation to provide for children’s safety and well-being. If there is truly an issue with a parent’s behavior, demand they seek help to address the problem yet facilitate access through a place of safety. If the issues with the other parent have more to do with one’s own upset or anger, then seek counseling to manage feelings in view of the child’s needs to have reasonable relationships with both parents.

Certainly don’t act in a manner that ultimately hurts your child and places your relationship at risk when your child grows up and learns the truth. It would be unfortunate for all involved for that to happen.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out my services and then call me if you need help with a child behavior or relationship issue. I am available in person and by Skype. If you find this information helpful, please share it with the links below.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

  1. Trevor Sutton permalink

    Thought – provoking comments as usual, Gary. Would you vary your advice in the face of proven child molestation? In a case I am aware of, the children were 2 and 4 at the time of the offence. I note your observation: “assuming freedom from harm”.

    • Key phrase – assuming freedom from harm. There are many ways of assessing this and it is beyond the scope of a discussion here to address your situation appropriately.

  2. Tim Tong permalink

    Thank you again for stating such child-centred perspective which shows the parents how short-term and self-centred their actions are when they deny the non-custodial parent of access. I was consulting with an estranged father yesterday (must have been around same time you posted this) who have gone through 2 lawyers (on his third) and wife has gone through 2 lawyers over a variation to access application.

    A very Malaysian middle-class phenomenon of having “maids” who are a combination of house-help and nanny is the central issue. Mother wanted 2 maids to accompany the 2 children during access, and they are equipped with camera phone to capture any photos or videos of the father’s access time with the children. Father has remarried and new wife is very uncomfortable with this.

    He wants to get an order that maids are not to accompany them….

    Back story is mother feels absolutely hurt and angry that father just upped and left her with 2 toddler kids just days before major festival to be with his current wife.

    Gary, I want to say that just sharing some of the insights and experiences you have shared with the father, within 2 hours’ consultation with me he has softened his position to accepting one maid to come along for access for 2 years, working towards mother trusting him enough to remove this term. Also he is giving up ideas of taking children to a neighbouring country for holidays within this 2 years where his current wife is working.

    Thank you once again.

    • Thank you for your comments. Pleased to know when my articles are of service. These are such difficult and challenging situations. To facilitate calm and realistic perspectives is where our work begins.

  3. Mrs. Yeke permalink

    Thanks for this article. I have tried my best to be accommodating towards my ex in terms of the informal agreement we have with our two boys, 10 and 5 – they spend three nights a week with him and we are fairly flexible with each other if one parent needs extra time or needs to be away. However, I have always worried that he is not the most attentive father (from experience), and lately my 10 year old has been expressing frustration that his father is always busy outside or working in his home office, leaving them to their own devices, which means he has to be responsible for his 5 year old brother. He has to get up early and give him snacks for breakfast and get him cups of juice etc and if he doesn’t, and his brother complains, my ex gets angry with him. Recently my older son woke up at his dad’s house sick with a stomach bug and was throwing up and tried to wake up his dad to help him, and my ex who is a heavy sleeper and sometimes drinks, would not wake up. While at his house, they often go without baths, hardly brush their teeth, and my 5 year old eats popcorn for dinner because his dad doesn’t cook. I am afraid to talk to him about these issues because he has a lot of hostility towards me for leaving our marriage, and usually becomes spiteful and angry if I try to make suggestions or criticize his parenting. Do I have any options here or do I have to just accept that this is how he runs his house?

    • These are complex issues that cannot be addressed directly through comment sections on blog posts. To address this issue, you should consult with a family law lawyer. I always suggest though that you seek a family law lawyer who has also been trained in Collaborative Law and/or mediation. Alternatively to a family law lawyer is for parents to attend counseling together to discuss their parenting approaches.

  4. Mona permalink

    My fiance is so so exhausted by this ..divorced now for almost 11 years the mom is still going from man to man each step bashing him so she has no-one to answer to she’s moved off he did not fight it for his kids ! But she hasn’t at all files to make it legal she just feels she can drop them at her convenience puts him in such tough spots if he denies a visit she bashed him to it’s its sad they both hurting kids I’m here just praying they stop n make it legal she can’t bring them as stated in agree divorce so she can go modify n both can make visits one day love comming,then they don’t them they complain n manipulate him to go home early as she interrupts his visits daily with drama n changes each minute as she tells children we ask her she calls her children liars but we actually have proof she plays with them emotionally n is very mean to them if they complain . She’s moved so many times n now again new guy who’s got no truth in her but pays for things to shut kids up ..we stay out of it just praying there safe hard for us we feel sometimes we don’t want to pressure a visit they are all so mean and have played both sides pains us to watch ! So now we call daily n let them know we are here love them call soon if they can ..but try not to n involved in her web of darkness 😦
    She left my fiance after he bought her home ,moved guy in moved him out ,lived n then lost home in foreclosure moved that guy out ,moved in yet another guy now this guy moved them all to Ocala nothing filed all verbal fiance just cried but told her straight up keep my kids safe and stop moving in with strangers…but regardless she’s not told children truth about any of it it’s not our business but we just wanted pure happiness for kids..she feels things keep them happy we don’t time spent making memories etc is what we can do …
    He won’t ever rip them away from her unless they are unsafe or harmed but watching it all go down
    .tbey leave us n post on social media roller coaster ride..they say they have so much fun n loves us them then return home to get n bash us both they are bullies mean dark bullies but she is a bully herself …
    Prayers we are doing right thing by not bashing or alienating her ?

  5. My niece is in a court child custody. To my knowledge these children are going through a hurtful scene because children are being dragged and away from parent and grandparents where these two girls 6yrs old and 3yrs old have been nurtured and raised from birth. Father is actually doing this out of spite and anger against my niece and us succeeding he’s Abduction. He Parental kidnapping, Alienation and interference of court order is now hiding behind behind false accusations and us determined to win custody over children he was never in their lives never spent time with them. We were very lenient to sharing these children to he’s families we were very loving, giving, sharing now we feel betrayal by this man. How can you help us obtain rightful visitation rights. No one us listening to our cries he drinks K’s alot and when my niece had children he stalked my niece almost acting mental as if a NARCISSIST came to light. No one is doing anything as everyone even authorities telling us it’s a civil matter. Now he has the upper hand

  6. This was very helpful and encouraging.i am dealing with a situation where my son is with his fathet and being taught to become attached to me…his father is keeping him from me and in court he made me look like my son was in danger being with me. I pray it backfires..i raised my son until the age of 10 his dad only had him for 1 1/2. Now the father is holding him from me. Im devastated

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Keeping A Child Away From The Other Parent Can Backfire — Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW | Madison Elizabeth Baylis
  2. Keeping A Child Away From The Other Parent Can Backfire — Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW | World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum.

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