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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

  7. Jennifer Chilton permalink

    I would like to know how to make my ex realize the damage he is doing to our daughter I have never been anything but a very loving mother who takes great care of my children I was with an abusive man mentally and physically he is a a narsacistic man who thinks he is above the the law and is right is his actions I have two daughters one from a previous marriage I got with this man when she was 6 yrs old her biological father didn’t live near and wasn’t around much this man was basically the only father figure she knew she is now 17 and we have a daughter together that is 8 yrs old after 9 yrs of intense mental abuse that is the final couple of years became physically abusive and went as far as him sexually violating my oldest daughter whom when it happened she refused to go to the authorities she was afraid of not being believed and feared the guilt of having legal action taken against her little sisters father and her being emotionally hurt . But our relationship needless to say ended yet he continued the emotional and physical abuse on me and emotional and even financial blackmail on my oldest daughter and emotional havoc he reaped on our child continued until my anger got the best of me and I finally stood up to him I did not harm him or even get within 30 feet of the man yet he called the police sd I attacked him I did makes threats and I had a sword ( a collectable) and I grabbed it . I’m 43 years old have no criminal record at all. Had never not even once had any run ins with the law . I’m a good person and good mother yet in spite of my protest and trying to tell my side of the story I was arrested and spent 54 days in jail I tried to make someone anyone listen yet no one listened I told our local DCS about the sexual improprioties that had been made against my oldest daughter yet nothing was done I took a plea and was released from jail on 11/2 yr probation 8 months ago and have abided by those regulations to the letter but while I was in jail he sued for full custody and won I had no home no job and no means of fighting him when I got released . I had been a stay at home mom on his request since the birth of my youngest daughter I now am working and have a home but cannot afford the $3500 retainer for a lawyer to go back to court and fight him I see my daughter 1 day every other week and it is killing me esp. since Everytime I do see her she cries and begs not to leave she wants to come home to mommy she says she don’t want to live with her father she wants to be with her mother I have called and tried to press charges for his sexually crines against my oldest daughter with no success no one will hear me and I am completely at a loss and my heart breaks daily worrying about my daughter and what she may be going through I’ve worked hard to let go of my anger and am now trying my hardest to appeal to him to share custody but I seem to be wasting my time even when she begs him to spend more time with me he screams at her and makes her so upset she physically gets sick I’m at my wit’s end he’s harming her emotionally and physically and dies not seem to care at all so I’m desperately and trying to find any help or advice I can get.

    • Sorry for your situation. Complex issues cannot be well resolved here. For that reason, to unpack, examine and look for ways to support your daughter, counseling for yourself is generally recommended.

  8. Angelita key permalink

    I have had my 2 grandchildren since Nov 2014. I have a pending SAPCR case filed and am awaiting a court date. The children Mother wants to see them, however, she has threatened that once she gets them, no one will ever see them again. She has also sent me messages indicating suicide. I suggested a court appointed meeting place but she refuses. What can I do pending our case.

    • These are complex situations requiring thorough discussion with a local professional. Speak with a family law lawyer or social worker in your area.

  9. Celine Danielovich permalink

    Hi, I read your article and really looking for some insight on what to do to get help as my fiancé’s ex wife is very high conflict, she continues to withhold his daughters from him on court order parenting time! We have spent thousands of dollars with attorney and taking her back to court and once again she is using kids to punish him for leaving her 9 years ago

  10. ian permalink

    It’s been a long time since your original post, but I would like to know if you can refer me to any literature regarding adult children and continued efforts by one parent to alienate the child from the other. My 20-year-old son has begun to recognize and reject the poisoning efforts of his mother, and is becoming resentful and impatient towards her, correctly identifying her intentions and her apparent willingness to plant memories in his head of early (exaggerated) abusive situations. He has come to me with these complaints, and I have done my best to maintain a supportive and empathetic position toward her (and him). But lately he has been distancing himself from her in light of these alienating efforts and other manipulative behaviors. I’m not actively concerned about his feelings toward me (in fact, her efforts since his childhood have never been fully successful), but wish that he can maintain a positive relationship with her through his adulthood. Your blog post is the only mention I’ve found so far about the potential for a child to reject the “alienating parent.” I would also like to offer him some professional insights for his own understanding of the situation and how he can best navigate these waters. Thank you.

    • Pleased you have remained neutral throughout. I wonder if your son could invite his mother to attend counseling with him to sort out his feelings and their relationship. It could be a good investment. Your neutrality continues to be important so that he can review his feelings unclouded.

  11. Maz permalink

    Hi I’m due in family court next week as I advised my undiagnosed ex to take it to court I’ve safeguarded our son the best I can since he was born but can’t do it alone my ex patholicaly lies which leaves me uncomfortable for what he’s capable of I want my son to have his father in his life but I’m so worried as I don’t know him he lived a lie and was a con man who sold me the world and deliverd me hell how can I protect a 2year old and prove he’s not stable he’s so good a manipulating and although I want nothing more for my son to have his father in his life I literally feel I’m handing him over to the devil he doesn’t love or care for him he just wants what’s his and is very status driven I feel so sorry for the life My sons going to have with him :(. I feel I let him down because I was nieve to this man I feel so guilty knowing my sons going to grow up so confused by his fathers disruptive behaviour… what can I do will the courts see through him or will they prob believe his facade He was a cocaine user but he’s prob going to stay clean until courts then use again I don’t want any contact at all with him for my own well-being but how am I going to know if my sons at risk when he’s in his care ? It’s all so worrying I don’t know what’s going to happen 😦

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.
  3. Keeping A Child Away From The Other Parent Can Backfire – Parental Alienation

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