Even if the divorce proceeds smoothly to the benefit of all parties, there could still be some hurt feelings and wounded emotions. While it might be challenging for the ex-spouses to work through these issues, there are numerous layers of complexity when children are involved. Unfortunately, a parent’s negative feelings about their ex can often result in alienation where the child’s thoughts are influenced by this negativity.
The difference between intentional and unintentional harm
It is not uncommon for divorced parents to feel negatively toward their ex. This might be due to reasons that led to the divorce such as infidelity, addition, or criminal activity, or emotions that were created based on the divorce itself such as jealously, envy or anger. When parents transfer this negativity to the child, the child might start to harbor resentment or hostility toward the alienated parent.
Unfortunately, this can happen both intentionally and unintentionally.
- Intentional alienation: This occurs when one parent speaks negatively about the other parent directly to the child. Conversations might hinge on the things the other parent did to break up the family, money troubles stem from decisions the other parent has made or punishments come from the other parent’s rules.
- Unintentional alienation: Also called indirect alienation, this occurs when one parent is overheard reacting negatively to their ex. This could be when the parent is having a phone conversation and is overheard by the child in the other room, or the parent makes a post on social media that is seen by the child. In these instances, the parent isn’t speaking specifically to the child.
How can this be avoided?
Divorced parents should assume that nothing they do or say is private. It can be a sobering fact, but the realization that information will nearly always make its way back to the child is simply reality. This isn’t to say that the parent cannot honestly answer questions or share information with the child. Post-divorce, parents must keep a keen eye toward the possibility of parental alienation and negative psychological impact that could follow.