Understanding Family: Navigating Divorce & Parent-Child Relationships

Residing in the province of Ontario, I am privileged to enjoy a day off tomorrow, courtesy of the new statutory holiday, “Family Day”. This holiday has been instituted by the provincial government with the conviction that “there is nothing more valuable to a family unit than time spent together. Yet, finding such time seems increasingly challenging in our busy, modern times.”

Family units today exhibit a range of configurations. Single parent homes, blended families, same-sex families, cohabitating families; the list goes on. Experiencing a divorce and suddenly being single casts a new light on the term “Family Day”.

What if you’re divorced with no children, or perhaps don’t have an extended family in your life to celebrate the day with? Does that mean you can’t partake in the celebration? I would suggest, reach out to your friends who have become your extended families. Let them know how important they are to you. Reflect on what the word family represents to you, and begin nurturing relationships and bonds that you hope can endure.

If you’ve found yourself estranged or alienated from your family and children, use this time to reflect and seek understanding of what led to the fallout. This might be the day you start repairing those broken relationships. The dissolution of a relationship between a parent and a child is perhaps one of the most emotionally challenging experiences in life.

To be estranged signifies a breakdown of the bond between a parent and a child, resulting in a significant distance between the two. For whatever reason, the loving relationship was replaced by one of apathy or hostility. Even worse is parent alienation, a form of mental abuse.

“The most extreme situation in child custody disputes is termed pathological alienation or parent alienation syndrome (PAS). Here, one parent becomes obsessed with destroying a child’s relationship with the other parent without any solid reason. Alienation can be mild, moderate, or severe… The children’s will and choice are forcefully altered through a form of brainwashing. This represents a severe form of child abuse, because if it isn’t addressed, the children are likely to face psychiatric disturbances, failed relationships, and dysfunctional lives where they may propagate this behavior to their own children.”

The Smart Divorce: Proven Strategies and Valuable Advice from 100 Top Divorce Lawyers, Financial Advisers, Counselors and Other Experts (Chicago Review Press, July, 2007)

So, how do you address these debilitating situations? Dr. Robert A. Simon, a clinical and forensic psychologist in California offers:

“Parental Alienation Syndrome, though a very real issue, has become rather “trendy” of late. One insight I’ve gleaned about PAS is that even when a parent deliberately tries to alienate the children from the other parent, the other parent often behaves in ways that seemingly “confirm” the alienation. For re-establishing a relationship with your children, it’s crucial that you critically analyze your behavior and actions that might have inadvertently bolstered the other parent’s efforts. Without this introspection, irrespective of the courts’ actions, the children will still struggle in their relationship with you”.

“I suggest consulting a qualified, experienced family law specialist who has dealt with issues of alienation previously, and also engage a family law forensic psychologist to provide counsel to you and the family lawyer on the matter. “

Working with a parenting expert, psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker can be beneficial in understanding the dynamics and guiding you towards mending the relationship. Even if you’re grappling with a painful experience and finding it difficult to rebuild the relationship, it is still advised to seek help from these professionals. This is important because it’s likely that your emotional well-being also needs some healing.

I highly recommend A Kidnapped Mind: A Mother’s Heartbreaking Story of Parental Alienation by Pamela Richardson for an agonizing narrative on the catastrophic impacts of PAS. A Kidnapped Mind is a poignant and captivating tale of a Canadian mother’s exile from and reunion with her child, journeying through grief and beyond, towards peace.

I’d also like to point you to the links beside this blog; there are some informative sites to explore these topics further.

My earnest hope is that you comprehend the importance of children having a healthy relationship with both parents from reading this post. Of course, I’m not referring to situations where a parent is physically or emotionally abusive. I emphasize a loving, healthy relationship where children are not treated as pawns and both parents earnestly fulfill their emotional, financial responsibilities and ensure their basic needs are met.

If you or your child’s other parent is contributing to the breakdown of the relationship, please reflect on the long-term effects on your child and make efforts to rebuild those relationships today.

If you’re as fortunate as I am to enjoy a healthy relationship with your children, give them an extra hug today and express your love for them.

The concept of Family Day, parent-child relationships, and the very definition of ‘family’ sparks significant discussion for many. I urge you to share your thoughts. How are you fostering a positive relationship, overcoming a painful relationship, or dealing with a strained relationship? I would love to hear from you, please share your thoughts.

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