Being rejected by a child sucks…and that’s putting it pretty lightly! It is devastating…but the truth of the matter is that the resulting trauma typically starts long before our children emotionally cut-off from us. In my case, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and suffered from irrational thinking when not on medication. I even almost lost my engineering job as a result.
I am an intelligent person; however, I fell into the same traps every rejected parent does. I call them “the big 4″…the 4 biggest mistakes that rejected parents make that hold us and our children “stuck” in our alienation story.
Today, I’ll be sharing how to avoid these mistakes to recover the strong bond you have with your children. Be forewarned…it’s going to be hard work, and does take time (and practice) of implementing these strategies to reconnect with your children. This is especially true if you currently have no contact with them. The alienation did not happen overnight, and it does take time to undo.
Mistake #1: Get caught in the convince-and-resist cycle of responding to their false allegations and their ex
The first mistake that rejected parents make is getting caught in the convince-and-resist cycle of responding to false allegations and their high-conflict ex. This is a difficult one to avoid. It is definitely important to disprove any false allegations. But it is also important not to be reactive to your ex’s negative behaviors.
How often have you felt like your ex has you running in circles so much that you don’t have time to even think? Well, it’s time to stop, and I’ll show you exactly how to do just that!
The ancient Chinese military general, Sun Tzu, said…”The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” How exactly do you accomplish this with your ex?
The first key to getting out of the convince-and-resist cycle with your ex is to practice flexible thinking. What do I mean by flexible thinking? I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage “there are many ways to skin a cat.” This is exactly what I mean…there is always more than one solution to a problem, so it’s time to put on your thinking cap. Flexible thinking is essential in solving problems.
If your ex is anything like mine, it’s his way or the highway. My ex very much thinks in black and white. It’s a “yes” or “no”…“all” or “nothing”. When faced with this type of attitude, it’s common to become polar opposites, but here’s the thing…all-or-nothing thinking keeps us stuck in old ways. It’s one of the biggest barriers to success in a changing world, and your world…it is a-changing!
By practicing flexible thinking, not only are you teaching your children essential problem solving skills, you are also creating a pattern interrupt when communicating with your ex. After a short while, you will find that your ex becomes less critical, and less explosive.
Flexible thinking also helps to change the way you feel in a stressful situation. It puts you into problem solving mode, not resist mode. The frustration turns into a challenge.
The second key to getting out of the convince and resist cycle with your ex is to learn to calm your upset emotions. This is also a great skill when dealing with disrespectful teens…just sayin’.
The thing is, when we become emotional, it is very difficult to think clearly. Why do you think this is? There is actually a scientific reason…cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is released by the adrenal glands in response to fear or stress as part of our fight-or-flight mechanism. When our cortisol levels are up, learning, memory and clear thinking are thrown out the window, and we go into reactive mode.
So, when your ex (or your kids) push your buttons, what’s the fastest way to calm down? The first thing I do is remove myself from the stressful situation. It’s okay to call a personal “time-out”. Perhaps use this time to go for a hard bike ride, or a brisk walk through your favorite park. Exercise is always a great way to release negative emotion, and naturally makes us feel good by releasing pleasure chemicals (such as dopamine) into the brain.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that emotions are contagious, and what you focus on, you will receive. Learning to manage your emotions is essential when traversing the rough waters of divorce, and is an important skill to teach and model to our children.
Schedule your FREE strategy session to learn strategies for communicating with your children and high-conflict ex.
Responding to Your Ex
The last tip I have for you to get out of that convince-and-resist cycle is to change the way you respond to your ex. In every interaction, there is an action and a reaction. We all develop behavioral patterns with the different players in our lives. Over time, it becomes quite easy to see the patterns repeat themselves. The question is…how do you disrupt the pattern that you’ve developed with your ex?
The answer lies within the only thing you can control…your reaction to his/her behavior. So, what should you do when you receive a hostile message from your ex? The first thing you should be asking yourself is…is a response even necessary? Always remember…no response IS a response.
No doubt, your ex feels in control by getting a reaction out of you, so if you stop reacting, you take the wind out of his or her sails. As Sun Tzu said “you subdue the enemy without fighting.” Once your ex learns that their inflammatory comments are not going to get the response they want, they’ll stop making them.
If you do need to respond, keep it brief, informative, friendly and firm. Bill Eddy wrote an article about how to do exactly that…How to Write a B.I.F.F. Response.
The Bottom Line
The key to your success is to stop reacting to your high-conflict ex, keep negative emotions under control, and lead your case with factual data that supports what is truly happening.
Mistake #2: Get overwhelmed and emotionally “stuck” or paralyzed
The second mistake that rejected parents make is that they get overwhelmed and emotional “stuck” or paralyzed. This was me many moons ago…I felt like I had run out of options and didn’t feel there was anything else I could do to change what was happening…and I got lost in a sea of despair for a really long time.
Mother Teresa once said “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” I love this quote because it is such a great reminder that we often focus on the wrong things in life. It was only after I was willing to change my perspective and rebuild my faith in the world and others, that I found my own strength, and things started to change.
Managing Your Mindset
The #1 thing that you can do that will have the biggest impact on recovering your children is learning to manage your mindset. The parents that are most successful in reuniting with their children are those who have transformed themselves and mastered this.
I know this is not easy! Nobody seems to understand the extent of your ex’s manipulation. No one could even begin to imagine how it feels for their child to completely reject them and not want to see them unless they’ve experienced it themselves. I have a close friend who’s teenage son got really upset with her, disappeared to his grandmother’s and refused to talk to her for a week. The first time I saw her after the incident, she burst into tears. She confessed to me that she had tried to imagine how I felt being rejected by my son, and that she did not even come close to understanding until her own son refused to speak to her for just a short period of time.
As a rejected parent, you feel like you’re in a deep, dark hole all alone that is really, really hard to climb out of. Nothing you try makes the situation any better. Lawyers, psychologists, CPS, the court, etc. don’t only come up blank when asked for a solution…they seem to perpetuate the problem! It’s really hard to not feel like a victim in all of it. Trust me…I know! I’ve been there!
I’m going to share with you a little secret that changed everything for me. Brace yourself because I know some of you reading this blog post will stop reading right here…we are NOT victims! Hold on…hear me out here. You are (and I was) totally being victimized, but it is up to us if we are going to allow that to dictate who we are. After many years in the dark, I finally chose to grow from my experience, and now I want to shout from the rooftops to pull as many rejected parents out of that hole they’re in out much, much sooner than when I decided to finally climb out.
So, let me show you some ways that helped me learn to cope…but let’s first talk about grief.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the 7 stages of grief…denial, guilt, anger, depression, the upward turn (when you start to feel a little bit better), reconstruction, and finally acceptance. The problem most rejected parents face is never reaching acceptance…I mean, how can someone ever accept that their child will not be a part of their life when he/she is still alive?
Empower Yourself With Knowledge
One of the first steps I took after hitting my rock bottom was to learn everything I could about “parental alienation”. Learn what is motivating your ex. Learn your child’s perspective. Children get lost in high-conflict divorce. It is easy to lose sight of what our children really want because we are so caught up in the emotional warfare with our ex.
When I learned that the motivation behind my ex’s actions was driven by his own childhood traumas, I was able to start viewing his behavior with a greater sense of compassion and understanding. When I learned my child’s perspective…I mean REALLY learned…I was able to shed a lot of anger I felt about the way he lashed out at me and for completely rejecting me.
Allow Yourself Time to be Sad
It’s okay to feel sad…I felt profoundly sad by the rejection of my son. It is important to acknowledge this sadness, and allow yourself to feel it. If you continue to “stuff” your feelings, they will inevitably come up to the surface, and become increasingly more difficult to cope with. This being said, it is also important to put a time limit on it. Don’t allow your sadness to turn into self-pity.
Schedule your FREE strategy session to learn your next best move in recovering the unbreakable bond you share with your children.
Give Yourself Permission to Be Happy
Another important step in getting yourself “unstuck” from the emotional turmoil is to give yourself permission to be happy. You are not betraying your child by enjoying other parts of your life. Despite all the negativity you may have received from your child, he still loves you deeply, and you still share a bond with him. He does not want you to be unhappy…he just wants his pain to end so that he can get on with being a kid. Your child just doesn’t know how else to express it to you.
So…how can you possibly find happiness in life? The answer is to be present. Don’t let your mind wonder when you are with friends or other family members. Experience where you are, experience the people you are with, experience the great food you are tasting. Be present and celebrate all the little things you have to be thankful for in the here and now.
Taking 5 minutes per day to deliberately think about all that you do have to be grateful for goes a really long way. And you know what else? We attract what we focus on! Focusing on the things that you are grateful for will bring more into your life to be grateful for. If you only focus on not being with your child, on the other hand, your are really inviting more rejection (on a subconscious level).
Take Care of Yourself
Lastly, take care of yourself! I know you’re probably sick and tired of hearing this, but it is crucial to being able to move forward. Start a new hobby, go out with your friends, meet new people, go for a walk, eat healthier, or even treat yourself to a massage or pedicure. Not only will these things make you feel better, you will also be demonstrating to your child that you are worthy of love and care.
When I did all of these things, my world started to change…
I learned to love and appreciate myself. I developed new, more meaningful friendships, and one of my friend’s teenage daughters even went as far as starting to call me her “second mom”. Even their teenage friends wanted to start hanging out with me…and we still do to this day! I gained an experience that I thought I had lost forever…that is the opportunity to help raise and be respected by a teenager.
I soon started flipping the narrative of my life from “woe is me” to “what can I learn from this?” “How is this going to make me into a better person?” Asking these questions led me to finding purpose in my life.
At the end of the day, when you are able to manage your mindset you:
- feel hopeful and in control,
- can easily find joy and meaning in your life,
- demonstrate to your children that you are worthy of love and care,
- can cope more easily with and respond appropriately to your children’s negative behaviors, ultimately giving them the tools and skills they need to be resilient to your ex’s antics, and
- the most rewarding result of mastering your emotions is that your children start to fold back into your life
Mistake #3: Rely on therapists, lawyers and the legal system to understand their complicated family dynamic and do what is in the best interests of their children
Let’s take a look at the third biggest mistake rejected parents make…they rely on therapists, lawyers and the legal system to understand their complicated family dynamic and do what is in the best interests of their children.
Does this sound familiar? Has your lawyer accomplished what he set out to do for you and your children? Do you feel the judge has understood the dynamic in your family and have you been satisfied with his rulings? Have you been able to successfully enforce your custody order? Have the therapists been able to identify the underlying abuse, or do they support the children’s desires to spend less time with you?
The truth is, the only one who is familiar enough with your case and willing to look at the entire picture is you. Your lawyer is too busy with who knows how many other clients to have the time to read through every piece of evidence you have that clearly shows your ex’s pattern of behavior. Not to mention the expense to pay him hundreds of dollars per hour to do so. The same is true for the therapist, the GAL and the judge. They all only ever see a small part of the whole, which is never enough to provide an accurate or appropriate recommendation.
As the wise Buddha said, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
This could not be more true when dealing with alienation and the legal system. All the lawyers, therapists, GALs, CPS workers and Judges are paid to do a job…and like in all professions, some don’t even care about how good of a job they do. And let’s face it…the legal system and professionals involved are not qualified to solve the relationship problems you have with your ex and your children. They are essentially paid to keep your family stuck in conflict.
How many times have you gone to court to defend yourself against false allegations? How many times have you filed contempt of court charges because your ex has refused to abide by the terms of the custody order? Your lawyer prepares your case based on the most recent issue or couple of issues. But in “parental alienation” cases…the issue is never really the issue. The issue is not whether or not you abuse alcohol, or that your ex did not honor your time with your children. It is that your ex is systematically and methodically eroding away the close bond you once had with your children. Your children are being manipulated and psychologically abused! That is the real issue, but a lot of judges won’t allow the term “parental alienation” in court, and attorneys often lack the ability to demonstrate the pattern of behavior to the judge.
So…why is it so difficult for your lawyer to illustrate what is really happening in your family?
Well, a large part of it is that a lot of rejected parents (myself included way back when) use the shotgun approach to explain their case to their lawyer. And it’s not our fault! We are so traumatized that we give our lawyer disorganized and sporadic information. The lawyer hears bits and pieces, and is given anecdote after anecdote in no particular order. They either don’t actually see the evidence, or don’t have the time to read through all of it, let alone organize it in a way that paints a picture demonstrating our children are being abused by their other parent.
So…how do YOU grab the bull by the horns and demonstrate what is really going on? I’ll give you the Coles notes on the 6 steps…
- 1: Set the stage and focus on being the best parent you can be.
- 2: Assess the facts of your case, including gathering evidence, determining who the primary caregiver of the children was when you were together, and the advantages and disadvantages of the existing parenting time arrangement.
- 3: Keep a parenting journal chronicling everything you do with the children.
- 4: Prepare at least 2 options of a parenting plan that you would adhere to.
- 5: Create a chronology of significant events.
- 6: Organize everything in steps 1 through 5 in a binder, and write a 2-3 page summary.
To learn more about the 6 Steps to prove your children are being manipulated to reject you and turn your custody case around, register for my free webinar where I go into detail about each and every one of the steps above.
Mistake #4: Wait and hope that their children will figure it out and come around one day
The final mistake that rejected parents make is to simply give up. They wait and hope that their children will figure it out and come around one day.
Remember me saying that I made all of the mistakes I’d be sharing today? Yup…I made this one, too! …and it remains the ONLY regret I carry. It is also the one mistake that I see rejected parents making over and over that makes me the most sad, and is the worst advice I see a lot of other rejected parents giving in many of the online Facebook groups, and it honestly drives me crazy!
There are 3 different reasons I typically see parents making this choice. The first is that they become very angry and stop communicating with their children out of retaliation…”if they are going to continue to be rude and don’t want to see me, that’s fine! I don’t want to see them when they act like that anyway!”
Another reason I see parents making this choice is because they are so deeply hurt that they couldn’t possibly face another rejection.
The last reason parents choose to “let their kids go” so to speak comes more from a place of compassion. They see their kids being manipulated, and believe if they let up and walk away, their children won’t have to suffer from the abuse of their alienator anymore.
Before I go into why none of these reasons is a good reason to walk away, I just want to take a step back and analyze the events that bring us to being faced with this “decision” in the first place.
As you know, alienation does not happen overnight. In the vast majority of cases, you don’t separate from your ex and your child is refusing to spend time with you the next day. Your ex actually uses an arsenal of tools over a period of time to accomplish this.
One of the tools they use is what I call the drama dial…and they use it just like the volume dial on a radio. In the early stages, as your parenting time approaches, they start turning the dial up just a wee bit…and they continue to turn up the drama until it peaks when you arrive to pick up your child. When you first separate, the drama dial might hit a maximum of 3 by the time you pick up your child. Over time, your ex will slowly keep cranking up the max that drama dial hits until it is maxed out at a 10 when your parenting time comes…usually when your child is hitting their pre or early teens.
Have you ever been to a house party where the volume on the music is cranked so loud that it literally hurts your ears? And what do you do? …you gotta get out of there! Same goes for your child. The drama dial is cranked to an intolerable level and they just need it to stop! …and you know why they choose to stop spending time with you? Yes…because they feel they will lose the love of your ex if they choose otherwise. Yes…because they know that you are the stronger parent who will ALWAYS love them, regardless. Here’s the real kicker, though…even though it has been your ex who has been controlling the drama dial, your child associates the chaos with you! …because the drama dial is only used when it comes to you!
It doesn’t stop there though…all the while your ex has been wielding that drama dial, they have been building your child’s importance up and beating yours down. This results in an inverted hierarchy in the family…and quite often we, as rejected parents, unwittingly reinforce this inversion.
Can you see where I’m going with this? What happens when we walk away and stop engaging with our children when they are telling us that they don’t want to spend time with us (even though they really do, I might add)? Right! We reinforce this inverted hierarchy…we are communicating to our children that their desires take precedence over us and our authority as their parent.
And if we take this a step further, and take a look at the back end of that mistake…namely, we “hope that they figure it out one day and come back into our lives.” This, in my view, is just an extension of that inverted hierarchy into the future. Does it make sense that we, as parents, expect our children to heal a family problem that we walked away from? Seems a little backwards when you put it that way, doesn’t it?
Like I said, I made this mistake, too…so go easy on yourself. You can’t change the past, only move forward with new perspectives.
So, I’d like to speak to the 3 reasons I see parents making this mistake. I’m first going to tackle both the parents who feel angry, and those who just cannot take one more rejection. I, myself, vacillated between these two emotions a lot, so I know it’s really hard to continue to take the rejection. Some of us get angry, others get depressed and then we can waver between the two.
The key to getting through this…is to stop listening to your child with your ears, and start listening with your heart. It’s always easy to listen with the ears…yes, your kids are saying the words that they don’t want to spend time with you, but have you ever stopped to listen with your heart?
This becomes easier as you learn to speak what I like to call “alienated child”…it is a completely different language. When your kids say “I don’t want to see you” with their mouths, what they are really saying with their heart is , “Mom (or Dad)…I’m scared. I’m scared that if I spend time with you, Dad (or Mom) is not going to love me anymore. I know you will always love me. That’s why I know you understand…but please don’t leave me.”
Once you can hear your child’s heart speak to you, the anger and rejection vanish.
Now I’d like to talk to the compassionate parents who want to remove their children from the conflict. You’re right in the sense that your kids won’t have to deal with that drama dial anymore, but what do you think happens when you back off and stop calling?
I’ll tell you what happens…your ex starts layering a new narrative on top. Namely that you have abandoned your children. He or she might say, “I always knew your mom (or your dad) didn’t love you. What a jerk! How dare she (or he) leave you like this!” …and as time passes, and you continue to not call, and not show up for their extracurricular activities that narrative is reinforced. The more that time passes, the more it is reinforced. So, in reality, things haven’t improved at all for your kids. I would argue that they’ve actually gotten worse…as we just discussed, what they really want is you in their life. What they are getting is your absence plus the understanding that you don’t even want them in your life…even though we all know that is not true.
So…what would I recommend you do, if being faced with being rejected by a child?
First, continue to be as involved in your children’s lives as you possibly can…show up for them at all costs. Attend their extracurricular activities, even if it is not your parenting time. Continue to engage and reach out to them.
And when you do reach out to them, always be unconditionally loving. Always reach out with no strings attached, and no expectations. Don’t expect a response. Don’t expect them to meet you…nothing. Don’t send them messages, such as “I miss you” or “look at how much fun we are having at our house” that might elicit a guilt response. Always look forward and send them things they will enjoy. A text message saying, “Hi, Lily. Found this great music video on YouTube I thought you’d enjoy! Love, Dad” with the link to the video attached is a great example.
If you’re worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, don’t be! As John F. Kennedy once said “There are risks to action, but they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” Nothing could be more true when it comes to your children.
So, rather than giving up, take action. Show up for your kids! Attend their basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey games. Participate in significant milestones. Attend their graduation ceremony, and don’t wait for an invite. Communicate with them regularly. Even if it’s just sending a quick text or email every week or two. The key is to be consistent.
Don’t only send messages on holidays and birthdays…that can be interpreted as conditional anyways. There’s always a certain amount of expectation of gifts on those days. Commit to a schedule and stick to it. And by schedule, I don’t mean the same time on the same day every week. I mean send messages once per week, or twice per week, or how often as you feel is appropriate and what you can commit to.
Lastly, I would highly recommend getting yourself a specially trained coach. Working with alienated children can be incredibly counter-intuitive, and finding someone who really understands the dynamics in your family will be invaluable in helping you navigate the rough waters to a better relationship with your children.
Schedule a FREE strategy session to learn more about what a coach can do for you.
The bottom line is that doing nothing will get you exactly that…nothing. It will also keep your kids stuck in the conflict and rejecting you.
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