Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Link to online version (reference links added)

Parental Alienation Awareness Day is April 25

April is a popular month for causes. At the top of the list are Autism Awareness, Sexual Assault Awareness, and Child Abuse Prevention.

While we are all familiar with the sort of child abuse and neglect we all too often see in the news, there is a not so well known type of child abuse which has its own awareness day on April 25: Parental Alienation (“PA”)

A paper published by the American Bar Association offers the following definitions of PA:

- “an unhealthy, toxic, and often pathological situation wherein a child rejects a parent…where the rejection is unequivocal, strident, without guilt or ambivalence, absolute and without justification…”

- “a disturbance in which children, usually in the context of sharing a parent’s negative attitudes, suffer unreasonable aversion to a person or persons with whom they formerly enjoyed normal relations…”

- a “mental condition in which a child—usually one whose parents are engaged in a high-conflict separation or divorce—allies himself or herself strongly with an alienating parent and rejects a relationship with the ‘target’ parent without legitimate justification.”

My own definition is: When a child, who once loved you, hates you, and hates you suddenly, and hates you for no apparent reason.

While either parent can manipulate a child to alienate the other parent, the facts show that it is usually the mother. This is because it is a lot easier for a mother to claim abuse and evoke sympathy from a child (and sometimes the courts) than a father.

What is not obvious in the definitions is how this happens, especially when the alienating parent is often the unstable, and even abusive parent, while the alienated or “target” parent is usually the stable and loving parent.

When a child suddenly turns on a parent, and especially a daughter on a father, it’s natural for outsiders to believe “he must have done something.” But a deeper dive into what the ABA calls  “a pathological situation,” will usually lead to a “parent wound.”

A “parent wound” can develop when a child suffers abuse, neglect, or some form of maltreatment by a parent, but later in life prefers the abusive parent over the non-abusive parent.

This happens because the deeper the child is wounded, the more that child, especially as he or she grows older, wants to heal and be finally loved by the abuser. (Some psychologists compare the phenomenon to Stockholm Syndrome.)

Along comes a divorce and the abusive parent, in need of an ally, suddenly begins showing the interest and affection that the abused child has always craved.

It’s not hard to see what happens next. Experts tell us that the child will now do anything not to lose this new affection, including joining the abuser in rejecting the other parent with whom the child formerly had a normal, healthy relationship.

The challenge for family courts, of course, is to determine whether or not there is legitimate justification for the child’s rejection of the targeted parent. Thankfully, as the ABA paper demonstrates, there is now real science and case law behind PA.

This is important because a child’s rejection of the loving parent and preference for the abusive parent is absolutely counter-intuitive. And because it is so counter-intuitive, the alienating parent counts on the knee-jerk “he must have done something” to provide all the evidence needed.

The ABA paper notes: “It is remarkable that abused children frequently remain attached to their abusive parents…a maltreated child may have ambivalent feelings toward the abusive parent; however, the alienated child almost always has highly negative attitudes toward a non-abusive parent.”

The targeted parent, the victim parent, is predictably caught in a whirlwind of bewilderment and hurt. The child, who only yesterday was happy to sit on your lap and laugh and play, now coldly and brutally ignores or even mistreats you.

Or, if it’s an adult child with whom, up till now, you have enjoyed a mature and trusting relationship, suddenly (emphasis on “suddenly”) not only is there no reply to your calls and texts, but the child is saying terrible things about you, sometimes just to others, but sometimes in court.

Even more bewildering than the lies and being suddenly and inexplicably ghosted, is the child incomprehensibly allying with the abusive parent, the parent whose behavior you may have tried to compensate for by being the loving parent for most of that child’s life.

So what to do? That will have to wait for Part 2. 

Tim Rohr has resided in Guam since 1987. He has raised a family of 11 children, owned several businesses and most recently been active in local issues via his blog,, letters to local publications and occasional public appearances. He can be contacted at

Recommended ReadingDivorce Poison New and Updated Edition: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing

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