Notes From a Single Mom: Parental Alienation—Are You Guilty of It?

Lynn Armitage

Lynn Armitage

It’s a big word for a big problem, one that has been hotly debated on both sides. Parental Alienation is when one parent tries to turn a child against another parent through bad-mouthing and expressing anger toward that parent, casting him or her in a negative light and making the child feel guilty for wanting to spend time with—and even loving—this parent.

It sounds despicable, doesn’t it? But let’s be honest. Many single parents—including me—are guilty of Parental Alienation to some degree, whether it’s intentional or not. In my case, there was a lot of anger in the beginning and it was difficult to contain my emotions around my children. While I wasn’t saying negative things about their father to purposely destroy their relationship with him, I see now how destructive and irresponsible my behavior was.

Parental Alienation is a common, well-documented phenomenon in divorce, a form of child abuse, says Glenn Sacks, a columnist who is an outspoken and frequently published advocate on the subject ( “There are mild cases of Parental Alienation, and then some parents go on a malicious campaign to destroy the relationship between their children and the other parent, lasting years and even decades.”

Although many experts on the subject say it is a gender-neutral problem, Sacks says it’s usually the custodial parent—the mother in many cases—who does the alienating. “Children spend most of their time with this parent. They’re the gatekeepers and control access to the other parent, and can easily block phone calls and visits.”

One of the worst cases known to Sacks was a father of two whose ex-wife remarried and moved to Phoenix. He flew there one weekend to visit his daughters and she turned him away. With a heavy heart, he flew home. He later checked his phone messages and heard his daughters sobbing in the background as his ex-wife screamed into the phone, “Where are you? We’ve been waiting at the restaurant!” Sacks says the ex-wife made him “look like the bad guy” so many times, that now his daughters won’t even speak to him.

Remember the infamous abusive rant that actor Alec Baldwin left on his daughter’s phone years ago? He blames this admittedly regretful outburst toward his daughter on his ex-wife, Kim Basinger, who had purposely tried to disrupt the relationship between him and his daughter, he claimed. “I’ve been driven to the edge by parental alienation for many years now. You have to go through this to understand.” Baldwin was criticized by some feminist groups for using “Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)” as the reason why he was estranged from his daughter. They claim there’s no such thing as PAS.

Helen Grieco, former executive director of the California National Organization of Women, agrees. She says Parental Alienation is “junk science,” a tactic used by noncustodial fathers in the courtroom to make mothers look unfit for custody. The danger, she says, of courts buying into this “scam” is that children could end up in the primary custody of abusive and molesting fathers from whom the mother is trying to protect them.

After a contentious debate that dragged on for years, the American Psychiatric Association has determined that Parental Alienation Syndrome is not a mental disorder, and will not list it in its updated catalog of mental disorders.

Despite the backlash, the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization has succeeded in getting at least 17 U.S. states to recognize April 25as Parental Alienation Awareness Day. And in another win for the PAS argument, a bill was defeated in California in 2010—AB 612—that would have prevented mental health professionals from submitting evidence of Parental Alienation in family law proceedings.

Sacks has these final words for parents who engage in alienating behaviors: “Take a look at what it’s doing to your kids. You’re making them hate half of themselves. They’re not going to be little forever. Someday they’ll figure it out, and there will be hell to pay.”

To reach Glenn Sacks, send an e-mail to:

Lynn Armitage is a freelance writer who lives in Northern California. She is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.

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jessicahumchitt's picture
Submitted by jessicahumchitt on
wow....there is so much greater damage in forcing a child to be exposed to certain parental issues than for an allination of potentially abusive behavior. Thank goodness for the groups that are lobbying against making this alienation allegation a legal action.

Cynthia Farr's picture
Cynthia Farr
Submitted by Cynthia Farr on
My daughters were alienated towards me their mother, by their father and his wife after years of this my daughters always believe their father was innocent and I was the guilty party because I left him now my eldest daughter refuses to speak to me after years of building on a broken relationship I did everything to even going into 40 thousand dollars of debt to try to keep roof over her and children's head now she will not speak to me she calls her fathers ex wife now Mum and the children call her Nana I am not allowed anywhere near them I cannot go on what can I do to reconnect with her

Troy's picture
Submitted by Troy on
Like anything this could be abused but there is some fact to this also. I have been lucky as to not be involved in this myself, but I have seen this done to friends. Divorce is an extremely stressing and emotional time that tends to create massive amounts of hate for a the other parent of your children. Many people take that hate and find a way to hurt the other with the thing they love most...their children. If there is a good reason for keeping your children from the other parent (abuse or dangerous environments) than yes do what you can to keep them away legally through the courts. Judges will keep the other parent from your children in these cases. If it is simply because you don't like them, don't force the crap on your kids. If the other parent cares enough that it hurts them to keep their children from them, than it will hurt the kids too.

Deanna Robertshaw's picture
Deanna Robertshaw
Submitted by Deanna Robertshaw on
I find the "mental health" organizations crazy on this one to say the least here in America we want to blame everyone for our mistakes. So what, you married a creep(man or woman here people)! suck it up and move on, You do not have to have a "happy conversation" with them to follow the judges orders and let your kids walk out the door. in fact, you don't have to say anything at all. a post it so they know they ate dinner maybe at what time if they have something to go to and where if they gotta take them and voila, no conversation to the point bye bye. But everybody wants something difficult and a" mental disorder", well there's no cure for stupid, Stupid is as stupid does. -Forest Gump Parental Alienation s respectfull referred does exist, i've seen it, experienced it and live it but there's no pill and the judges aren't going to change their ways to bring equality to the children, no matter how many CASA's, GAL's, and CSB appointed advocates go to your house and check it out and clear you the creedence goes to the person who slept with you for all those years even with no substantiated evidence. sorry ref to Forest

Consuela Mosley's picture
Consuela Mosley
Submitted by Consuela Mosley on
I have been dealing with an ex-girlfriend going on four years she has degrading my character to no to school officails,doctors,teachers,& etc.No one is paying this obssessed any attention.My daughter has grades has falling .she has miss numerous absences.I ask them who is paying attention to this chld who is not happy in is an extreme pain.

Rob SFbay area's picture
Rob SFbay area
Submitted by Rob SFbay area on
"Baldwin was criticized by some feminist groups for using “Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)” as the reason why he was estranged from his daughter. They claim there’s no such thing as PAS." Of course the feminist groups would work to discredit the phenomena of Parental Alienation. It is not a disorder but a malicious state of mind...much like he or she who choses to commit battery....there are accidents and there is malicious is all about the intent and intent depends on the state of mind. My ex refused to negotiate a 20percent custody arrangement with my now 7 year old son. She continues to take him to doctor after doctor getting all of these diagnoses to show how damaged our son is. This is somehow supposed to be too much responsibility for me. Why was I ok to father my son during the marriage? What changed? It seems to me that My son is mostly a means to a financial end. A tool, a pawn to take as much from me, the non-custodial parent as much as possible. I am homeless and have been for the last 3 years...the courts awarded me 1percent visitation, maximizing what she takes and destroying me financially to the point that I can't even visit my son. How can Feminist groups who advocate equality defend this behaviour? What does this say about their intentions when it comes to gender equality? I am a good father and My son's relationship with me is just as important as his relationship with his mom!!! For those who think that Parental Alienation doesn't exist...I have emails showing obstruction of visitation!! The courts don;t currently recognize it as a pervasive phenomena and look at how many fatherless children there are!!! Look at how screwed up and angry our kids are becoming!!! Grow up!!!

Rob SFBAY AREA's picture
Submitted by Rob SFBAY AREA on
"Baldwin was criticized by some feminist groups for using “Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)” as the reason why he was estranged from his daughter. They claim there’s no such thing as PAS." Of course they will take this is mostly women who are doing this!!! As they are rewarded to custody of the kids for the most part!!! Feminist groups enjoy the fact that men are relegated to cash cows and could care less that a man can't be a dad when they are slammed with minimal visitation and a huge support bill. What ever happened to gender equality feminists?

John Brosnan
John Brosnan
Submitted by John Brosnan on
Parental alienation is a serious problem. I haven't seen my two daughters for over four years. I write a popular blog on this topic at