Parenting: How To Avoid Parental Alienation

Parenting: How To Avoid Parental Alienation

In this episode of the Solo Parent podcast, we talk about how to avoid parental alienation.

First, a clarification on what we are not talking about. We’re not talking about the textbook definition of parental alienation often found in legal proceedings. We’re also not talking about situations that have safety issues like abuse or addiction. In these situations, the appropriate distance is required.

When we are significantly wounded by another parent, our natural tendency is to let our anger seep onto our kids, whether we're aware of it or not, and the things that we say about the other parent do affect our kids.

How do we own our feelings without alienating our kids from the other parent?

We know the success rate of kids greatly increases when both parents are involved and that God designed it that way. He designed a connection that will remain forever between parents and kids because it's adults who divorce; kids do not get divorced from their parents.

This can also apply to widows and widowers. Whether it’s the memories or the in-laws, parental alienation can exist. This topic is important to focus on, whether or not you have custody because it affects how we parent at a distance when we no longer exist as a family. Our family is not the way it used to be, but there is an us that does still exist between you and your child.

We can be aware of the common situations that trigger our emotions toward our exes.

It's also really important for us to remember our kids' love for the other parent has nothing to do with us or even the other parent. It has to do with our kids. Because if we don't have this mindset when our kids show love, interest, or affection to the opposite parent, they will fundamentally feel as though they're being disloyal or unloving to us.

And likewise, when our child displays an attitude of hate or disrespect to the other parent, they feel like somehow they're being loyal or loving to us. This dynamic is really harmful to their well-being and development. It’s essential to have the baseline understanding that our kids’ affection, love, interests, and curiosity about the other parent have nothing to do with us and that it has nothing to do with the other parent.

We need to recognize there is a hole in our kids’ hearts, there's an absence when the other parent isn't around. That's natural and has nothing to do with us. When we try to compensate or to justify, we can compound our kids’ wounds from the other parent not being in the situation and cause more distance. And that becomes its own form of alienation.

We also need to let go of any resentment about how we think our ex is contributing. We need to remember our kids love the other parent just as much as they love us. We need to intentionally guard ourselves against jealousy when we hear our kids talking about great things about the other parent.  

It's really hard. We need to remember it’s our kids’ hearts showing up, and it's okay. It says nothing about us if our kids are getting something that we can't provide from their other parent.

Recognizing our kids need the opposite of what we are—masculine or feminine— is not directed at us doing a bad job as complete parents. It's just the natural inclination to need that in their lives. We need to remember it’s not about us.

How do we respond to our kids when we see some of our ex's characteristics showing up in their lives?

We have to remember our kids are picking up just as many bad habits from us as they are from our exes.

When we do see bad habits or behavior our kids have learned from the other parent, we can address it in a kind and loving way without placing the blame on our ex. We can do this by never bringing up that this behavior reminds us of the other parent.

It’s also really important to never compare ourselves to our exes.

What are some ways we can honor the other parent when we don't feel like it?

We know that research tells us that if we attack our ex our kids will take it as an attack on themselves because each parent is a part of their identity. So we need to avoid attacking or saying anything negative about our exes to our kids.

We can honor our kids' giftedness that comes from the other parent. We can tell our kids that their giftedness is something special they share with the other parent.

If we are widows or widowers we can remind our kids how much their deceased parent loved them. Our kids can no longer receive love from their deceased parents, so it’s important to remind them.

We can forgive our exes. It’s challenging but we can do it with God’s help. We can also pray for our exes, even praying for God to bless them. And finally, we can speak encouraging words about our exes to our kids. This is hard and is a journey that won’t happen overnight.

We can play an important role in building a bridge of connection with our exes for our kids. It's not about us, it's about what's best for our kids.

When we have experienced some healing, we can also remember the great memories with our kids. We can talk about the traits that we loved about the other parent, and what drew us to them. When we do this, we can start to see that this isn't about winning or losing, it’s really about investing in our kids. And that's why this is so important.

What do we do with all the anger we have toward our ex?

We cannot leave it pent up. It will come out. We have to have safe people in our lives, people we can talk to who we can be honest with and say, help me look at this situation because it really hurts. It helps a lot to have someone to talk to because it takes the pressure off. Over time the pressure does dissipate. The more we talk about it safely the more the pain will ease up.

This is especially true if we have an ex who's in the picture and they are doing something to hurt us every week. It's so important to be able to have someone to go to that helps us decompress. Let it all out. Because it's not as easy when we’re recovering from past hurts that caused the divorce to happen in the first place. But we are co-parenting with this person and we’re having to deal with it over and over.

We can be intentional and identify a friend as our decompression person so that we always have a safe person to vent to without any expectation of needing them to fix anything. We don't want this spilling onto our kids. Be deliberate. Find someone and ask them to be your decompression person.

When our kids share something about our ex that brings out our anger, we need to be there with them and their feelings, helping them understand what they're going through and that we don't have to fix it. We can't fix it. We don't have any control, but we can sit with them and attune with them and be safe people for them to bring their feelings. If we pile on our feelings and say bad things about the other parent, then we become unsafe people for our kids. And we want more than anything to be their safe person.

Being curious is a great way to establish a safe environment for our kids and validate their feelings. For example, “That sounds like it really hurts.” Or “I wonder what that feels like.” Be curious about what's going on with our kids when they bring hurt feelings to us.

What do we do when our kids ask tough questions about our ex?

The first rule is we do not lie to our children. They have to trust us. The second rule is we don't need to expand on the details of what our child is specifically talking about.

When we do tell them negative things about their other parent, we need to be present and empathetic. We need to say things like, “This is hard to say.” “Or this makes me sad too.”
It’s a hard balance to help them understand why their world is falling apart and what the truth is versus what they really need to know. These conversations need to be age-appropriate. We need to be safe people for our children to ask questions and get honest answers.

We can also tell them there are some things that are private between mom and dad and that need to stay between a husband and a wife.

We need to remember that our kids want to make sense of what has happened, what has hurt them—whether a divorce or a parent has died. We need to help them understand there are some things that will never fully make sense and that they will have to sit in the sadness of it.

A Message For Single Parents That Don’t Have Custody

For those of you that don’t have custody of your kids, you are parenting from afar. We want to encourage you to never give up trying to reach out to your kids. Don't stop reaching out even though it's hurtful to not get a response. Your feelings can get hurt. But for the sake of your child, don't ever miss a birthday. Don't ever miss an opportunity to hang out with them if you’re allowed to. Unfortunately, our kids are going to have abandonment issues but you don’t have to add to this issue by not reaching out.

You do have to be respectful of court orders; but within those rules, don't ever miss an opportunity to let your child know you're thinking of them and love them. The most important thing is that your child knows that you want them and that you want a relationship with them.

Everything we have said applies whether you have custody or not.

How do we stop being triggered by our ex?

Remember to manage your expectations with your ex. You are on a journey of trying to turn difficult situations into something that serves your kids better. But unfortunately, your ex may not be on this journey. And so if you are making progress and growing in your life, fantastic. But that does not mean that your ex-spouse is in the same place. And so if you can alter your expectations of what they are going to do it'll take some of the edge off being triggered so easily. If they do exceed your expectations, it's a great bonus.

Always remember your kids come first. You may have every right, every fear, every anxiety to want to alienate, to want to separate from in-laws or an ex. But think about your kids and put their needs above your desire for retaliation, above your own pride. Because in the long run, they are what really matters in this situation.

In closing, for encouragement, we look to Ephesians 2:17-18. This Bible verse is about how Christ reconciled two groups—Jews and Gentiles—to God by means of His death on the cross.

Here’s the passage:

“And our hostility towards each other was put to death. He brought with this good news of peace to you Gentiles, who were far away, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done.”  

We have to be mindful of the fact that there is a spiritual paradigm to all of this. And God wants not just for the sake of our children and us, but to glorify Him, to remove hostility because we have all been forgiven of much.


We need to understand that our kids' love for the other parent has nothing to do with us or even them. It has to do with our kids.

Avoiding parental alienation requires deliberate action, not just controlling our reactions. We need to be a bridge and a builder, not a burner. We need to honor and pray for the other parent.

We must have a safe person to decompress about how our ex annoys us because it's going to happen.

When our kids ask us tough questions, we need to listen with empathy and avoid trying to minimize or fix the situation. We need to sit with them in their hurt feelings.


How do I respond to my elementary-aged children when their dad continually talks to them about the divorce and tells lies about me? I normally tell them that I'm so sorry that they're in the middle of the situation and leave it. But it's exhausting. One child said recently that she told her dad she doesn't like it when he talks that way and to please stop. But he kept going.

First, this is hard and sad. But you're doing the right thing, saying you're sorry that they're in the middle of it. Continue to do this and be curious about these situations without fixing them.

Pray. Pray for your ex and the situation in front of your kids.

Also, reach out to your ex via email and address it. Ask them for your kids' sake, not yours, to stop putting them in the middle with the negative comments. Your ex may be contentious about it, but it's worth a shot.

And finally, privately document for your own records any time your kids are saying negative things. Take detailed notes of what they say, including the time and the day. Most parenting agreements include a non-disparaging agreement. The safety and protection of your kids come first. It may need to be brought to a judge if it is happening continuously. Contempt of court is an option.

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