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Nearly 50 percent of all marriages in Canada end in divorce. This past year, in addition, marriages have endured much more stress than usual, with the challenges of the pandemic wreaking havoc on relationships, resulting in more separations and divorces than usual, according to statistics.

Children, of course, are often caught in the crossfire, even when parents are well-meaning and try to protect them. However, in other instances, children are intentionally used by one parent against the other, making them pawns in the game of parental alienation, a tactic that can destroy lives and have a lasting impact on the child’s future relationships with their parents and others.

“A Snake in the Grass”

Scott Taylor, a family law specialist from Langley, BC, regularly sees the challenges faced by parents during divorce proceedings. He notes that parental alienation – one parent attempting to alienate the other from their child(ren) – is one of the biggest issues facing divorced (or divorcing) parents today.

“It’s like a snake in the grass,” Scott notes. “It’s hidden to a certain extent,” he notes, “and it’s poisonous, like a snake. It’s all about poisoning a child’s mind against the other parent.”

This toxic behavior, he notes, hurts everyone who’s part of the picture.

Dr. Ellie Bolgar, who recently appeared with Mr. Taylor on The Roy Green Show on radio 980 CKNW, agrees with his view of the situation and notes that many of her clients are dealing with parental alienation when they arrive in her office for counseling.

“It’s a very significant issue and I see how Covid is playing a big part, providing opportunity to further alienate children,” she notes. “It’s a legal issue but also one that causes so much emotional trauma. This is emotional abuse issue that must be addressed because the child is being used.”

Naïve alienation

Do parents always recognize what they’re doing?

Sometimes they don’t, says Dr. Bolgar. She refers to this as “naïve alienation” but notes that though it might be “naïve” in nature, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

“The parent is grieving the divorce, the pain of the loss of the relationship,” Dr. Bolgar explains. As a result, he/she transfers the emotions of pain and loss to the child.

At that point, they’ll start saying things like “Your daddy divorced us” or “Your mommy doesn’t care about us anymore”. ME becomes US, and the child quickly begins to think that they are no longer loved or valued by the parent who is being victimized, even if it isn’t true.

Rejected parent burn-out

Sadly, both Bolgar and Taylor note, sometimes the rejected parent simply gives up…and that doesn’t benefit anyone. Perhaps they’ve tried everything – in the courts and out of the courts – to reason with the alienating parent and the child(ren) as well, but have made no headway. As such, they become resigned to the fact that they’re not going to have a relationship with their kids or that their relationship is going to be a contentious one, even though they did nothing to deserve this kind of treatment.

They “grieve out” and give up, explains Dr. Bolgar. The pain simply gets to be too much to bear and it becomes easier not to be involved than it does to fight. At that point, everyone loses.

Getting help

Hopefully, before it gets to that point, the rejected parent recognizes that they need the kind of help that they can only get in a therapeutic setting, and likely so does their child or children. Indeed, it’s essential to find a therapist who is highly-trained in dealing with parental alienation as well as issues such as narcissistic personality disorder, which often enters the picture via the alienating parent, Bolgar points out.

Attorney Scott Taylor heartily agrees, noting that he usually suggests therapy for children and/or families who are currently dealing with parental alienation, which he refers to as both child abuse and domestic violence.

One just can’t sit back and hope that it fixes itself, he stresses. It needs to be addressed immediately and it needs to be remedied as soon as possible before it becomes virtually unfixable and results in years and years of grief and long-lasting damage.