How are parents put into a terrible position of saving one child over another? That is Parental Alienation at work when one sibling alienates another. An alienated or excluded parent then has to choose whom to save.
Several times now clients have presented me with extreme situations where they are tenuously holding onto a relationship with their younger child whilst their older child is not only alienated from them but is actively working on their younger sibling to prevent them having a relationship with them, the alienated parent.
Imagine what such a situation is like for a young child to not only be under pressure from the alienating parent but to also be pressured by their siblings!
In several cases on which I have consulted, the only option available was to slaughter a sacred family law cow and split the siblings.
I have only come across one family report so far where a family consultant was prepared to recommend that the siblings be split apart on the basis that the alienating siblings were endangering the others. In many cases family consultants rather than assess parental alienation instead ‘blame the victim’ and assess that the alienated or excluded parent has contributed to their own alienation. They then make the easier recommendation that the ‘status quo’ be maintained, sometimes recommending that older siblings be allowed to make their own choice about spending time with their alienated parent! I think you can guess what decision they usually make
What is going on to allow such an extreme situation? What makes our family law system so helpless that they simply give up when a family becomes ‘too hard’, effectively turning a blind eye to child abuse?
Most of the major researchers of Parental Alienation such as Baker. Amy.J, Warshak.R, Reay.K, et.al report on unconditional, reflexive support of the alienating parent as a key characteristic of alienated children. Adolescents and teenagers are at particular risk because their developmental stage leads them towards developing their own identity and makes them inclined towards black and white judgments.
Alienating parents can manipulate their older children into an emotionally dependent relationship with them. Essentially, an alienating parent co-creates a false or delusional reality and identity between them and the children in which boundaries between parent and child are blurred, at a crucial time in the child’s identity formation. This process is called “narcissistic inflation” (Childress.C).
I have observed that older alienating siblings are committed alienators and provide effective cover for the real alienator-the parent. This can fool family consultants who are unfamiliar with Parental Alienation. They then see the children as manifesting the symptoms of a dysfunctional family system, rather than identifying that they are perpetrating the abusive work of an alienating parent. This requires forensic psychology worthy of the most twisted Agatha Christie crime thriller to uncover.
Alienated parents have little option but to confront the awful reality that they have to make a ‘lifeboat’ decision, the ‘lifeboat decision to save the children they can and let the others go.