The Alienating Parent

Some of the people reading this article will have;

a) lost access (possibly completely) to your children due to “hostile aggressive parenting” by your ex-partner, or

b) Someone has sent you this link because you are working hard to destroy your ex-partner’s relationship with your child.

Either way, please set aside your prejudices and self-confidence for five minutes, and consider the following.

What is HAP? Basically, it is parenting a child in a way that undermines the child’s relationship with the other parent. It is often done by a parent who describes themselves as ‘protective.’ “Protective” is a concept that has a lot of grey areas.

It is clearly protective when one parent’s drug addictions, alcoholism and general propensity for violence is harming the children, and the ‘protective parent’ flees, doing everything in their power to protect the child from harm.

It is less clearly ‘protective’ when one parent is unhappy with the relationship with the other, and starts magnifying every fault of the other parent, to the point of relationship breakdown. The other parent is not a threat like in the first example, but mountains are made of molehills and this is expressed to the child.

“Daddy yells a lot” or “Mummy used to smack you a lot, remember?” are given as a reasons for relationship breakdown, in a tide of blamestorming. Involving the child in this is the beginning of HAP. Once it has begun, it becomes a spiral where is hard to pull back and concede that one might have been unreasonable in the first place.

There is a scale now for quantifying ‘hostile aggressive parenting’ (HAP). Over 500 points is a ‘high risk’ to children’s well-being. I have seen one score over 3000. This is a modern tragedy.

For example, once the child has been told that the ‘targeted parent’ is a liar, the parent engaging in HAP becomes the child’s only source of ‘truth.’ However, this ‘truth’ is mere propaganda, and the child’s ability to distinguish truth from falsity is undermined along with their relationship with the targeted parent. If you are a targeted parent this is as plain as the nose on your face. If you are doing the targeting, you may be living in a world of denial about the harm you are doing to the child.

This harm is not limited to distinguishing falsehoods. It is is easy to create a state of anxiety in the child if, while he or she is in the care of the other parent, police welfare checks are called in, especially after bedtime. Children being woken by police “making sure they are ok” creates a sense that somehow they are in danger at the targeted parent’s house. Constant monitoring of calls with the other parent on speakerphone, and visibly recording it “to protect them” exacerbates this effect and puts them off wanting to talk. Eventually, “they don’t want to talk to you” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The terms and conditions of a domestic violence order also affect the children. If the targeted parent is banned entirely from seeing them, it is easy to tell them that the other parent doesn’t love them anymore, because the other parent cannot provide living examples of love for them to experience. So instead they experience rejection and heartbreak, all of which solidifies over time into hatred and a pathological alliance with the hostile-aggressive parent. HAP, in the little echo-chamber of someone calling themselves, incorrectly, a “protective parent” produces a layer of denial that prevents that parent from seeing the effects on the children. Indeed, it is yet another thing to blame on the targeted parent.

Later, letters, if written, are “Dear Harry” instead of “Dear Dad.” The new step-parent is “Dad,” and are not to express love but express hatred. Moves can be made to erase the other parent by changing a surname. The effect on the children’s sense of personal identity and their place in the other half of the family tree matter less than winning in court.

Constant litigation can erode the other parent’s resources to the point where they cannot fight anymore and simply vanish from the children’s lives, many to suicide. Constantly breaching orders by refusing access, compelling the targeted parent to file contraventions, is a simple passive-aggressive tool for this. Then, not only are financial resources the children could have benefitted from destroyed and handed to lawyers, but the valuable input the other parent could have made to their lives is gone forever.

From this it is easy to create a scenario used readily in court, where a family report writer who does not acknowledge this dynamic takes at face value the children’s stated fear of the target, with no consideration of the ‘brainwashing’ that has happened along the way.

If you think abstractly about the kind of actions described above, and the harm they produce for children, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is something seriously wrong with a person who would do that. And yet, the layers of denial that such people place over their actions, describing themselves as ‘protective’ against a parent who was a great parent prior to separation, and was only demonized afterwards, is hard to see through from the outside. The myth that domestic violence is a one-way street reinforces mothers who do this to fathers, because they are presumed guilty, and so social support is readily available even when DV claims have been obviously faked, as I have seen in some cases.

Behind the mask is what is known about memory. It is reconstructive. If we picture something that might have happened, and are biased towards interpreting it badly, it gets worse every time we bring it to mind, and it still feels like a memory. Even when it is not. It is a highly elaborated reconstruction. This is how “he pushed me out of the way when I wouldn’t let him pick up the child,” becomes “he slammed me into a door for no reason.” It is an insidious process, but well-understood in the scientific literature. Things that never happened can be “remembered,” and this is especially true for children. The famous “Lost In A Mall” research by Elizabeth Loftus is a classic illustration.

So if you’ve managed to make mountains out of molehills, or indeed, anthills or even a flat beach, the children will remember it the way you have put it in your head. And they will elaborate on it. Siblings may, in the quiet of their room, swap stories and start to “remember” things that the other one reported, simply because they can visualize it after a few tries. Once it can be visualized, “it must have been real.” This fits with the myth that “children don’t lie about such things.”

I have seen adults who believe they grew up “remembering” awful things daddy did to them in the cradle. Except it’s false. “Infantile amnesia” prevents it from being true. It is a pseudomemory from something suggested many years later as a so-called “repressed memory.” And isn’t creating a traumatic memory, that is inherently upsetting when recalled, not sort of equivalent to actually doing to the person what they have become convinced happened to them?

There is enough trauma in separation for the children that are involved without using tactical psychological child abuse as part of your campaign strategy. If you make it adversarial, your ex has no choice but to fight back on behalf of the children. That the court systems are only starting to open their eyes to this as a tactic, rather than a reflection of a reality, does not bode well for your children.

If you are using hostile-aggressive parenting, please see a psychologist about your anger issues, and any personality disorders they may want to investigate. If you and your children are victims of it, please ensure that your lawyer follows through on making sure that any childrens’ lawyers and report writers are well-versed in it, and have access to your evidence that HAP is happening.

If you children’s lawyer refuses to provide your evidence of HAP to the report writer, make absolutely certain that you mention that evidence in your interview, and inform them that their professional ethical responsibility is to make inquiries into it, as they are more than reasonable to pursue.

And if the report goes in without mention of your evidence of HAP, talk to your lawyer to make sure that this deficiency is noted, and leave to obtain a second opinion is obtained. If this motion is denied, get a second opinion anyway, but one written in a way that can provide a critique of the failings of the report in such a way that your solicitor can discredit it with pointed questions.

If you know someone who is suffering the court-enforced loss of children, while that person is statistically very likely to be male, the following page would apply equally to women, as far as things to avoid saying when supporting them:

Lastly, for the alienating parent, there is the matter of the Internet and ready access to materials such as the present page. These pages are growing in number. Support groups for alienated children are scarce now, but are starting to be out there:

This will only grow as recognition of this problem increases. They will find out the truth. They will not appreciate what you have done to them. I have worked with children in this situation already, who left to live with the other parent, only to discover that everything that had been told was a lie. Including the bit about the other parent being the liar. Some won’t find out until they are older, if the other parent survives, but the research on them is out there.

Parent without the hostility and aggression. Love is not a zero-sum game. The more love the children experience, the more they will have to go around. HAP stifles this growth, and they learn – from you – that love is like money, more for me means less for you. That’s not how it works. If you think it is, please find a therapist.

*The above article was originally published at

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