When your Ex Spouse is Brainwashing your Kids about you

Parents breaking up surely ranks among the most traumatic experiences a child can go through. As if the pain of abandonment and insecurity was not bad enough, many children find themselves being used as weapons in a messy divorce with one parent using them to hurt or exact revenge on the other. If you find your ex-spouse brainwashing your kids for a similar purpose, here are few tips on dealing with the situation.

What is going on

One parent brainwashing kids against another is usually the consequence of both being locked in a bitter court battle over child custody or even child support or alimony. If this is true in your case too, you may find that your ex is leaving no stone unturned to vilify you before your kids. This usually takes the form of consistently bad-mouthing an ex until the kids begin to harbor the same hatred and disgust. The result is a controversial term called "parental alienation syndrome," in which children are burdened with feelings of guilt and betrayal as they are manipulated into aligning with one parent against the other. In extreme conditions, your kids may have been poisoned against your to the extent that they hold you responsible for the breakup of the family and all the unhappiness resulting from it. It is because of such heavy burden of guilt, betrayal and hatred that kids are laden with, some child health experts argue parental alienation syndrome is the ultimate form of child abuse. The damage caused by the brainwashing to both the child and the relationship between the parent and child in this case turns out to be irreparable.

How to spot it

While some amount of anger against divorcing parents is natural for kids to experience, if your children’s rage and rancor against you seem to be particularly intense or directed at you alone, it is likely that they are being brainwashed against you by your ex-spouse. Some other signs that you can watch out for include, your ex consistently blaming you for the divorce, your ex using your kids to gather information about you, encouraging any natural anger that your kids may have toward you and worst of all, pushing your kids to choose one parent over the other. Very often attempts to poison kids’ ears against one parent may take more insidious ways like your children being allowed to choose whether they want to visit you despite court orders, your ex refusing to be flexible with the visitation schedule, or over-schedules activities for the child so that you are not given a chance to visit or even arranging "temptations" that interfere with your visitation.

What you can do?

Even if it may try your limits of self-control perhaps the wisest way to cope with the situation is to avoid negative communication with your ex. This will lessen the chance to create conflict, can continue to parent the children without the effect of detrimental clashes. Likewise do not speak badly about the aggressor in the presence of the kids. In doing so, you can shield children from the effects of bad-mouthing and prevent losing respect, affection or contact with them.

If your partner has sole custody of your kids – with you being allowed only occasional visits – your ability to redress the situation may be even more difficult. Make it clear somehow, in a text, an email or a phone call or letter, that you love your child and are available to her whenever she feels the need or desire to communicate. Better still, continue to send birthday cards, letters and small gifts to your kids so that they will know that you are doing your best to keep in touch with them. It could be that your attempts at ongoing communication would be  blocked, ridiculed and belittled by your ex, but at least you would have the satisfaction of knowing that you have tried. In fact with the advice of your lawyer, you can even explore the possibility of demanding receipts to show that your kids have received letters or cards sent by you so that your ex is not able to block your attempts at communicating with them.

At the same time though don’t start spending on expensive gifts for your kids, in the hope that your generosity will counter all the brainwashing that your ex has practiced on their impressionable minds; at best, your lavish gestures may only earn ridicule and at worst, they may provide fodder for your ex’s accusations that you are trying to buy affection and forgiveness from your kids.

See your lawyer

If you have enough documentary proof that your ex spouse is brainwashing your kids against you, explore your options of bringing it to the notice of the judge. Though divorce laws in the US differ from one state to another, in some states, like Ohio, parental alienation is recognized, meaning that action can be taken against anyone who engages in it. Provide the lawyer with as much detail as possible, including specific phrases used by the parent in question to alienate the child, dates of any incidents where the child showed early signs of parental alienation and the names of all parties involved. Provide the lawyer with the names of any witnesses who have seen the accused parent attempt to alienate the child away from you. Tell the witnesses to create written statements which might be used as evidence during court proceedings.

However keep in mind that many legal and child mental health experts believe that PAS doesn't exist - that it's a suspect theory infecting an already overburdened legal system. Its strongest critics argue that it cannot be found in the DSM-IV which is the American Psychiatric Association's "bible" for diagnosing mental disorders. Whether or not the judge looks favorably on the idea of parental alienation, the worst to come off from the experience are often the kids. With protracted, exhaustive litigation that drags on and kids being – overtly or covertly – force to side with one parent against another, they are the ones to suffer most serious damage. This is why the judges of family courts may prefer to settle cases quickly and in the best interest for kids rather than being completely fair on both parents.

Finally persistence is the only long term positive strategy in coping with parental alienation. Stay connected with your children by bringing back happy memories. Be available for community and social events where you can establish new ties with your kids, breaking away from the ill-imposed role of alienated parent. You can be hurt, sad and despondent that your kids are being alienated from you, don't be angry with them. Your kids want both parents, just like all other children.

Consider the fact that at their age, they simply don’t have the breadth of understanding and the independence of mind to see that their young minds are being manipulated. Unfortunately if the brainwashing goes on unchecked, your kids may never have it in future as well. So try and focus on all other things in your life that you are grateful for. Perhaps a new wife or husband and partner, a great career as well as supportive family and friends. The goals are to survive and thrive and be there for your children and other loved ones if and when they need you in future.