When a divorce happens and child custody is ironed out, the noncustodial parent can face some hard truths that develop over time, regarding their relationship with their child. If it was a high conflict divorce, those hard truths can trickle down to the child, leaving them with a changed opinion of their noncustodial parent.
When this occurs, it can leave a parent emotionally distraught, looking for answers. They feel like they lost a special part of themselves in their bond with their child and continue to suffer as time passes. With how complex the emotional landscape of a child of divorce can be during their various stages of development, it can be difficult to establish those bonds again, while addressing the emotional pain that you are feeling.
A recent study from Colorado State University looked to further understand the experiences of parents who are targeted in alienation cases, specifically their feelings of loss and grief through the loss of emotional and/or physical connection with their children.
Additionally, the study looked at the various social support systems that may be used by these alienated parents in an effort to cope with the loss.
The interview data was comprised of parents who claim to have been alienated from their child after a separation or divorce, and the researchers tested the correlation between physical contact and emotional connection between the alienated parent and child, as well as between the contact and the social support utilized.
The majority of the participants in the study were male, and of the 45 alienated parents, 33.3 percent were categorized as having no current physical contact with their alienated children, 31.1 percent were categorized as having little or inconsistent contact with their alienated children, 20 percent were categorized as having some consistent contact with their alienated children, and 15.6 percent were categorized as having regular contact with their alienated children.
As far as emotional separation, 82.2 percent reported experiencing some extent of challenge or loss to their emotional relationship with their alienated child in general, and nearly 65 percent of the targeted parents had either little or no contact with their alienated children.
As far as social support, 73.3 percent were categorized as alienated parents who have sought social support, and 51.1 percent have sought some form of community social support, ranging from social media groups, to neighbors or co-workers. Of those that had sought social support, 57.8 percent of them sought professional or therapeutic support.
In the results of the study, they found that those reporting alienation were not necessarily those without physical contact. In fact, many of the alienated parents with physical contact to their child in some form or another reported having difficulty connecting on an emotional level. For them, it was not necessarily about seeing their children, so much as it was bridging the emotional gap and connecting with them.
For the alienated parents that did not have contact with their children, many had not seen or spoken to them in years, which can be indicative of an ex-spouse not follow through with the custody schedule or parenting plan.
Social support and moving forward
In terms of social support, the study found that regardless of how much physical contact they had with their children, a majority of parents reported some sort of social support. Although many of these alienated parents in the study have experienced ambiguous loss, they have been able to use the social support that they have received as a way of coping, regardless of the severity of the alienation or the emotional loss.
The study stated that the most commonly reported type of social support used by alienated parents was intimate social support, followed closely by professional or therapeutic social support. Given that it is typically easier for those close to us to know what is going on in our lives and easier to lean on family and friends after a loss, it is not necessarily surprising that the study found this type of support to be the most commonly used by alienated parents, following a divorce or child custody dispute.
Whether it is experiencing the challenges of connecting with their estranged child or seeking support to combat the emotional anguish of their situation, alienated parents face a long road ahead. No matter what the physical custody situation may be, seeking support for the alienation that you, as an alienated parent, face is beneficial to your overall well-being and allows you to present the best version of yourself to your child, as you begin to break down the walls of alienation.