In a good-enough divorce, parents shelve their grievances and support each other’s relationship with the children. In toxic divorces, however, an Alienating Parent systematically turns the child against the Targeted Parent. This form of emotional abuse is known as Parental Alienation (PA) and is akin to brainwashing: the child is programmed to believe that his formerly beloved parent is dangerous, crazy, or unfit. Parent-child relationships are blown apart as the child attacks and rejects the Targeted Parent. The Alienating Parent defies court orders regarding visitation, bad-mouths the other parent to the entire community, or choreographs such an antagonistic dynamic between the child and the Targeted Parent that contact becomes untenable. (www.afamilysheartbreak.com).
In 2006, Los Angeles-based LCSW Karen Lebow was “falling apart, looking for a support group” to manage her grief around losing her daughter to PA. She contacted Amy JL Baker, PhD, a Columbia University research psychologist and author of Adult Children of Parental Alienation: Breaking the Ties that Bind (www.amyjlbaker.com). Dr. Baker urged Karen to start her own support group and referred others struggling with PA. Today, Southern California Parents of Alienated Children Network (SCPACN) has 30 members who travel to Los Angeles once a month from as far away as San Diego and San Francisco.
“There is so much shame,” says Karen, who facilitates the meetings. “People who aren’t educated about PA look at the Targeted Parent and think, ‘what did you to make your own child reject you?'”
Attending meetings helps members normalize their experience. “The group restores people’s self-image and functioning,” says Karen. Members also exchange information about PA research and qualified family law and mental health professionals.
Because Targeted Parents are often financially burdened by legal fees, membership is free. The only requirement is that members support each other and accept group feedback. Stepparents and other extended family members are welcome.
Together with Cal State University at Northridge, SCPACN is hosting an event titled “Southern California Parental Alienation Workshop: The Community Response” on November 13, 2010. The workshop will feature keynote speaker Amy Baker, who will lecture on challenges of alienated children and survival strategies for Targeted Parents.
The workshop costs $70 and will be held at CSUN. Discounts are available for students and faculty. Those interested in attending or in joining SCPACN should contact Karen Lebow at [email protected] or 310-625-6696.
“We need greater awareness to spur improvements in family law and mental health treatment,” says Dr. Baker. “Parental Alienation creates immense suffering for rejected parents and alienated children and must be stopped.”
For more information on PA: