How Parents Make it Difficult for Children to Love Their Other Parent

Two parents on either side of photo pulling on an upset young boy's arms, trying to get him to come to themThere are many ways one parent can influence how children perceive their other parent. This is often a positive experience for children, as they learn to appreciate both of their parents as individuals. Other times—especially during a divorce—this is a negative experience, making it difficult for children to manage their feelings of loyalty and have loving relationships with both parents.

It is sometimes the case that one parent is truly a danger and should not have access to the children as determined by a court of law. However, alienating behaviors often occur not because of fear of danger to children, but because of conflict between parents due to hurt feelings, imagined offenses, actual offenses, infidelities, feelings of abandonment, and more. There are various levels of alienating behaviors, all of which impact children, but some of these behaviors are more damaging than others.

Sometimes one parent might say something negative to other other parent in front of the children. Usually, they will quickly regret the statement and will try to mitigate the inappropriateness in an effort to minimize damage to the child and their relationship to the other parent. When a child already has a difficult relationship with the other parent, this effort to talk to the child about it is very important.
Behaviors can step up from there, from parents who, while they might regret their outbursts, do not believe it is their job to make sure there is a good relationship between the children and the other parent; to parents who are determined that there is no relationship possible. Parents may see this as a battle, thinking they are protecting their children, when in fact children tend to be the “casualties of war” between the warring parties.

Here are some examples of alienating behaviors, from more benign to more egregious:

  • When it is time for children to go to the other parent and they refuse to go, the delivering parent does not encourage them to go to the other parent, stating they do not want to force them to go against their will.
  • When one parent calls to talk to the children, the parent who answers stages a loud conversation about responsibilities for financial difficulties, while the children wait to “have to” get on the phone.
  • Unwillingness of one parent to attend events where the other parent will be in attendance, letting the children know their unwillingness and the reasons for it.
  • Letting the children know that he or she will feel badly if the child goes to the other parent when he or she feels ill, there is a relative visiting from out of town, etc.
  • Telling the children he or she does not want to hear about what they do when they are with the other parent.
  • Ripping up photographs or letters from the other parent with no regard for children’s awareness of the activity.
  • Telling the children information about the other parent, such as issues regarding finances or infidelities—sometimes admitting that they should not have said anything.
  • Telling lies about the other parent, like “Your father had an affair” or “Your mother is an alcoholic” when statements cannot be supported with evidence.
  • Telling the children they can’t repeat things to the other parent about who they spend time with, how they’re doing in school, trips they have taken, or other information.
  • Threatening to stop loving the children if they continue to have a relationship with the offending parent.
  • Creating an environment that is so toxic to the children that they find it easier to believe the lies and innuendos and choose one parent to align with—usually the parent exhibiting the alienating behaviors, effectively ending the relationship with the other parent.

This is clearly not an exhaustive list. Hopefully, you will not find yourself represented in any of them.

© Copyright 2011 by Shendl Tuchman, PsyD, therapist in San Ramon, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Shanna

    Shanna

    November 1st, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    Who would ever think to be so selfish and create all of this negativity around a child? This is so callous and cruel to subject a child to your own petty arguments. Honestly I think you should ahve to pass a test before becoming a parent!

  • Louise

    Louise

    July 5th, 2016 at 2:26 AM

    My ex or one. He constantly tells lies to our eldest daughter about me, refuses I ket either daughter talk about me (his partner is different and will ask when he is not there), he constantly arranges for them I be doing other things when j call but won’t allow them to call whenever thy want, he has told our eldest that I used I lock myself in the bathroom when we argued and he hated me for it because it made him feel bad a d contributed to us breaking up. Not only is this not true, but he says it to her when she goes to the bathroom to calm down. He threatens her if she tells anyine when he has been violent causing extremely negative behaviour we are still dealing with. I went to America to view our house for a move, over Skype they asked what the house was like and I said I lived it etc (I do, so do thy now they have seen it) he sat them down and told them that telling them about America is blackmailing them. Yesterday we went to my daughter’s induction at high school, she asked me and my sister in law to sit with them, we did then he made sure she had no chance to talk to us and made it very clear he didn’t like it when she did. When we were walking together to a different classroom shewas in front of me, my sister in law next to me and him behind and he shouted her to go back to him, grabbed her hand and darted through the crowd a different way. They have been living at his for 18 months and have repeatedly reported abuse to the school which has been ignored. Thy ended up liking there after he brought his violence into my home and dragged my youngest daughter out, he hurt her and was crying but her reluctance to go because of this and other violence was seen as my fault. Various recounts of stories that matched they deemed as matching because I made them say it, not because that is what happened. My eldest has been in and out of counseling and broke down in tears admitting her father made her lie about various things. The children have complained about how difficult he makes it for them to speak to me an it is ignored. I am hoping when I move people listen to them as he cannot keep saying I have told them to say things. The really scary bit is social services got involved after he decided to take away access after dropping them at mine, causing the most harm to the children. They acknowledged his violence and abusive behaviour but said it hadn’t happened for weeks so was fine. He has a toddler in the house that is in potential danger as well. This toddler is very behind and at 2.5 can only say 5 words, knows no colours shapes etc. The girls have consistently complained about being left to care for the child in lieu o parents and no one listens. He has told them that if thy speak up again, he will stop them seeing me completely.

  • Louise

    Louise

    July 5th, 2016 at 2:30 AM

    I should add that me and my ex separated 9 years ago after he started an affair with his current partner. It took me 5 years to get him to see the kids properly after months of none, then random nights, 1 night a month. I finally got him to two nights a week after another period of him not seeing then. His partner it pregnant and he suddenly wanted the kids to live with him as it was the only way they could afford for her to quit work. They have now discovered children aren’t free like he thought and she is working part time, which he tells me and the children is my fault. She got sacked from one job, guess whose fault that was according to him..

  • Heartbroken

    Heartbroken

    July 6th, 2017 at 5:22 PM

    Alienation has caused my own child to isolate, betray and have zero closeness. The other parent projects this in a communication book and my life and my child’s life is virtually ruined. The legal system failed us all.

  • JUSTSAD

    JUSTSAD

    July 11th, 2017 at 10:06 AM

    to “Heartbroken” I am right in the middle of the same…with my 14 yr old daughter that I have had full custody of for almost 14 yrs. (father has visitation and I have bent over backwards & have been so flexible over the years with him when things came up and he wanted to have/see her)…but a month or so ago, I spoke with her dad and told him I was moving 20 min away (getting married soon) and would be driving her to same school, etc..so basically nothing would change for her…he flipped out, threatened to take me to court for custody. So now, he has filed for full custody..I have had to pay $3K on a credit card for an attorney to fight his frivolous claims for “change in circumstance”..which isn’t even the big issue…it is that she is being totally manipulated by him and his sister (her Aunt)…to the point, that I really think she will say she wants to live with him now because she is afraid and doesn’t want to disappoint him. We (daughter & I) have had such a close relationship…it breaks my heart…I find it very psychologically abusive but yet there are no laws against that I suppose and the legal system doesn’t have time to hear “he said she said” things which is what it will seem like. I am broken and feel like things are at the point of no return. I am having to justify my parenting and it will probably be to no avail. She is an honors student, very structured, involved in many extra curricular things…confides in me, reads to me every night, wants me to fix her hair every time she washes it, talks to me about things that bother her and always has.. but when I tried to talk to her about this what was going on, I was informed (legally) that I was ‘badgering her”. I am just lost and sad that her dad and family feel this is healthy for her. Her dad remarried 5 or 6 yrs ago…but now when it is my turn for happiness, and getting married..this is what happens. Bottom line, he is jealous and wants to feel he is in control. How does one combat manipulation and alienation??? and in my state, the judge will listen to the child if over 12…I get that if there was a problem..I don’t drink, smoke, exhibit any irresponsible behaviors, do not have a temper..same profession for 30 years, have a nice home, etc..but its not ok for a teenager to decide they don’t want to go to school, or that they don’t want to follow rules, or be able to tell a parent when they want to go here, go there…but yet, a life changing thing like totally flipping the custody and totally reversing it can be determined by an emotional, hormonally charged adolescent when it will affect their entire future?????

  • lauren

    lauren

    November 1st, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    my parents always fought while me and my younger siblings were around…it really impacted my siblings and by the time my parents got divorced,they were quite separated by both the parents and didn’t prefer to be with either,they wanted to move out quick.this kind of a scattering of the family has left me extremely sad with things too..

  • VR1

    VR1

    November 2nd, 2011 at 7:54 AM

    Really,people doing this are not only showing their toxicity towards the other partner but also pushing it through their kids and in the process poisoning their minds too! *mad*

  • Elizabeth Floyd

    Elizabeth Floyd

    November 2nd, 2011 at 5:14 PM

    Adults manipulate children. It’s a fact of life, and it’s also an emotional form of child abuse in my opinion. If you try and guilt your child into hating their own parent, then you are a disgrace. Your child can come up with their own reasons to hate his mother or father and in their own time-if that’s their choice. You shouldn’t be brainwashing them by using your parental influence. That’s what you are essentially doing.

  • molly

    molly

    August 9th, 2017 at 6:39 PM

    Boy is that true. My ex has the oldest child hating me 100 percents we have been divorced over 27 years and he has not let go yet. I guess married until you die.22

  • D.L.G

    D.L.G

    November 2nd, 2011 at 6:04 PM

    My dad tried to turn me against my mother in my youth, and he thought it would work. It didn’t, and it completely backfired. I badmouth him every time he is brought up because I have so much anger about that. Ten years have passed too.

    Saying a single nice thing about him when I’m around gives my wife a reason to put on a fresh pot of coffee. She knows she’s in for a long night listening to me put people straight on what a jerk he was.

  • Graeme P.

    Graeme P.

    November 2nd, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    @D.L.G: Am I missing something? I don’t understand why you would choose to allow that to continue to affect you.

    You’re a grown up now. You are not a powerless child anymore. You can choose whether to let it eat you up for another ten years or to stop being so incensed about his actions whatever they were and give your loved ones around you, and yourself, a break.

    Your poor wife! She must be emotionally exhausted listening to you going on and on about that.

  • Denise

    Denise

    September 20th, 2017 at 9:05 AM

    Don’t judge

  • Philip Dyer

    Philip Dyer

    November 2nd, 2011 at 11:52 PM

    @Graeme P–I agree. DLG, letting it go doesn’t invalidate your feelings or mean you need to forgive or excuse him either. It just means you choose to put this to rest once and for all. Expend all that energy on something more positive because I’m telling you, your wife cannot and should not be expected to tolerate that forever. Try really looking at her eyes next time you do it and I guarantee you will see them sadden. You’ve probably been too busy ranting to notice how hard that is on her to listen to.

    Been there, done that. Trust me, nothing in our past is worth ruining our present for because none of us know how long we have. Show her you’re capable of appreciation, respect and love-not anger and hate. Good luck. I hope you choose well.

  • cbh

    cbh

    November 2nd, 2011 at 11:57 PM

    Lying isn’t only wrong, it’s also slander. If the child is just pretending to be on your side for whatever reason, he only need say “Dad, Mom says you were having an affair with your boss”, and suddenly you’re served papers to appear in court for slander and defamation. My husband did this to me and it caused me so much hassle at my job because they thought I was some big criminal! He made sure I was served them at my workplace’s staff car park when I was heading in one morning for maximum embarrassment. I hadn’t said any such thing!

  • Hallie Duncan

    Hallie Duncan

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    If you do any of those eleven things, you should just call up the other parent, and be an adult. By being an adult, I mean admit that you lie, manipulate your child, and know that what you are doing is tantamount to abuse. You should give full custody to the other parent. If you truly loved your child you wouldn’t have a problem with that.

    How you repent after doing so is up to you but you certainly don’t have the right to be a parent!

  • XH

    XH

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    There are so many mothers in the news who spew out the most disgusting lies about their split that I wonder why God doesn’t strike them down with a bolt of lightning right where they stand. Even worse, when these kinds of things start happening, the woman will lie in court, under oath, and still gets custody of the kids after divorcing her husband.

    It’s no coincidence that the women wins in courtrooms given that the vast majority of judges are male and most of them play up to that.

  • Lynne Greene

    Lynne Greene

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:49 PM

    @XH: Wow…bitter much? Do us all a favor and don’t state opinions like facts when they are not. To insinuate a judge’s decision is based on her batting her eyelids at them is insulting our judicial system. Fathers would lie etc too I bet if they wanted their kids that badly and thought it would work.

    Fact is, and it is fact, fathers are the more likely parent of the two to take the kids and kill them rather than let their soon-to-be ex have them when a relationship goes sour. You think that’s a better solution? To exact murderous revenge upon innocents because of a “if I can’t have them, no-one can” mindset? Yeah, so much better. Think before you speak, man!

  • Peter

    Peter

    November 22nd, 2014 at 9:21 PM

    the worse is catching your wife cheating. then 12 hours later you are servd with an abuse order saying you got to get out. that made it very easy on her. “i wasnt worth the closure anyway’-she said… 15 years married! 2 children, home, etc. what i will never get is if the woman cheats she just has to make the man look like a total dirtbag to everyone, and if her family starts to accept HER NEW LOVER coming around, when were still married… AND IN PA WHERE YOU CANNOT GET A SEPARATION BY LAW! they just don’t issue them… MARRIED TILL DIVORCED. so i have been told i can possibly get something called PUBLIC ADULTERY and its just where i don’t have to prove they are sleeping together but just show a film of them in pubic for a few hours doing the BF/GF thing… i say that as she is pushing 40 yrs old as am i, and she is acting like she is 20 again. PRAYERS ARE WELCOME… ps- my son is only 8 and they do not stop putting me down in front of him. i don’t want him hating women when he is older due to this… as he has his grandmother, my wife, and daughter, and aunts that sit like a sewing circle- any tips?

  • wendell h.

    wendell h.

    January 5th, 2015 at 11:35 AM

    My sons wants to move with me(father) I moved away about 5 months ago I got married. There’s not a day goes by that my kids don’t text or call me saying why they want to move. Last night my son said Daddy can we move with you cause we don’t get attention her with momma and her new husband always fuss at us we don’t get support like we need we are left to defend for ourselves. My sons say they feel if they move with me they will do better in school cause I would take the time and help them and not cuss them out all the time. My kids feel that there mother takes side with her husband all the time. I as the father trys to reach out to my kids mother but gets nowhere. She always bring up the past which we both can’t do anything about. She said if I wanted to see my kids I should’ve moved away. I pay child support faithful but my kids still have to call me for things which I don’t mind but when I can’t do for them cause of paying child support I get called all kids of names. She tells the kids I don’t got time for them cause I got a new family.. I want a better life for my kids..What should I do one of my sons is 15 and one is 13?

  • marie

    marie

    July 2nd, 2015 at 11:07 AM

    my kids father just kept coming in and out there lives. he would see them when he was not with someone then when he got with someone he would walk and ignore them for years .so my older kid confront him about and then he his father turns round and says ok well disown me and he my kid feels bad for saying it to him his father. i never once talk bad about there dad cause i believe a child should make there own mind up.

  • ACL

    ACL

    November 9th, 2016 at 9:26 PM

    Father breaks up marriage. Kids are 12 and 9. They watch his affair with another married woman who knows the family go down right in front of them. Are not happy with his decision. Are not happy with the other woman. And yes, of course, his ex-wife isn’t either. They don’t make their relationship “public” until she finalizes her divorce and then the kids find out that their dad and this woman are were ‘publicly’ dating for 7 months before he finally fesses up (only to the public dating of course). So, guess what? The kids and the mom are in the same place – go figure. Father continues to lie to the children directly. Add to that the fact that he abused the mother – emotionally, verbally, physically and financially throughout separation because he wouldn’t leave the house. Kids watched all that go down as well…. even to the point where the kids, 14 and 11 by that time, are telling their father to leave their mother alone. Father is a functioning alcoholic. Was for 15 years. Takes time to drink, on average, 1.5 L of wine/night. Time that wasn’t spent with the kids. Lot’s of proof there. His family has lots of money (read: lots of play time for folks like that in the court system). Kids saw it all. Father continues to lie to the children (the ultimate emotional abuse to the kids). And you really think that if the mother is supportive and truthful to the kids throughout and by the time they are 15 and 12 decide that they don’t want to see their father (let’s face it, trust is the magic word for ANY relationship – parent/child or adult/adult) then if the mother supports that by not forcing the children to go, then THAT is parental alienation? Telling the truth is not parental alienation, especially if the kids have already figured it all out themselves. They don’t have to be 18 to do that. Not going to be a liar under any circumstance, especially to my children. Better read: truthaboutdeception.com/lying-and-deception/children-and-lying.html
    and a host of other reports on lying. I’m truly sickened by these people who say that one parent should lie to ‘protect’ the other parent for “the kid’s sake” and if they don’t, it’s labelled as parental alienation.

  • Louise

    Louise

    November 10th, 2016 at 8:40 AM

    I completely agree, you shouldn’t lie to kids, especially when they know the truth anyway, that jist damages their relationship with everyone. My children’s father constantly lies to them, about everything! Even down to the damn broadband. We Skype every day and it is an issue due I his slow broadband speed, he can get fat broadband speed in his street, something the kids are aware of because not only do their friends have it in the street, but the older one has checked. He tells them it isn’t available, so thy have to make do with a blurry screen and it freezing. He limits their calls with me, interrupts their calls with me, arranged for them to go out, cooks their dinner during our call so it has to be cut short etc and yet, according to social services, none of that is parental alienation. Whenever keeps me informed about school or home, never makes me aware school pictures are available, nothing. They lived with me the vast majority of their lives and I it accessed of parental alienation for telling them I was going to have to arrange for them to see their dad some other way after he abducted them from school in the middle of the day and was violent at our house several times causing us to call the police. That apparently is parental alienation and is reason they live with him…..

    Two years later, they have been continually showing the school bruises, telling them hoe u happy they are, the same with a social worker who got involved (he decided they couldn’t come for the court ordered holiday time and chose to tell me just after they got to my house. Refused to speak any further to me or the kids and when I pointed out it was court ordered time so would need a good explanation, he called the police and toldthem the kids lives were in danger. The police came and obviously saw the kids were fine) they still tell everyone how much they don’t want to live their etc and guess what, this is apparently also me trying I alienate him as a parent. Him hitting them, trying to stop our contact, trying to stop our visitation, giving them abuse, treating them very differently (one of ours receives nothing from him no clothes, shoes, pocket money etc, one of ours gets pocket money from him and his and his girlfriend’s gets a new toy every day and designer clothes) which all contributes to the kids not liking it there, is caused by me……. I habe taken the step of having the court order changed for visitation and moving 4k miles away, to try and give my kids a voice.

  • jennifer m.

    jennifer m.

    December 29th, 2016 at 2:30 PM

    I have an issue with my kids dad. I moved away for our daughters mental health and intellectual disability to get her to a better school. my oldest is out of the house and my next one is almost out as of next year. my son is 14 and im so worried about him when hes alone with his dad. he doesn’t say much but I want my son. I want him to live with me. I don’t know how to go about this because I was told by a lawyer my son will have a say and the judge will take that into consideration. I will move close to him if I have to to get him.

  • Sophie

    Sophie

    October 2nd, 2017 at 7:56 PM

    I’m almost 17 and my parents had given me the choice to pick a house to make things easier for them and me in a way. I refused to pick a house as i felt the other parent would take offence to it and the hate between my parents would get worse. Please for the love of god do not push your kid to live with u if they dont want to. It will not help there mental health and u have to know they are doing it for themselves. sometimes its okay to be selfish and pick a house but your kid doesnt want u manipulating or guilting them into living with u, it doesnt help your battle one bit. if anything u move away from the obsessive manipulative parent. what kid wants a crazy protectiv eparent watching there every move, give him some space and calmly tell him u will give him some space to make a decision. then if he picks the other parent u now he is doing it to best suit him. Im a kid of divorced parents and it makes it very hard to get through all these body changes and have all this extra stress as well.

  • Sasha

    Sasha

    January 25th, 2018 at 7:54 AM

    My ex cheated,rubbed our child’s nose in his affair,moved in with her after seven weeks and thought him telling our child the details was the right way to go. For that I will hate him. He made our child a pawn in his pathetic life,our child caught him out in his lies,and now after ten months he thinks he can come home. If that isn’t child abuse I don’t know what is. I have held our child when they have cried, sobbed,felt real pain,had to take them to see the doctor who diagnosed severe stress and anxiety….I’ve tried explaining the situation,but it has fallen on deaf ears. In the summer he took her on vacation that was meant to be ” their time”…only to receive a call saying the woman was ten minutes away and they were meeting up..my child was put in a situation, in a foreign country,where she didn’t have the option to come home. What shi**y parent does that to their own child? I’m sad that because I want nothing more to do with him,he still doesn’t get it. And now I have a child who has so little respect for their father…I’m sad that her bubble has been burst, by a pathetic,manipulating man who thinks he is dad of the year….my poor child. I simply continue to nurture,love and try and create positive memories…I say nothing, simply listen…seems dad is ruining his relationship with his child all by himself.

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