In order to prevent or minimise parental alienation and/or estrangement; one of the most important things to get right after separation is which parenting method to adopt.
The environment we create for our children is so important for both their mental and physical wellbeing, so of course the parenting methods we choose to adopt have a great bearing on this.
If you're reading this and a member of PAPA then it's likely you are the targeted parent and are already having difficulty in safeguarding your children from an abusive parent and their tactics of alienation and/or estrangement.
If you're reading this as the perpetrator then perhaps the following will enlighten you on how you're potentially damaging your child and how you can adapt your behaviours to improve their present and their future.
In this article we are going to look at the three most common parenting methods (after separation) and they are: counter parenting, co-parenting and parallel parenting in order to deduce which are the healthy parenting methods
So, let's get into it...
Counter parenting is the opposite of co-parenting. Rather than setting aside differences to parent effectively, one parent actively works against the other. This is a parenting method you should avoid.
Counter-parents may think they're punishing the other parent, but ultimately they're hurting their own child. Many counter-parents are narcissists who only care about getting their way to assume control over how the child is raised and in some cases to gain control or leverage over the other parent.
If you're dealing with a counter-parent, you'll have to work twice as hard to undo the damage done.
Counter-parenting means intentionally working against a co-parent to undermine how they're raising the children. The counter-parent is not doing this because the way the other parent is raising the child is harmful. Rather, they do it to spite the other parent.
Let their kids do things the other parent would never allow,
Badmouth the other parent in the presence of the child,
Tell the child the other parent is to blame when something goes wrong,
Prevent the other parent from speaking with the child during visits,
Encourage the child to be disobedient,
Tell the child the other parent doesn't care about them,
Disobey court orders.
While the counter-parent might think they're only hurting their ex, they're doing far more damage to their child.
For a counter-parent, the child's needs and emotions are secondary to spiting the other parent. As a result, the child doesn't get the love and affection they need. They might feel unloved and develop self-esteem issues.
If a narcissistic counter-parent is involved with their child, they may try to get the child to emulate them. They'll do things like making the child participate in a sport they used to play even if the child doesn't like it. Children in this situation lack a sense of self and hold themselves to unrealistic standards to try to appease the counter-parent.
As the child gets older, they might distance themselves from the counter-parent as they realise how the counter-parent's actions have affected them.
Unfortunately though, it's just as likely the child will become further estranged from the target parent and instead confide in the counter-parent.
Sadly, I've seen this first hand with my step father's children how counter parenting can lead to estrangement. Their mother is/was a textbook narcissistic and she has managed to poison their minds against their father, who fought for them in court when they were younger and has always tried to be there for them. It's been really sad to watch.
Both of his children are now adults and have yet to show any signs of realisation of their mother's past behaviour but I hope one day they figure it out.
It's important to recognise the above as early as possible so that you can begin to counter the counter-parenting in order to minimise the damage caused to both you and your children.
It's easier said than done but as long as you prepare yourself and equip yourself with the right knowledge, then it's possible to counter counter-parenting. Below are a few ways you can do this:
Encourage your child to confide in you. Being around a counter-parent can be emotionally exhausting for your child. Let them know that it's okay to express their emotions. Ask about their time visiting the other parent without prying too much. This will give them a comfortable space to open up.
Stick to your guns. Don't change up what you're doing because the other parent is trying to undermine you. When the child does something that's unacceptable in your home, give out the appropriate disciplinary response. The child may start adhering to your rules even when they're not under your roof.
Consider switching the parenting arrangement. If you're attempting to co-parent, you'll need to communicate often with the counter-parent. This gives them myriad opportunities to sabotage what you think is best for your child. Consider switching to a different arrangement like parallel parenting, which doesn't require much communication or cooperation between parents.
Expect the counter-parent's behaviour. Anticipating what the counter-parent will do next could help you develop strategies to deal with their behaviour. Plus, if you go to court, showing patterns in their behaviour will help your case. Make note of everything they do that's in direct opposition to what you do, like letting the kids stay up late on school nights or dropping the kids off late for visits.
Don't stoop to their level. The urge to lash out at the counter-parent will be strong. However, levelling accusations and name-calling will only embolden their behaviour. If you'd like to know more about what's happening while your kids are with them, ask open-ended questions: "What did Mike have for dinner last night?", "What time did he go to sleep?"
So it's clear that counter parenting should be avoided at all costs in favour of either co-parenting or parallel parenting, which I will elaborate on further below.
Co-parenting (also called cooperative parenting) is when parents work together to raise their child after their relationship ends. While you may not necessarily get along personally you set aside those differences for the sake of your child.
Typically, these arrangements include joint physical custody and joint legal custody, giving parents near-equal time with their child and equal say in decisions regarding the child's school, medical care, religion, etc.
This is important to help your child adjust because research shows that conflict between co-parents after a divorce or separation can make it much harder for children to cope.
Children often struggle with changes to their family unit and the addition, subtraction, or transition of parental figures can be extremely hard for them. Modelling a cooperative mutually respectful relationship for them can help improve their long-term development.
Co-parenting is often considered the healthiest parenting method post separation and it can benefit your child's mental and emotional well-being for many reasons. For example:
It's less jarring than transitioning to parallel parenting,
It's healthier and more productive than counter-parenting,
Both parents maintain a similar level of involvement in their child's life so the child doesn't feel like they're missing out on time with one,
Parents are often present within the same spaces (e.g., the child's sporting events), showing the child a strong support system,
Each household operates similarly, and the co-parenting calendar helps the child settle into a routine that reduces stress and discomfort.
Parents are their children's first role models so it's important to try and show your child the importance of teamwork and maintaining relationships even after they change.
Co-parenting tends to benefit parents as well as parents who get along typically negotiate a co-parenting arrangement, which saves them time and legal fees, and gives them the freedom to choose their own arrangement rather than leave it up to a judge.
Another benefit is fairness in the parenting dynamic. Parents are equally responsible for their child's well-being so one isn't left to do all the heavy lifting. It's also reassuring to know that you have someone who understands the exact situation you're going through to help with the challenges of parenting.
While co-parenting is seen as the best option for the child, it is not always possible as it means both parents have to be on the same page which is often not the case, particularly when alienation has been involved or there has been a high conflict separation.
In these instances it is often very difficult to transition from a counter-parenting arrangement to a co-parenting arrangement so it can be less damaging and more feasible to aim for a parallel parenting arrangement.
Parallel parenting is an optimal model for couples who find it difficult to get along but who both still want to be equally involved in raising their children. It's a parenting method that allows both parents to parent their child how they see fit and have more autonomy on how they raise their child when in their care.
Or in some instances it can be the most feasible option after dealing with counter-parenting and/or alienating behaviours.
For me personally, I have adopted parallel parenting as the preferred method alongside a 50/50 joint custody arrangement. This is partly due to the issues in the past when I had to fight for time with my son but also because there are areas of parenting where I feel myself and his mother cannot or would not agree so in order to reduce conflict it has been better to adopt a parallel parenting model.
As a result, there has been little to no conflict between myself and my son's mother for several years now, so it is possible to make parallel parenting work in the best interests of the children.
In a parallel parenting situation, children have the opportunity to spend time with and have both parents in their lives while minimising the possibility of domestic conflict and I can attest to that.
One downside to parallel parenting is the imbalance this can cause if the environment in each household is drastically different.
This can be disorienting for the child and in some cases can be distressing so it's important to be aware of the potential for this to happen and to actively work to reduce this as much as possible. In order to do this it may be required to adopt some co-parenting behaviours and to work with the child's other parent in some ways.
Parallel parenting is best used as the safe option for the child in cases of high conflict or as a bridge towards co-parenting.
While I would say that I have adopted a parallel parenting arrangement overall, there are definitely times where myself and my son's mother are able to co-parent and as far as my son is concerned, we have a cordial relationship.
It's best to familiarise yourself with all of the above and to then assess your own personal situation in order to determine which parenting method will best suit you and your children.
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Thank you for reading the above article and please check out our other helpful articles for more information on how to deal with parental alienation and the issues that arise after separation.