Parental alienation: ‘It’s emotional abuse at the highest level’ 

When one parent turns a child against the other, a childhood is lost 
 
Like most other grandparents around the country, John and his wife, Anne, can’t see their grandchildren during the Covid-19 shutdown. But for them the pain of separation started long before the pandemic. 
They are caught up in a “heartbreaking” case of what they have no doubt is parental alienation. They believe their former daughter-in-law has turned their grandson against his father and demonised all his father’s extended family too. 
 
“If you were going to sit down and write the script for it, you couldn’t make it up,” says John. “The only thing that keeps us half sane is that when he does get to an age and sees for himself, he will realise there was nothing wrong with his father or us. Unfortunately, we will be too old then.” 
 
The last time John saw his grandson, now aged 10, was at a public event about four years ago. “He wouldn’t even look at me or my wife, his granny. He bolted away like a frightened deer. It is fierce that a parent can do that and get away with it,” says John, who does not hesitate to call it “child abuse”. 
 
Yet, the couple enjoyed what they thought was a good relationship with their daughter-in-law before the arrival of the baby. Afterwards, “it was as if her family decided there was going to be only one set of grandparents here”, says John. 
 
Last May, the World Health Organisation officially recognised parental alienation syndrome for the first time, deciding to include it in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases, which comes into effect at the beginning of 2022. 
 
The term was coined in the 1980s by the late Dr Richard Gardner, a US psychiatrist. He had observed, in some very acrimonious relationship break-ups, the ability of parents to manipulate a child to reject his or her other, previously loved parent. 
 
It’s a controversial concept and not to be confused with estrangement that may develop in a child’s relationship with one parent due to abusive or neglectful parenting. The syndrome can be hard to diagnose in the toxic “he says, she says” fallout of some broken relationships. But being aware of the possibility and knowing what to look for would be a start, say those affected. 
 
There is a campaign to try to get the Government to recognise parental alienation. Eighteen county councils around the Republic have passed motions calling on the Departments of Health, Justice and Equality, and Children and Youth Affairs, to implement recommendation 36 of the Report on Reform of the Family Law System published last October. 
 
It urged that “consideration be given as to whether laws should be amended to take into account situations where one parent is wrongfully influencing their child or children against the other parent, thereby creating unfair and unwarranted alienation that can be destructive and life lasting”. 
 
Names and details have been changed in this article to protect the families’ privacy.  
 
To read the full article please go to: The Irish Times 
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