An old and venerated idea in psychology is summed up in Maslow’s Hierarchy. For any person to thrive, needs must be met in an ordered progression from basic survival to psychological needs to self-actualization. A parent plays a crucial role in any child’s upbringing, so most of the burden for fulfilling a helpless son’s or daughter’s needs falls to Mom and Dad. When one parent deliberately drives a wedge between the other parent and child, this damages many lives. Parental alienation could easily bump out sloth to take its place as one the seven deadly sins.
What are a Child’s Needs?
Abraham Maslow constructed his original hierarchy beginning with life’s basics:
Once these biological imperatives are met, the next tier of motivational needs (denying them motivates a person to want them more, and the need becomes greater the longer the need is unmet) comes into play:
- Protection from elements
- Freedom from fear
The first two levels of need are almost always fulfilled by the family structure and society. Think of safe city streets, a cozy home, and the lights staying on.
The third level of needs is the domain of loving parents, the first and greatest teachers for any child:
- Trust and acceptance
- Receiving and giving affection and love
- Being part of a group, including family, friends, school and work
A child who does not get these needs met can never rise higher in the hierarchy. Why should that matter? Because the levels above these motivational needs are where a person—child or adult—comes into his or her own potential. Esteem and self-actualization separates merely existing from truly blossoming as a creative, respected, richly rewarded person.
What is Parental Alienation?
Anyone who sabotages the bonds of that third level of need—who deliberately (or even accidentally) tries to make a child doubt a parent’s love and support—is alienating the parent from the child. This is horribly damaging, and is a form of abuse.
During a separation and divorce, one parent may deliberately plant ideas in a child’s mind to make the child wonder about the parent-child bond. The result is always the same: a damaged child and a bewildered, devastated parent.
What are the Signs of Parental Alienation?
Suppose you have moved out during a one-year separation before divorce. You want your strong relationship with your daughter to continue, despite the difficult circumstances. You want to take her to the Virginia Living Museum to walk the Dinosaur Discovery Trail. You arrive at your old home to pick her up, and suddenly she:
- Is inexplicably angry with you, without being able to give a reason
- Pushes you away from giving her a hug
- Stares at your spouse or passes her odd signals
- Is tempted to stay with her mother, who has promised some far more fun treat
Your almost-ex-wife might be deliberately alienating your daughter from you. Techniques can be subtle or blunt. Your spouse could be talking openly in front of your children about you, in completely negative terms. She could be talking far too freely about adult matters, so your children form warped views of you.
Subtle Clues to Watch For
Overt signs from your own children are painful enough to endure. Other, subtler, more round-about ways to inflict an open wound in the strong bonds between you and your children can include:
- Your spouse acting hurt or upset when the child speaks well of you, her or his Dad
- Your children being reluctant to talk about the good times they had with you for fear of offending their mother
- Your spouse listening in on their phone conversations with you
- Your spouse monitoring your own children’s social media contacts with you
- Your spouse asking your children which parent they love more or want to live with, when she knows the children have very little say in that legal issue
- Your children describing some sort of heroic, though entirely fake, rescue or dramatic intervention by your spouse, as though she were saving them from something they should fear (like you)
Parental Alienation is Toxic
The seven deadly sins—pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth—may seem antiquated today. They were originally balanced against the seven virtues of faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance, and prudence. When a mother robs her own child of the connection to the child’s father, she is motivated by anger, pride, and envy. She encompasses so much of what is toxic and wrong, her sin of parental alienation has to be confronted for the good of you and your children.
Hire a Father’s Rights Lawyer
At The Firm for Men, we have experience in dealing with parental alienation. Call our Virginia Beach office at 757-383-9184 or contact us online to learn how we can fight for your rights, recover your dignity, and preserve the relationship you have with your own children.