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Parent alienation: How the divorce tug-of-war harms children

Some parents try to put children in middle of divorce

DETROIT – The tug-of-war between parents that often crops up during a divorce can have a lasting harmful impact on children.

Holly Dresson was emotionally shattered when her 15 years of marriage ended. She said it was intensified when her ex turned their four children against her and cut all forms of communication.

“My worst nightmare," Dresson said. “I never thought I would be alienated from my children, and I didn’t even know there was such a thing as parental alienation.”

She said she recently met briefly with her children after almost a year apart.

Dr. Donna Rockwell is a clinical psychologist who said she sees parental alienation in the cases she handles at work.

“Parent alienation is a real thing. Parent alienation happens when one parent tries to make the other parent an enemy and win over the affection of their child,” she said.

A parent may use their children to make the other jealous or get revenge on their former spouse. Putting them in the middle of the divorce can lead to children feeling guilty and may affect how they bond with their parents.

“When parents make child a tug-of-war during a divorce, especially during conflicted situations when there is a lot of animosity and anger, they are almost guaranteeing that heir child might have problems in adulthood because they are not thinking of the child’s mental health and well-being first.”

Rockwell said parents need to learn how to co-parent through a divorce to minimize the harm their children experience. She recommends that parents sit down with a mentor if they are having trouble communicating to make sure they don’t create a negative environment for their children.


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