How to bond with your alienated child?

islamic parenting Nov 09, 2022

When I became a therapist, one of the case studies that stands out so strongly is a fifteen-year-old client who had developed severe social anxiety. It was so extreme that if there was a change in her routine she would have a meltdown and even worse, she would seek validation in the most dangerous relationships; older men, men who encouraged drinking and drugs. When she came to me, she broke down the minute she sat in the room.


For all the negative feedback from her mother, I saw a young girl, lost, insecure struggling with accepting herself and not feeling like she belonged. She was beautiful, and exploited her beauty with fake additions to herself. As soon as she entered the room, I sensed a sadness or a void in her.


What appeared to be social anxiety where the young girl ventured out and believed herself to be under everyone’s scrutiny, then transpired that she had been seven years old, crying for her dad, and her mum who had divorced dad had rallied with her maternal grandparents and ‘attacked me for wanting to see my dad.’ She had been scrutinised for a long time and because the attachment with her dad had been so fractured because he had settled with a new family, she felt like she did not fit in her maternal home or with her paternal and step family.


Cue years of self harming, disruption to her education and men flitting in and out of her life, with no purpose. When I confronted mum, it was a fruitless exercise. Mum went into victim mode.


Sadly, this is not unheard of in this community and the concept coined by America as ‘malicious mother syndrome’ (although not limited to mother only) is responsible for much parental alienation happening today. 


It's a difficult road to tread down, as I witnessed it myself with many cases being close to home and also with cases that walked through at the wellbeing practice. 


Case study 1: A lady in her early 50s with severe fibromyalgia and when I worked with the underlying emotion – guilt, it was at herself for never trying to find her alienated mother. She had never known her, and when she received a call, years later, she had ignored the request to go visit, full of anger and resentment. By the time the woman was grown and married, she found the news of her mother’s death. Since then, the guilt has always stayed with her and so has the chronic pain.


Case study 2: A young woman in her early thirties, who was severely manipulated by her mum and never reached out to her biological dad. Her maternal side, including mum’s parents, manipulated her from the age of four and when she was a few years older, she was coached to lie in court. After full custody was given to her mum, the daughter led a seemingly normal life until her father reached out after she gave birth. This spiralled the daughter out of control and the marriage broke off, after she pushed her husband with toxic manipulative behaviour. After the marriage, she denied her husband contact with their toddler. The behaviour continued because she had never healed from what her own mother did to her. 


Case study 3: A single mum despises her daughter having contact with her biological dad and continues to keep berating her when she returns from contact. The daughter now has severe anxiety, and also gravitates towards extreme drama because that’s all she’s ever known. Whilst the mum comes across supportive in contact, her narrative is contradictory. Her daughter, now a teen, seeks validation from falsehoods for attention and also inviting predatory men into what are dangerous situations for the daughter. This is the result of the mum’s manipulative ways, yet it was the mum that reached out, stumped as to why her daughter was so destructive.


Even if parents aren’t separated, a child just has to witness the manipulation of a parent and they will copy and paste it. The sad thing is that the cycle just doesn’t stop.


If you’re a parent who has been dragged through the mud with Family Courts, CAFCASS officers and Social Services, and you’ve finally got contact with your child, understand that whilst this is the result you wanted, the journey doesn’t end here.


Chances are, especially if your child is much older, that you’ll find it difficult to connect. You have to prove yourself to your child and fight the monster image that the malicious/alienating parent has painted you with.


Your child may be frightened, angry, anxious and may even lie about you. They will try to play you up with the resident parent and don’t be surprised if they have a loyalty with the resident parent- your child has had to align themselves with the resident parent’s beliefs because that is the only source of validation and love available to them. So, when they come to you, you have a lot to prove and you have to fight the negative narrative they have of you. 


Some tips:

First, do not bad mouth the resident parent. In fact, there will always be some good, focus on that good and praise them. EG ‘You’re very lucky to have a mum who buys you such lovely clothes.’ Chances are that if your child is already hostile, they have heard the other parent be negative towards you, so always be the better and safer parent.


Take the blame away from your child.  Every time they behave in a way that disagrees with you or is hurtful, understand that it’s not them. It’s what they’ve been raised with. This doesn’t mean you allow negative behaviour to slide; it means that you place boundaries down so they understand right from wrong.


Win them over with kindness and love. They’ll be expecting hostility and love bombing; you be the parent who becomes their safe place. Staying neutral, gently explaining right from wrong, teaching them the Seerah of our Beloved Prophet (SAW) will give them a good insight into right and wrong. My step daughter refused to engage in salaah with me, but I knew she loved reading so I read 365 Days with the Prophet, and The Quran Storybook with her. She started knowing when her behaviour was hostile. Sometimes I do need to gently remind her to speak kindly to her father but it’s less frequent.


If you have a new family, your child will try to find their place within that family. That’s OK; keep things simple and take this time to spend time together. Expect clashes and deal with it fairly but with kindness. As hard as it is, remember that this will pass and how you respond is everything.


If the resident parent is still hostile, focus solely on contact with your child.  You cannot change the fact that if they are still toxic towards you, your child may also adapt that hostility. An excellent resource is ‘Have you filled a bucket?’ A series of amazing books teaching children what toxic behaviours can hurt someone.


At every stage, make sure you contact the school, get reports, stay in the know about your child’s milestones and education. The more you know about your child, the more they will appreciate when you praise them and show up for them for school events. Do the same with mosque and any other classes they attend. Ask the question, ‘how can I support them with this?’


Figure out your child’s love language. I’ve learnt that an abundance of gifts rarely helps; what helps is quality time, one on one, and doing things with you, boundaries and positive affirmations. They want to know who this person is and they will seek that validation from you so give it to them.


Keep on top form with your self-care. It will be exhausting, you will have ups and downs, good and bad days with contact. The resident parent will attempt to slander you and control your relationship. You cannot fight or carry on with your name being dragged through the mud unless you’re in good form, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and also physically and financially. Record everything they do; emails, messages, verbal incidents that will show the mediation officers and other legal parties involved that you are the victim of coercive and controlling behaviour and alienating behaviours are now recognised as emotional abuse. Show this to the courts should they be involved because this then protects your child first and foremost from this-should the courts issue a warning, and then it protects your relationship with your child.


Stay focused on your relationship with your child. That is what is important. If you have been granted indirect contact, keep up with emails, gifts, letters and video calls. Take what you have and stay consistent. It is always the alienated and non-resident parent that needs to prove themselves, whether it’s the mum or dad.


Boundaries create respect. If your child misbehaves with you or your new family, be fair and explain why it’s wrong. Do not reward or take sides, this will only create more conflict in the long run. Do arrange for your relationship to build first before introducing your new family, especially if the child is past the age of four. 


Finally, as hard as it is, let go of the outcome. At some stage, their behaviour may become damaging to your family dynamic and if you have tried your best, and intended the best for your child, done all the inner work for you so you’re in best form, then understand that you have done enough, make duaa for their wellbeing and leave the rest in Allah’s hands. After all Allah has promised us to test us with our possessions and children:


‘And know that your possessions and your children are but a trial and that surely, with Allah is a mighty reward.’ Surah Al Anfaal 8:28)


Stay patient during this period, take each day slowly and remind yourself that once upon a time, your child did love you and they are innocent in all this. The words they speak are not their fault. Make the best-intentioned duaas and act with them in mind. 


‘Oh Allah, you are the bestower of Peace, you are most Merciful, and everything happens by your will. Bless me with a beautiful relationship with my child/s so I may raise them on the straight path, so I may impart to them the beauty of the Sunnah and so I may be a good example and a role model to them. May they be protected and may I never waiver from raising them with piety, so keep evil away from them and me also so I may never stray or be distracted by them in serving you. Ameen.’

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