Christmas and the holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and love for our families. For children of divorce, this often means splitting the holiday period, and often even Christmas Day, between two parents. For parents who put their children's needs first, this is very workable and the children are allowed to enjoy "double dipping" on Santa Claus and Christmas gifts. Too often, however, parents are willing to hurt their children in order to strike a blow at the other parent. As a family law practitioner, I receive phone calls all holiday as various parents use the children as blunt weapons in a war against the other parent. Ultimately, the children are the ones who pay the price for their parents' poor choices.
Unfortunately for the children caught between warring parents, this bad parenting does not end when the holidays do. This behavior continues all year. The damage that is done to children by parents is unfathomable, is permanent, and is nothing short of parental abuse. The problem is so common, and so harmful, that it has been named "Parental Alienation Syndrome". I will not go in to the clinical features of PAS here, but the Internet is replete with articles on it if you care to research it. Suffice to say PAS causes incredible harm to children.
As a parent, your very first job and most important duty is to protect your children from harm. This certainly means that you should not actually CAUSE harm to your children. There is no way to harm your ex by using your children against him or her without harming your children. This is the most important thing to remember. Additionally, two parents who treat one another with respect teach children how to behave. These parents provide their children with examples of good parenting and civil discourse. These children cope well with the divorce or separation of their parents and grow up to be healthy and happy.
Far too often, however, parents, and occasionally step-parents and grandparents, show children the dark underbelly of parenting. Parents speak negatively of the other parent, encourage the children to tell lies about the other parent, they lie to the children regarding the other parent, and they deny visitation. There is simply no way to do these things and have your child come through unscathed. The damage done to the child is permanent, real, and brutal. A child raised like this has virtually no chance at long-term mental health without intervention. While the alienating parent may initially "score" a few points in terms of limiting visitation between the child or children and the other parent, the children will pay the price in the long run. The psychological damage cannot be erased. If you decide to tread these dark waters, be aware that children are far smarter than we often realize. Your child WILL figure out what you have done. Your child, or grandchild, will realize how toxic you are. It may be sooner, or it may be later, but it will happen. When it does, you will find yourself with no relationship with your child.
Our courts have become more sensitive to the dangers and immense harm caused by PAS. PAS is grounds for a change in custody or denial of unsupervised visitation. It is a material change in circumstances adverse to the child. It is abuse, and is nothing short of abuse. As a parent, step-parent, or grandparent, you should be sensitive to the rights of the children you claim to love. No child should ever be used as a weapon. Remember that your children are having to deal with the bad decisions you and your ex made. Children are meant to be loved and should be allowed to love without restriction. Anything less than that is unfair to the child.