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Combating Alienation

I have been a stepmom (SM) in my stepdaughter's (SD) life since she was 17 months old. In that time, we have had to deal with her mother undermining father and our home with accusations of lying, cheating, stealing, witchcraft, unChristian-like behavior, and general neglect. Despite her mother's attempts, I have enjoyed a wonderful, positive, loving relationship with my step-daughter that is extending into her teenage years. We have a bond that goes beyond our ties to her father. Building this solid relationship has taken long years and hard work. The following is what worked for us in our situation.

First, keep talking to your child. Let them know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can tell you ANYTHING. You have to show by your words and deeds that this is true. Hold your anger at your ex for a more appropriate reveal when your child is not around.

When my SD was four, the alienation began. It was directed first at me, and when that didn't work, it was directed full force at my husband (DH). I could write a list a mile long of the terrible things SD was told about us by her mom (BM), but suffice to say we were evil people who were trying to steal HER daughter and she let SD know exactly how she felt. The easy thing for us would have been to attack back, however, that would not have been the right thing for SD. Rather than attack back, my DH has helped my SD realize she can judge situations and people for herself. For example, when SD was told that DH hit BM, DH simply asked her, "Have you ever seen me act that way? Have you ever seen me hit people or things, especially in anger?" SD, of course, said she had not. DH asked why she thought her mommy would tell her something like that. SD said she thought it was because mommy wanted her to be angry with daddy. The truth is out, the child is happy, and no one was bashed. Because we did not bash her mother, SD is always comfortable with us. There is no subject that is taboo in our house, including her mother.

Second, don't play the game.

When my SD was 5, 6, 7, 8 years old, I was so afraid she'd believe her mother's lies. Even with that fear, we never resorted to underhanded tactics. Just before her 13th birthday, SD said to me, "my mom and stepfather always say mean things about my dad. Dad never says anything mean about them." Then she said she noticed that I did not say anything mean about my kids' dad in front of them or to them. That conversation with SD was a gift for us. It made all the years we bit our tongues worth it. To quote "War Games" (a really fun, cheesy Matthew Broderick movie), "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

Third, be the parent you want to be with your child and don't worry about your ex-spouse. Your child belongs to two households. Those households won't be run the same way. Be the best parent you can be on the time you have with your child. Don't worry about how the other person parents or doesn't parent. The drama doesn't have to affect your daily life. Do what you can to mitigate the issues. You cannot control the other person, but you can control your actions and reactions. Always do what is best for your family because your spouse and children are where your allegiances lie.

My SD's mother has always tried to impose her beliefs, values, and practices on us, and while we don't impose ours on her, we've resisted succumbing to living her life in our house. She's seen it as a betrayal, but DH simply wants to parent his daughter in his own way. For example, when SD was 5, we got her for the first time on Halloween. BM tried to get SD to not trick-or-treat. She told her that people poison candy, that it is against the Bible, that it is practicing witchcraft. When she found out that SD did indeed go trick-or-treating, she made SD pray for forgiveness. We simply told SD that different people celebrate days in different ways. DH's only defense was when he told SD that he's never made a bad decision when it came to her safety or well being. She agreed with him. Because DH respected BM's difference, where BM did not return the favor, SD gravitated toward DH's approach to differences. This tolerance will serve her well into her adulthood.

Which leads me to one final piece of advice: If the other parent wants to have a crappy relationship with their own child, let them.

The ex gets this choice. I always tried to shield SD from her mother's alienating tactics. It doesn't work. It's better to help your child learn to deal with the parents they have rather than the parents you want for them. Give your child the gift of reality. My DH will not allow SD to talk meanly about or to her mother. We encourage respectful behavior regardless of how others (including her mother) treat her. This will also be a lesson that will serve her well in her adult years. Above all, that is our goal. Raise up a child who can make choices for herself that are fair and tolerant, and to be choices that are for her own well being and not the whim or will of another.

Contributed in 2010 by member "mominCA"