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Don’t Lose Your Child’s Heart

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We have a great relationship, but ever since his father remarried, his stepmom has started putting these thoughts in his head about me.

A mother approached me at a conference for couples in blended families. “What do I do?” she begged. “My 4-year-old son came home from his dad’s house the other day and started saying, ‘Mommy, you have a hard heart. You are a bad mommy.’ We have a great relationship, but ever since his father remarried, his stepmom has started putting these thoughts in his head about me. I am so scared that he is turning away from me.”

Each year, tens of thousands of new court cases are initiated as a result of one biological parent or stepparent alienating children from the other parent. The distorted reasons vary, but the results are similar. Alienated children rapidly devalue a once-close relationship with a parent.

Parents who consistently break promises and disappear from a child’s life deserve a child’s anger and hurt, but truly alienated parents usually haven’t earned this response.

I often stress the importance of not bad-mouthing your ex-spouse, especially in front of the children, as it naturally puts them in the middle and adds to their distress. If you’re an alienated parent, that general principle no longer applies. The extreme nature of alienation necessitates that you take a stronger, more assertive posture.

I once coached a dad to stop passively allowing his ex-wife to control the children’s thoughts about him by directly saying to them, “I’m sorry, but your mother is wrong about me. I do not hate you. I love you very much. I have sent you many letters only to discover that your mother has hidden them from you. I tried to go to your basketball game last week, but she told me the wrong school. I’m not sure why your mother says this to you, but please know that what she is saying is not true.”

If you are an alienated parent, you may be tempted to give up hope, to withdraw your affections in order to avoid the emotional agony, but please do not quit trying. There is no telling what God may do — or when — to heal your relationship with your child.

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