What to Do When You are Estranged or Alienated from Your Child?

Do Any of the Following Apply to You?

  • Has your relationship with your child been strained by loyalty issues related to your divorce?
  • Has your relationship with your child been influenced by parental alienation syndrome?
  • Have you and your children endured a lengthy and bitter custody battle?
  • Has your relationship with your child been interrupted because of geographical distancing?
  • Do you want to establish a relationship with your child whom you never knew?

If you answered "YES" to any of the above, read on!!

The Problem

The bond children have with their parents is essential to their development, their self concept and their self esteem. It provides children with the framework for how their view themselves and the world around them. More importantly, it sets the blueprint for how they form relationships with others. The importance of this bond cannot be over stated or under estimated.

Sometimes events or situations occur and result in this important bond not being formed or disrupted or broken. Some of these circumstances include but are limited to:

  • A child may not have established a relationship with their biological or birth parent because of adoption or separation from that parent at birth because of geographic distancing and/or because the relationship between the child's parents broke down. Some times a parent chooses to not establish a relationship with the child because he/she feels at the time, it is not in the child's best interest to do so. Often times, a father is not even aware of his child's existence and as a consequence, he never had an opportunity to form a relationship with the child.
  • A parent's physical and mental illness or events that alter a parents' ability to function and relate to his/her child at times might have a significant impact on a relationship with his/her children. Some illnesses or medical/psychiatric conditions such as stroke, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, drug and alcohol addictions or brain injuries, may result in impairments in the affected parent so great that it might be difficult for a child to continue his/her relationship as it once was.
  • A divorce and its fallout often leads to disruption in children's lives. During this time, children might become hostile toward one or both parents. Most often this disruption is brief and resolves in itself within the first year post separation. However, there are times when it is difficult to sustain a relationship that once particularly when a custodial parent relocates.
  • The most serious consequence of divorce is when one parent deliberately attempts to distance their child or children from the other parent. It is even more painful and devastating to the children and the affected parent when the children engage in the alienating process. Without intervention, preferably swiftly, the chances of re-establishing the important parent-child bond and repairing the relationship becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on.

What Can You Do?

Needless to say, re-establishing a relationship and/or repairing a damaged or disrupted relationship requires the participation of parent and child. There are no guarantees that your efforts will be successful, but what is certain is that if no effort is made, the chance of realizing any improvement is remote.

There are a number of things parents can do or not do. Some of them are:

  • DO keep the lines of communication open through phone calls, emails, cards, postcards & letters. Always let your child know that you are thinking about them by remembering birthdays and other special events. Maintain an interest in what they are doing. Email is an excellent way of communicating and re-establishing relationships.
  • If calls are not accepted, DO continue to communicate in the others ways listed
  • If you have reason to believe that your letters, cards or even emails are being intercepted and not reaching your child, DO consider sending a letter by special delivery and spending an extra dollar to receive a signed receipt by mail. You will then know that your letter did arrive and who signed for it.
  • DO NOT deluge your child with calls. Respect the child's need for distance but balance it with appropriate concern and attention.

Remember above all, that if your messages are being received, they will make a difference to your child.

Therapeutic Reunification

Dr. Reena Sommer & Associates can proudly boast a 100% success rate in helping estranged parents reconnect with their children. Although there is no magic or rocket science to the process, it can be challenging and often lengthy. It involves gathering information on the background of the situation and what if any, relationship existed previously. I will meet with the parent wishing to re-establish contact as part of this effort.

The next step is to meet with the child (or children). Often times, when there is more than one child, I begin with the child that had the closest and longest relationship with the parent. Once trust and rapport are established with the child, I then try to get the child to identify if and under what circumstances they might be willing to reconnect with their parent. I also attempt to get the child to identify what they feel needs to happen to make them feel better about having a relationship with their parent. Often times, (especially in cases of PAS, children's reasoning and rationale are vague, unclear and/or at times, bizarre and requires challenging and refinement. From there I attempt to work within the children's parameters which have been shaped with my help to find ways of systematically re-establishing contact with their parent.

I often act as an intermediary and use email as a medium in the process.We use a number of approaches including games, crafts and photo albums. These all help reconstruct old memories and foster new ones. Children like using email and it is a nonthreatening way to communicate with others. I work with both children and parents to refine their email drafts to ensure that their messages are clearly and appropriately worded such that they have the greatest chance of being received in a positive light. Once successful email correspondence is established, a meeting in a neutral location is arranged. This often takes the form of a very brief meeting (15 minutes) at my office. During that meeting, we reflect on past common interests and focus on positive things. After, an outside meeting at another neutral location usually involving a meal or some other activity can be arranged. It is at this point, that the relationship begins to take form and begins to re-establish itself.

Progress is variable. Sometimes, having someone there to light the match is enough. At other times, things proceed more slowly. The key is to work at the child's pace!!

© 2008, Reena Sommer

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However often marriage is dissolved, it remains indissoluble. Real divorce, the divorce of heart and nerve and fiber, does not exist, since there is no divorce from memory. - Virgilia Peterson

Dr. Reena Sommer is an internationally recognized relationship and divorce consultant. She became widely known as a strong critic of domestic violence policies that failed to recognized the reciprocal nature of partner abuse.

Dr. Sommer has been an invited speaker to academic, government and lay audiences in Canada and the U.S.. In 1998, Dr. Sommer testified before the Joint Senate-House of Commons Committee on Custody and Access on the issue of domestic violence. More recently in April 2002, she was invited by the Canadian federal government to participate on a panel of experts on the issue of custody and access.

She has written extensively on relationship and family issues such as domestic violence, addictions, divorce and custody. Her interest in high conflict relationships led her toward developing expertise as a divorce consultant in the assessment and treatment of parental alienation syndrome under Dr. Richard Gardner. As well, Dr. Sommer recently completed her e-Book, The Anatomy of an Affair. A free condensed pdf version of the e-Book can be downloaded.

Dr. Sommer has produced three divorce related informational products which are currently available online in the form of downloadable audiofiles: Divorce 101: Things You are Unlikely to Hear from an Attorney; Developing an Effective Parenting Plan, and Preparing for a Custody Evaluation.

You are also welcome to sign up for a free mini-course, Arming Yourself for Your Custody Battle! See or for more information, please email us at E-Mail or 204. 487.7247 or fax: 204.487.3051  

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