April 25

Parental Alienation Awareness Day


“I don’t like the way your mother talks about me.”

Shana rolled her eyes. “She barely talks about you at all.”

“Well, that’s a problem, too. There’s something called Parental Alienation. It’s a widely accepted psychological concept, which has been the basis of many child custody cases.”

Shana hated when her father got like this. He had an almost uncanny ability to recall details and string them together into an iron-clad argument. Sometimes, the facts felt like an assault; they hit her so hard, she almost felt like she wasn’t able to think on her own.

She wasn’t letting him get away with it this time. “Mom didn’t dispute custody. I’m here, aren’t I?” She motioned to the high-ceilinged living room in her father’s new house. The whole place felt like an elaborate bribe, especially the lavish bedroom he’d had professionally decorated for her.

“Just every other weekend,” her father complained. He ran his hand over his forehead, rubbing at the skin as if trying to ward off a headache. “Hardly a fair share, since you stay with your mother during the week.”

“My school!” Shana said. “My friends! Of course I stay with Mom. It’s not our fault you moved so far outside the city.”

“Isn’t it?” He paused to let the accusation grow. In the silence, it seemed to fill the room. “Listen, your mother is what psychologists would call an alienating parent. She controls how you look at me, whether you realize it or not. Another word for her is the embittered-chaotic parent. Through subtle, and not-so-subtle ways, she’s turned you against me.”

“That’s not true.” Shana wanted to storm out of the living room, head into her bedroom here and slam the door, and if her father knocked, she’d tell him to Go Away, and that she Needed Her Privacy. But her father’s facts and psychological jargon had run over her like a truck. She was afraid there might be some truth in what he was saying.

“Let me give you an example of a subtle thing your mother might do. When you go home after spending the weekend here, and maybe say something negative about me…how does your mother respond?”

Shana had him this time. “She doesn’t say anything!”

Her father nodded. He rubbed at his forehead again, pressing at creases in his furrowed brow. “That’s one of the strategies. When she doesn’t respond, that’s tacit agreement with you. What she should do is object. Tell you, that’s no way to speak about your father.”

“But she…But she…” He’d tricked her, Shana thought. He’d tricked her into thinking like him.

“I know what you told your mother after your previous visit. I know you told her I was a monster. That I’m some alien from another planet, plotting to overthrow the Earth. And now you’re admitting: she didn’t contradict you.”

“She didn’t have to,” Shana said. “She thought I was crazy.”

“Hmmm.” He continued rubbing at his forehead, and portions of flesh-colored makeup flecked off onto his fingertips. A cluster of silver-colored scales appeared in the middle of his brow; one of the scales flipped open, revealing a third eye that examined her with great seriousness. “You’re welcome to stay with your mother, but I think you’ll have better luck granting me full custody.” The third eye compressed into a strange squint, the corners turning up almost like a parody of a human’s smiling mouth. “Very soon, your school and friends won’t be much of an issue.”