Sign Up for
Our Newsletter

Global Guide to Divorce

Jack Jack the Cat

step-parent alienation

Step-Parent Alienation Post-Divorce

Step-parents can be the target of parental alienation too. They can get a double dose of it from either biological parent. Parental Alienation is when a parent makes disparaging remarks about the other one. The attacking parent wants the child to form an allegiance with them and not have a relationship with the absent one. The child is caught in the middle of a parental tug of war.

How does this apply to a step-parent? During a marriage the biological mum may make snide remarks such as, “Thelma is overstepping her bounds” or “Thelma acts and dresses like a teenager.” Comments may be made about the lack of nutritional meals and so forth. The children may be put into a bind where it is said or implied, that if they like Thelma, they are being disloyal to their mum. A biological parent may be in a perceived power struggle with the step-parent. This competition can even be on a subconscious level.

One father resented the close relationship between his daughter and his new wife. This Narcissist did not want to share the limelight with his wife, so he would make subtle putdowns regarding her competence. The father was attempting to alienate his daughter from the step-mother. Eventually they divorced and his daughter maintained a relationship with her step-mother. Post-divorce, the biological mum asked the step-mum, “What took you so long to get a divorce?”

How to lessen the likelihood of step-parent alienation? Some step-parents said they were proactive before marriage telling the kids that they were a family friend, and not a future parent. Be upfront with step-kids that you respect their parents and are not a replacement. Cut the kids some slack, but do not tolerate disrespectful or rude behavior. Talk with your spouse to see if the other parent is trashing you to their kids.  

Step-mums have asked the biological parent out for coffee and clarified the friend role.  Asking about the child’s routine and advice reassures the parent that their parental position is not threatened.  A step-dad might have discussion with the father over a pint at the pub.

The important thing is that the children are not being forced to take sides.  Family mediation may be in order. When I was on a radio show, I had quite a few callers who asked about pre-marital counselling for second marriages when there were children. I think that is a great idea.  In most cases, step-parenting works after some trial and error.

Originally published in The Divorce Magazine