Man and woman sitting on chairs in silhouette

By Larry Gordon

At least five years ago, the son of a friend of mine was redd a shidduch by a semiprofessional shadchan. My friend related to me that the young lady seemed like a promising prospect, possessing the qualities that his son was seeking in a match.

“It’s an odd thing, though,” he said. “I read the résumé from top to bottom and even flipped it over, but something was missing.” The piece my friend was searching for was the name of the father of this young lady.

He said that after scouring the sheet of paper with all the pertinent shidduch-related information, he had no choice but to conclude that there was just no father. Of course, we all know that this is not biologically possible, so he decided to call the matchmaker to inquire about the missing dad.

After my friend pointed out that the father was absent from the résumé, the shadchan looked it over herself and said that this omission was indeed odd and that she would check into it and get back to him.

About an hour later, he reported to me, the shadchan called to say that there had been a messy divorce about a dozen years before, when the children were very young, and that the kids have no relationship whatsoever with the dad. The shadchan added that he is not listed anywhere because the family considers him nonexistent.

At the time, I considered that an extreme anomaly, something that you hear about very infrequently, if ever. But I bring this up this week because over just a several-week period, at least four different situations involving what has become known as parental alienation have been brought to our attention. The parties who called or wrote urged that some light be shed on this increasingly occurring matter because children and, yes, their parents are suffering horribly.

So I thought I would speak to a few people—you know, some marriage counselors, some rabbanim, and perhaps an attorney or two. But unlike with other stories on which I have worked to collect information so that I can cogently present the facts, the more people I spoke with, the clearer it became that I just could not get a decent grasp on these incendiary marital problems in which the children are at the center of the storm.

One thing that became abundantly obvious—and I believe that we are all aware of this—is that it is excessively cruel to create a situation, no matter how certain you are that you are the injured party, wherein the children involved are the victims of whatever battle may be taking place.

Those who work with these matters on a professional as well as a volunteer basis said that while the situations that we may personally be aware of deal with contentious divorce and custody disputes, parental alienation cases are not limited to divorce circumstances.

“Parental alienation is not a child custody issue,” said a family member who preferred anonymity and is dealing with this precise circumstance. “This is a child protection issue. Parental alienation is a form of psychological child abuse.”

They added: “In divorce, one person rejects another. [They think] ‘How can that person be considered a worthy parent if he or she is no longer viewed by the ex as an acceptable spouse?’ It’s not natural under any circumstances for a child to reject a parent. Children naturally love their parents.”

Parent Alienation Syndrome is a form of spousal and child abuse according to the AMA and can be even more damaging than sexual abuse. Children who have been estranged from a parent are scarred for life, suffering long-term psychological and emotional trauma.

To answer the call of a growing number of cases of all types of parental alienation taking place in our communities, Hadassah Waldman and Guli Weinfeld have launched “Broken Ties,” a support group to which parents and grandparents can turn for emotional support and advice in matters where many previously felt isolated and alone.

Frankly, it is surprising how numerous the cases of estrangement are, with the suffering so widespread. Ms. Waldman says that since she and Ms. Weinfeld created “Broken Ties,” over 400 people have called or visited their website or WhatsApp support groups for assistance and direction.

“Families are being destroyed,” Ms. Waldman says. She adds that she has learned that, statistically, over 20% of all children are estranged from their parents and an even higher number estranged from extended family and other relatives.

Broken Ties is a division of Alienated Grandparents Anonymous, a group that provides support just as its name indicates. Waldman and Weinfeld point out that one of the many interesting and effective strategies they have learned is not to dig in your heels and be unwavering and inflexible in your position, regardless of how strongly you feel about the issues at hand.

Unfortunately, what we have here for many is an uneven playing field. A parent or a grandparent in most situations wants nothing more than to be a part of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives. That sentiment does not always naturally flow in the other direction as it does from parent to child.

The evolution of a non-relationship in these types of circumstances usually comes about, the Broken Ties folks say, as a result of a trauma during childhood that can be conjured up many years later. They draw the line about the matter of molestation or physical abuse and, sadly, those circumstances do exist. Not that emotional or verbal abuse is not traumatic, but they say that the incident that may have occurred years or decades ago can be exacerbated by either rabbinical or psychological counseling or both.

Ms. Waldman explains that some of the common verbiage that emanates from a child often deals with references to toxicity or the need for space between parent and child. Those are the “buzz words,” they say, that are usually part of the prelude to alienation.

Broken Ties has had some success in bringing families back together, but their work is a very preliminary stage. “We very badly need more therapists and social workers to assist us in bridging the divide that exists in families,” Ms. Weinfeld says.

Many of the child estrangement situations that we may be aware of are outgrowths of difficult and contentious custody disputes as a result of divorce. In the frum community, the situation is further intensified by the need to secure a get aside from a civil divorce. We are a community that is mostly committed to living according to dictates of Torah and Jewish law, but something very often goes off the rails when it comes to the intense emotions attached to being with your own children.

One of the accusations often leveled in a custody battle is that one parent is unfit to care for the children. Hadassah Waldman says that when a mother in particular is denied access or visitation to her children her response may be somewhat frantic or even look desperate. (Don’t misunderstand—fathers want to be in their children’s lives as much as mothers do, but it’s not the same.) That type of behavior is, unfortunately, very often exploited by the other side. The often overlooked fact is that children need both parents and there is no way around that.

Keshet Starr is an attorney and executive director of ORA (Organization for the Resolution of Agunot). Sadly, many of us know of women whose husbands divorce them but refuse to give them a halachically mandated get. Sometimes the differences revolve around finances or child support. Commonly, the most contentious matter is child custody.

That being said, Ms. Starr adds that the issue of custody or visitation is not the number-one issue that causes get refusal. Mostly, she says, the issue is finances or the husband’s refusal to come to grips with the reality that the marriage is over.

“Our belief is that get refusal is a form of domestic abuse,” Starr says, and that refusal might just be a continuation of a long history of abuse in the marriage.

As I said up top, these are difficult and complex issues to understand, with varying and diverse circumstances. The author Leo Tolstoy perhaps said it best in his novel Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 

Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Gordon, Thank you so much for bringing light to this critical issue within the community. As an alienated father, and also a family mediator and the founder of a support for Jewish parents in high conflict divorce I can testify that this topic needs greater attention in the community. I agree wholeheartedly with Mrs. Starr on the point that Parental Alienation is not a primary cause of Get refusal, both mothers and fathers can be alienated from their children, although statistically speaking, in the Jewish community it happens more to Fathers than to Mothers.

  2. Thank you Five Towns Jewish- for opening up this conversation on her heart wrenching and most traumatizing unfortunate scenario which goes on into many household alienating grandparents ripping the grandchildren away from them because parents are either narcissistic or brainwashed by therapists or friends that parents are toxic or have overstepped boundaries… Bottom line is when a child slammed the door and throws you to the curb ripping the children away from you this is more about the alienator than anyone else it is a terrible MAGEFA that is plaguing the young generation today.
    Cancel Culture/ lack of compassion and certainty coming from spoiled selfish children that are living in the “I” generation.
    we cannot sweep this under the carpet anymore the young children that are being used as pawns will have irreversible damage and be sitting in the therapist here for the next 30 years of their life Chas Vshalom-because of this.
    It’s mostly the mothers/wives that do this they give their parents ( and in-laws) the silent treatment so that they can have the illusion of complete control they act as gatekeepers and they are very selfish and cruel.
    This is child abuse as well as elder abuse to do this to loving supportive grandparents that can be there for their grandchildren especially during times of crisis.
    Yasher Koach to you Mr. Hirsch for exposing this terrible tragedy that has trickled into our own communities it is the silent epidemic we need to do more stuff to raise awareness and stop this in its tracks!!
    Thank you so much
    A broken Bubby / with grandchildren in Cedarhurst.

  3. I read this article, and I thank you for printing it. I hope your words reach people who can figure out how to fix this problem. I have one daughter, who is now an adult, with her own children. About ten years ago, she started to not talk to me. It took a very long time, and the help of a friend, until she started to come around. For these ten years, I have been “walking on eggshells,” being very careful to not say anything that may get her upset. About half a year ago, she stopped talking to me again. And now, there are grandchildren who I had a good relationship with, who I am not to speak to.

    Ten years ago, I did not know about parental/grandparental alienation. I did not know that other people suffered from this. I had other words to describe what was happening. I was alone, and got very depressed. Now, I know that thousands of people are suffering from this. I have found Broken Ties and am very grateful to them because I see that there are other people who are going through the same thing, and who share my thoughts and feelings. I have found a few facebook groups made up of people like me, who are going through this. For this reason, it is somehow easier now than it was ten years ago.

    But I am still sad, I am still suffering, and there is a huge empty space inside of me. All of us alienated people are suffering. Larry Gordon, I hope you can research this issue more deeply, write more about it, and that your words reach professionals wo can help us cope, as well as the “kids” who are alienating us. We, the alienated, are working hard to repair our relationships, but both sides need to work at it, not just one. Hopefully, one day, this issue will no longer exist.

  4. The individuals with Broken Ties may believe that emotional and verbal abuse is not sufficient to cut off a parent or grandparent relationship, but that isn’t a uniformly held view among professionals. Where is the emphasis on getting the emotional/verbal abuser to apologize, acknowledge the pain they’ve caused, and change their behavior? Blaming therapy for people recalling abusive behavior instead of blaming the *actual abusive behavior* is a real cop-out.

  5. I was searching for a proper explanation how to fight parental alienation . Thanks, admin, for sharing such wonderful content on this topic. Now I have got everything I need about it. Here’s another informative content on Parental Alienation Canada You will get well researched information about it.

  6. It is extremely important for the professional to be aware of the themes used by the alienator and how to identify them based on what the alienated children would respond to questions tapping these themes.

    There are excellent books written on this and there are excellent methods for uncovering the parental alienation and to demonstrate to the court that the child was alienated, NOT estranged.

  7. #THIS
    As a alienated patent, I couldn’t agree more that Parental alienation is not a child custody issue.

    This is a child protection issue. Parental alienation is a form of child abuse.

  8. As a alienated parent, I couldn’t agree more that Parental alienation is not a child custody issue.

    This is a child protection issue.

    Parental alienation is a form of child abuse.

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