By Larry Gordon

The letter and e-mails were sad and heart-wrenching. The subject was our article two weeks ago on the matter of parental alienation syndrome (PAS). If you have not been following, that is where one parent alienates the child in an effort to “protect” a child from another parent whom he or she deems a danger to the child’s well-being. In some cases, it is a matter of a spouse fabricating an alternative reality that supporters or even the judicial system buys into. The unfortunate outcome is that one parent is denied access to his or her children, the result being that people all around are hurt. And it seems that the most damaged party in this situation is the child, more than anyone else involved in the process.

By way of introduction, let me first say that the most common plea these last few weeks is to keep the issue on the front burner and not let it dissolve into the past. My preliminary conclusion at this point is that there are inordinate numbers of generations of people suffering on an ongoing basis. Most of those who reached out are completely frustrated and lost on the matter of how to get a handle on or change the situation.

And no, it is not as simple as some feel—that they were mistreated by a parent and that what happened just happened and it’s time to get over it. Most of the letters and e-mails we received were about the fact that parents—and grandparents, in many instances—have not been able or allowed to see or even communicate with children or grandchildren because of a situation that went off the rails, sometimes years go.

This is not to minimize mistreatment that flows in either direction, but rather an effort to manage these types of unhappy scenarios so that they can become less unhappy and less disturbing than they are today.

By way of full disclosure, I have to say that this issue and the severity of it caught me completely off guard. When the people who directed me to this issue first spoke to me, I thought it was an isolated matter that I was not even sure I wanted to get involved in. But it was a story that might have been able to begin a conversation, and that has indeed taken place.

Here is something additional that I learned over these last few weeks: Most people in the throes of these types of broken-down relationships feel that PAS is indeed a terrible thing—except in their specific, personal case. I heard that a few times last week, and that just added to the frustration I was already feeling about all this.

What I’d really like to say here is that life is short and our families are the most valuable thing we possess, so what are we doing? How do you allow your hurt or innate anger to derail your life and the lives of your children because you were hurt years ago?

Let me break that down a bit before you get angry at me for oversimplifying very complex situations. All I’m saying is that the objective here should be to heal and bring people—especially families—back together.

I know some of you are rolling your eyes and thinking, “How naïve is this guy?” But I think that most of us can agree that this should be the endgame. The difficult part is how we can get there after so much severe damage has been done. At the same time, how can it be satisfying to anyone—grandparents, parents, ex-spouses, and extended families—to allow these matters to fester and to remain stuck in place without any effort to change anything?

Some of those with whom we spoke privately resorted to pointing fingers at their rabbis or therapists or both for not accomplishing much in this area on either a personal or a communal basis. Most of those same people added that publicizing the reality of the existence of these challenging family situations is vital at this juncture as an opportunity to address these issues.

As one letter writer pointed out, these are not exclusive situations where children are just shutting out and alienating parents and grandparents. As one person wrote, how do you handle a situation where you were pounded, either emotionally or otherwise, as a child and you just cannot get past or shake off the traumatic impact that kind of environment had on you?

The quick and short answer for now seems to be that, for better or worse, you just sever ties with those who inflicted the pain and damage that you may still be dealing with today. I’d like to think that in most cases, as an adult, there has to be a pathway to a place where one can explore options. The point is that perhaps one does not need to forgive entirely or, perhaps at the start, forgive at all, in order to open up a channel for the sake of the children’s future.

It is imperative to carefully consider the effects these types of elongated damaged relationships are having on children, not just today, but in the foreseeable future.

A recurring theme to some of the letters and calls was that people are grateful that we opened the conversation and now they are imploring that we do something to assist in tackling the problem, which looks like it is more widespread than any of us believed.

In effect, though, and upon reflection, what can we really do to bring an end to this damaging madness?

I don’t know that media has the ability to truly solve problems. If you look around at the world at large you will perhaps notice that over all these years of political division and turmoil both in the U.S. and in Israel, all the media really does is analyze and churn over the issues of the day again and again.

As far as those who point to community leaders, rabbis, or therapists, it seems that none of these individuals has a surefire method to bring people together and create an environment of greater peace in their relationships. What is crystalizing here is that if we can somehow work together, there may be a formula that can move things forward and genuinely help the people we heard from and the many thousands who may be suffering in silence.

The issue is a complex one; the proper solution should not be as complicated or difficult. The media has a role to shed light on a matter like this, but it is incumbent on counselors or friends to plumb the depths of the personal situations that people are dealing with. We are too spread out to coordinate our movements or develop a uniform strategy. But each of us—media, rabbinical leaders, therapists, and attorneys—knows what we can and should be doing to help people get a handle on what is a desperate and unfortunate situation.

Efforts need to be redoubled if even a small amount of progress will be made. 

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