A question was posed to me. I thought my answer might be of broader interest.
Q: A Child rejecting a parent, is it a problem to the child?
There are five answers to this question
Answer 1: Diagnostic Indicators
In attachment-based parental alienation (AB-PA), there are three diagnostic indicators, and the identification of AB-PA is made based on all three being present.
Attachment System Suppression: A child’s rejection of a normal-range and affectionally available parent.
Personality Disorder Traits: Five specific narcissistic personality traits displayed by the child.
Persecutory Delusion: The child evidences a fixed and false belief (a delusion) in the child’s supposed “victimization by the normal-range parenting of the targeted-rejected parent.
All three of these symptoms must be present.
Answer 1 to the question “Is rejection of a parent a problem for the child?” is that the creation of significant developmental pathology (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology (diagnostic indicator 3) in the child is damaging to the child’s healthy psychological development.
Creating significant psychopathology in the child is damaging to the child.
This is a sufficient answer, but there are 4 more equally sufficient answers.
Answer 2: Types of Parent-Child Relationship
The second answer to this question is to recognize the importance of each type of parent-child relationship to the child’s healthy development. There are four types of parent-child relationships:
Each of these relationships is unique. None are interchangeable. None are expendable.
I discuss this on pages 1 and 2 of the Assessment of Attachment-Related Pathology Surrounding Divorce:
“Families contain four primary types of parent-child relationship; mother-son, mother-daughter, father-son, father-daughter. The benefits to the child from each of these relationship types is unique to that relationship, they are not replaceable or interchangeable in the value they provide to the child because each confers unique and vital developmental experiences that are immensely important for the child’s healthy emotional and psychological development.
Mother-son bond: The deep emotional and psychological connection between a male child and his mother is potentially one of the most affectionate parent-child bonding types. A positive and healthy mother-son bond creates for the child a deep inner sense of the child’s inherent value as a person, and the mother-son bond forms the basis for the child’s emotional security. The quality of the mother-son bond also establishes the template of expectations (the “internal working models”) for the later formation of the child’s spousal relationship in marriage.
Mother-daughter bond: The mother-daughter bond can be one of the most complex parent-child relationships as the mother psychologically re-experiences herself and her own childhood in her daughter’s development. The daughter draws important self-worth and gender identity modeling from a positive and healthy mother-daughter bond, and the mother-daughter bond serves as the template for the daughter’s future role as a mother for her own children. Daughters become future mothers, and the relationship template formed in the mother-daughter bond carries important implications for the daughter’s future parenting with her own children.
Father-son bond: The son’s emotional and psychological bond with the father provides essential self-esteem and gender identity modeling for the child. The son’s healthy emotional and psychological bond to his father provides important communications of support from the father for the male child’s sense of self-value as an emerging young man, and the son’s bonded relationship with his father provides critical support for the child’s development of the maturity that leads to the child entering the world as an emotionally mature and responsible young man.
Father-daughter bond: A daughter’s relationship with her father is one of the most affectionally important of the parent-child relationships. The daughter develops the core foundation for her self-worth from her affectionally bonded relationship with her father (an affectional process exemplified by the classic family roles as “daddy’s princess” and “daddy’s little girl”). As a primary relationship pattern, the father-daughter relationship also serves as the template (the “internal working model”) that will guide the formation of her future spousal relationship with her own husband during marriage.
Each of these primary relationship types is unique, and the special value that each of these relationship types confer to the child is not interchangeable through the child’s relationship with the other parent. The mother-son relationship offers a special loving warmth and richness in the child’s development that is not interchangeable with the value offered to the son by the male-male affectional bond he has with his father. The father’s relationship with his daughter is similarly filled with deep warmth and enriching love, and it is not interchangeable with the rich complexity of the mother-daughter bond. The child benefits from each of these unique relationships within the family, and each relationship type merits the full support of both parents and the Court in nourishing its development…
Attempting to compare the relative benefits received by the child from any of these primary relationship types is an impossible task. The scientific and professional literature in developmental and clinical psychology does not allow for a comparison of parenting to determine the “better parent” that would warrant truncating the child’s opportunity to develop any of the entirely unique parent-child bonding relationships within the family. Each parent brings unique benefits from a complex relationship with the child that cannot be replaced or duplicated by the other parent. The unique developmental benefits that accrue from the son’s relationship with his father is not interchangeable with the unique emotional and psychological benefits found in the son’s bonded relationship with his mother. Similarly, the benefits to the daughter from an affectionally bonded relationship with her mother are unique to that relationship and are not interchangeable with the unique emotional and psychological benefits to the daughter acquired through her affectionate bond to her father. Each relationship type within the family – father-son; father-daughter; mother-son; mother-daughter – is unique, special, and critically important to the child’s healthy development.”
Childress, 2017; Assessment of Attachment-Related Pathology Surrounding Divorce, p. 1-2)
Answer 3: Identity Formation
A child’s psychological identity is embedded in two families. The child’s self-identity is a combination of two heritages, one from the mother’s side of the family’s origins, and one from the father’s side of the family’s origins. A child’s self-identity formation is grounded within two families of origin.
A child’s rejection of one parent is the child’s rejection of one half of the child’s self-identity. The rejection of a foundational component to self-identity will significantly damage the child’s healthy development of identity structures.
While damage to self-identity development is of concern throughout childhood, this becomes a particularly preeminent concern during the child’s adolescent period of identity development. It is extremely valuable for the adolescent to have a healthy and bonded relationships with both parents, both halves of the child’s self-identity, during the identity development period of adolescence.
A child’s rejection of a parent is prominently damaging to the child’s development of self-identity.
Answer 4: Conflict Resolution
Childhood is the time period for learning the skills needed in successful adulthood. Conflict resolution in intimate relationships is an essential adult life skill, vital to later healthy emotional and psychological functioning in adult relationships.
When conflict develops in intimate partner relations, it is important to know how to repair these ruptures in the relationship. Interpersonal conflict in family relationships happens all the time, it is important to know how to repair relationships, how to fix conflict. A “cutoff” family relationship (Bowen) is never healthy, it is always pathological. The ability to repair breaches to relationship is a key feature of healthy psychological functioning.
Allowing the child to remain in a breached relationship with a parent is never healthy, it is simply sustaining the pathology of trauma contained and being transmitted within the family. Healing involves the restoration of relationship bonds. Healing is always a good thing.
Answer 5: Loving Children
Children benefit immensely from parental love. For a child, parental love is the manna of life.
Children have the right to receive the love of both parents and from each parent, fully, richly, and in all of its wonderful complexity.
For a child, the love of a parent fosters an immensely powerful psychological bond of deep shared intimacy with the parent, with each parent, unique to their relationship. With each parent, and through both parents, the child develops a special and unique relationship of great importance to the child’s core sense of self-worth and core value.
From each parent, and through both parents, the child learns the lessons of life contained in the personal fabric and family of origin story for that parent, embedded within that parent’s ways of being. The life experience embedded in each parent helps form the substance of the child by informing the quality of their relationship. Life moves through generations.
Children have the right to be loved by each parent, and by both parents. And by grandmothers and grandfathers, by aunts and uncles and cousins, by family. And by friends, coaches, teachers, everyone. Love is good for a child, it is their manna of life.
When a parent wants to love a child, this should happen. It is immensely healthy for the child.
Children have the right to be loved by both parents.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857