Intentionally removing another parent in the child’s life is said to be one of the most unfortunate incidents in a child’s life. By nature, children look up to both of their parents for support financially, emotionally and physically and diminution of the presence of one parent can cripple the growth of the child and at the same time can lead to mental health problems. The removal of a parent in his/her child’s life is termed as parentectomy. It usually happens after a divorce or legal separation. There are varied reasons for parentectomy but it is generally done by the primary caregiver parent or someone who has full custody of the child. “The end of a marriage typically unleashes a flood of emotions including anger, grief, anxiety and fear,” Lisa Herrick, PhD and co-authors wrote.
The disintegration of the family structure
The loss of the family structure is intense for adults and in numerous cases, much more painful than the pain of losing one’s spouse. Divorced parents desperately cling on to the false idea that their family is still intact in an attempt to numb the pain and depression following the separation of the family. One parent creates a façade of one-family structure characterizing the elements of one home and family. The illusion of such is easy to maintain if the other parent is not in the picture especially if there is a replacement brought in the equation to fill the other parent’s role such as a boyfriend, stepfather, girlfriend or stepmother.
The principal motivation behind parentectomy pursuits is the fear of losing one’s parental identity. In life, every person acquires and integrates many personalities which then composed their self-images. Personalities included in one’s character: professional, son/daughter, peer, student, colleague, a spouse and a parent. Traditionally, women in the western culture only have marital and parental identities, and when the divorce occurs, their matrimonial characters are removed from them; thus, they cling tightly and fight for their parental identity. Another critical player in this parentectomy pursuit is the grandparents. They also fear the loss of their primary identity as grandparents to the point of encouraging their sons and daughters to battle out for sole custody of the children.
Revenge, Hatred, and Envy
The desire to punish the other parent by deprivation of the parent-child relationship is associated with primary caregiver parent’s belief that the other parent has greater success and luck in life which then leads rage and envy. According to Leon F Seltzer Ph.D., “Anger’s function in ensuring safety in close relationships by regulating distance.” The other parent might be successful in specific areas like finding new and successful relationships, attaining enormous financial success and security, stable support system of family and friends, and most importantly, a better relationship with the child despite the circumstances. In severe cases of parental alienation syndrome, pathologically disturbed parents influenced the relationship of the child with the other parent in result creates conflict and problems to disrupt the loving relationship.
Allergic Reaction to Ex-Spouse
Oftentimes, in a marriage co-dependency occurs; however, it is also common to see in one spouse psychologically dependent on their other half during the marriage. Upon separation and need to cut off the dependency but at the same time, anxious of the continued power of the dependency, the dependent feels and decides to avoid the other person at all cost similar to an allergen. “Learning to release your anger can often happen more easily when you take your focus off of the specific events that occurred and instead try to see the perspective of the people involved,” says Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D. They believe that complete catharsis is necessary to gain their independence. This avoidance of the ex-spouse is carried over to the children since it is easier to avoid the other parent when they are kept out of the children’s lives.