Originally published Stepparent Magazine April 12, 2020

If they’d left to go live in the South of France or maybe on a yacht in the Caribbean, their disappearance from our lives would maybe make more sense.  But for many of us who have lost our children to parental alienation, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Dr. Amy J. L. Baker’s book Adult Children of Parental Alienation describes parallels between alienating parents and cult leaders, making clear that material possessions and opportunities aren’t what matter but rather manipulation, fear and power are the elements needed to win a child’s mind.

Loyalty and allegiance to an alienating parent are won through deceit and lies.  A slight of hand, if you will, or change in perception is how a foothold is achieved.  This is a slow and methodical process that takes patience and effort.

For years, I watched from the sidelines as our alienator masterfully manipulated my stepdaughter Kaitie.  The progression from love for her father to hate was an ever-present undertow that constantly undermined the tranquility in our home. 

Within days of the alienator realizing her ex-husband had moved on, she began spinning her intricate web to entrap her child’s innocence. 

The distortion of truth started small and built emotional dependency.  Early on, Kaitie missed school to accompany the alienator to doctors’ appointments for such things as “swollen legs” and a “heart condition.”  Eventually this progressed to needing assistance to complete ordinary tasks like grocery shopping and housework.  By the end, Kaitie had become a caretaker who felt guilty when leaving for her father’s scheduled weekends.  And just like the alienator had crafted, Kaitie eventually confessed that she too was having health problems and cited this as the reason for dropping out of school sports altogether.

With her reality now distorted, Kaitie’s mind was ripe to embrace the lies set forth by the alienator.  This was accomplished through tactics like reading court documents and emails aloud, inclusion in police and DFS reports and asking Kaitie to relay messages to her father to “save minutes on the cell phone.”  She didn’t dare not comply because after all, her mother was in failing health now and needed her more than ever.  Overnight, Kaitie became privy to adult-only conversations which secured her position as not only the alienator’s confidant but also her trusted advisor.  Believing lies like her father being an abusive, alcoholic deadbeat didn’t seem so incomprehensible now.

When Kaitie’s loyalty began to wane, fear was the weapon used.  In February 2015, we watched as Kaitie became confident and independent. It was a joy to see her finally coming into her own.  Within a couple months, she’d not only gotten her driver’s license but also her very first job.  Her autonomy was an immediate threat to the alienator’s allegiance.  Gaining independence was not acceptable.  Within weeks, Kaitie called crying hysterically, telling her father how afraid she was to work at “that place.” And how fearful she was to drive the “unsafe” car we’d bought for her. 

The final act of an alienator is gaining absolute power by eliminating the competition. With Kaitie’s mind now encapsulated in fear, the final strike was easy.  On March 22, 2015, Jack received a text message from Kaitie putting an end to their relationship for good.  In the text, Kaitie stated needing a “break” and that she’d “be in touch.”  We haven’t heard from her since.

Her demise may have been easier to digest had her departure resulted in a better life with more opportunity.  College tuition paid in full to Harvard or Yale perhaps.  Or maybe just a lavish lifestyle full of ice sculptures and chocolate fountains would make more sense.  Instead, she left a stable home with bills paid and vacations to boot to live in an environment that promotes dependency, government assistance and lack of basic necessities.  But like a cult, parental alienation isn’t about leaving it all behind for a better life or making choices based on what makes sense.  Parental alienation is about distorting reality while the victim willingly hands over free will with blind obedience.  Just think, if a total stranger like Jim Jones can convince over 900 people to drink cyanide, imagine how much easier carrying out an agenda would be if that cult leader was your very own parent.

3 thoughts on “When the Cult Leader is Your Parent

  1. I am now in your same shoes. My child has a mental illness- probably Aspberger’s. Her father is a registered sex offender that raped his sister and molested a 16 year old. My daughter reported that his son tried to molest her. She has rejected me and I expect her to move back in with “dad” where she was molested. I had no contact with him from age 1 until 8- and then made the biggest mistake of her life. There are many similarities between pedophilia and parental alienation. They place them on a peer level instead of being a parent- child relationship. My daughter has OCD, and began pulling out her own hair again last month. She was thrown out of her aunt’s home (next door to where she was molested) and put into a group home. It frightened her so much- that she will do or say ANYTHING to please her father and his family- if she does not agree to reject me- she is afraid of being placed back there. I encouraged her to tell the case manager that her aunt was abusing her. When she told- she was put into a group home. Child Protective Services helps alienators and sex offenders. This is a FACT. Her brother was never investigated- and the police report listed someone else as the suspect.

  2. Over the course of my 16 year marriage, the soon-to-be alienator used to tell me that she could start her own cult. She was so confident in her ability to be charismatic and manipulative. She was right. Unfortunately my daughters are her 1st members. Lord I pray their minds and hearts would be given discernment to know the truth and be courageous enough to walk away. 🙏🏼

  3. Wow that rings so true. Hopefully sharing my story will help someone.

    When my daughter (now 22) was less than 6 months old her mother’s cheating was exposed when things started to not add up and (!) I got a call from the wife of the man she was cheating with. After getting (and failing) with a second chance, divorce proceedings began. Then she moved 100 miles away to “be near friends for support”.

    For the next two years I made the pickup every other weekend like clockwork, and my daughter had no issues with coming with me to Grandma’s house or anywhere else. After the divorce was final and a few more years I found a job closer and moved nearby, about 1/2 hour away. After maybe a year of coming regularly for the weekend, my daughter (then 10) suddenly “didn’t feel comfortable” coming to visit for the weekend. Mostly explained by her mother… I still visited her at least 2x per month, dinners and sports events when work schedule allowed.

    In 2014 I had to move 1/2 way across the country for work. I can see it now that this was the worst decision for this situation. A couple of months later, my daughter (14) was in tears during a video chat. I asked why and she said “why did you have to move so far away”.

    The next time I was able, I visited her in person was when she was 16. Her discomfort being around me was evident but I chalked it up to being 16. She talked animatedly with friends but was very cursory with me. After that, contact became less and less responsive. At one point during this time she got into the wrong crowd and her mother asked me to come talk to her together. Little did I know she was setting me up to the the “heavy” as another tool to alienate.

    The last communication I had with her? On her 20th birthday I sent birthday greetings via text, and got the following response in return: do.not.ever.contact.me.again

    In hindsight, both her mother and aunt(mom’s sister) have been working on her for 15+ years. Shame on them.

    Sorry to vent, thanks for reading.

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