Although I am not a mental health professional, being the mother of a blended family has added up to a vast amount of experience and first hand accounts of the many challenges that face us. I also find that when my family undergoes one challenge or another, I tend to obsess a bit, and read everything I can get my hands on to find out if others have gone down the same road as us. I learn from the many professional accounts I uncover and from the networking that I do, so that my husband and I can come up with what we feel are the best solutions for our family.

Divorce often brings out the worst in two peopleOne such area that has affected our family is Parental Alienation Syndrome, or PAS. The basic explanation of the syndrome is the attempt by one parent (usually the primary care parent) to alienate the child/ren from the other parent. It is the systematic brainwashing of the child/ren over time, so that it seems as if the child is making their own decision to separate from the parent, rather than it being a biased decision based on cues they receive from their primary care parent.

Divorce often brings out the worst in two people that at one time may have felt deep feelings of love for one another. It's only human nature to want to find some outlet for those feelings of loss, disappointment, regret, or even failure that generally accompany divorce. When there are children involved and each parent feels a need to vie for the time, attention and love from their children, the situation gets even more complicated.

Within Torah law, there are many areas that render PAS unacceptable. We are taught that we may not speak ill about another; there is the commandment to respect one's parents, and to treat another how we ourselves would like to be treated. But unfortunately, even though these ideas are well known, they are often inadvertently not practiced.

There are several situations that I know of, that lead me to believe that much of the issue stems from people actually thinking they are doing a kindness, or "helping" out. In one case, a woman turned to her community in a time of crisis due to stress and uncertainty at the time of her separation, and ultimately her divorce, from the father of her two children. Her community responded and helped her by protecting that woman and her family from the "evil" ex-husband that she described.

Unfortunately, at times, that "help" is not all that helpful. In the above case, the father was "blacklisted" from his children's schools, not by the secular court system that viewed him as an equal partner in parenting his children, not by a decision of a bet din, a religious court system, but by the community in which the mother chose to live with her children after the divorce.

There are families that I know in which one parent has remarried and the children from the first marriage are told (by those individuals looking to manipulate the situation) that they have been replaced and are not "loved" as much as the new children. One teenage girl told me that when she expressed to her mother a desire to live with her father, her mother responded that should she make that choice, she would be treated like a "maid," as in the fairy tale "Cinderella," second rate to her father's other children.

I hear the longing in my husband's voice during each phone call with his childrenOne friend of mine actually thought his father was dead for close to thirty years based on information supplied to him by his mother. When he became an adult he decided to check things out for himself and found his father was alive and well, and that his father had never stopped searching for him. Not knowing where the mother had taken him after they divorced, the father resolved to wait it out, in hope that his son would find him someday.

Unfortunately, even Jewish observance can be used as a game in vying to win over children's love, affection and obedience. Differing family customs might be used as a way to set families apart, claiming that one household's way of observance is more acceptable or correct than the other. After years of these types of negative messages carefully implanted, the child is confused, unsure of who to believe, and as a means of day-to-day survival, often sides with their primary care parent, the one that keeps a roof over their head and puts food on the table, regardless of the reality that it is the monthly support check the parent is receiving that pays for those necessities.

As my stepchildren have grown and matured, they have begun to understand that there may be more than one truth, or understanding of the truth. The love that they feel from us is real and they know it. They recognize and respect that we are straightforward with them regarding our feelings and needs, and include them in the decision-making for our family. Nevertheless, I hear the longing in my husband's voice during each and every phone call with his children, and I see the sadness and pain in his eyes as our family deals with the reality of our personal separation from the children day after day. We have learned that the best approach for us has been to be consistent and open with our children.

We must give the benefit of the doubt when we hear "awful" stories about divorce situations. The true story is rarely as it appears and by allowing one parent to be shut out of the children's lives, the children are the ones that ultimately suffer. Studies show that children that enjoy the benefit of the involvement of both parents on a consistent basis in their lives, do far better than those who do not have that advantage.

They start to see their parents as real people with strengths and weaknessesThe fact is, when dealing with PAS, it usually does backfire on the adults who have tried, intentionally or unintentionally, to manipulate their children. As the children grow and mature and start to mold their own futures, they begin to discern truth from fantasy. They start to see their parents as real people with strengths and weaknesses, and they generally desire to have relationships with both parents, but will often feel resentment towards the parent that kept them apart from their other parent. Kids grow up so fast, and the sad fact for those involved with a PAS situation is that the missed opportunities cannot be recaptured for the absent parent and their children.

What we can do is keep the doors of communication open at all costs. And as hard as it might be, regardless of how we feel, we should show respect to our ex and remember that this person is a part of our child. A child should love both mother and father and be loved by both mother and father. When parents make their dislike for the other so abundantly clear, it is terribly unfair to the child who then feels forced to choose. We must always remember to put our children and their needs first. For loving our children is much more important that trying to hurt an ex-spouse.