Okay, confession time.  I have a vice:  After a particularly long day, I like to veg out to entertainment news on my iPad.  U K Daily News can have some particularly gruesome news on their site (please take off the news about ISIS on there), but if you like a lot of entertainment news–this is a good source. Alright, now that we’ve gotten that little formality out of the way…

Madonna, Guy Ritchie, and Rocco–Is This Parental Alienation?

I first read about Madonna and her issues with her son Rocco in the U K Daily News in late December.  Now remember, this is entertainment news–its accuracy is questionable so there’s always this element of questioning whether its being skewed, whose side is being manipulated for the reader’s benefit–as in, who’s telling the story and what their slant is, and if it’s being done for publicity’s sake.  You also have to remember that we the readers aren’t getting the entire story.  Some stuff has been left out–whether deliberately or not, there are pieces to the story missing. Anyway, take all this with a grain of salt. 

So here are some pertinent “facts” regarding Madonna’s custody battle with Guy Ritchie, her former husband and Rocco’s father: 

  • Guy Ritchie recently got remarried last summer with his son Rocco walking his dad’s new bride down the aisle and giving a speech at the wedding reception.  The bride is a model and the couple has three young children. 
  • Madonna has been on a concert tour–going all over the world to perform.
  • At Christmas time, according to their custody agreement, Rocco was supposed to fly to visit with his mother but refused to return back to his home in New York.
  • Rocco is a teenager.  His brain is still growing.
  • Madonna is having public “meltdowns” during her concerts, bringing up her son and her ex-husband. 
  • Madonna lost her mother at a young age.  Her son refusing to visit is probably bringing up all kinds of abandonment issues for her.

It’s hard to tell if Parental Alienation is going on because readers don’t have all the information.  I don’t know if Madonna and Guy had a high-conflict divorce.  I didn’t hear anything about it in the press–or I overlooked it anyway. 

You can’t tell if Guy Ritchie is poisoning his son against his mom or vice versa if Madonna has in the past said negative things about Rocco’s dad (although she is now). 

I do see two very different households and lifestyles–one is with a mother on tour (not sure if he attends her tour full-time, he was with her for some of it)–and the one with his father is with a family.  In this family, Rocco is the oldest of four children.  In Madonna’s family, there is Lourdes who is the oldest and out of the house now, and two younger adopted children–a boy and a girl.  It is interesting to note that Lourdes is doing her own thing now that she’s a young adult.  This has no doubt, changed the dynamic of the household.  These kinds of life events and transitions can be stressful on a family and if not addressed or acknowledged, can manifest in all kinds of dysfunction.

Remarriage is one of the triggers that can ignite parental alienation behaviors in the other parent.  Again, I don’t know if that is what is happening. Here are three recent behaviors that stand out as unhealthy:

  1. Guy and Rocco telling Madonna that Rocco was not coming home.
  2. Madonna crying over Rocco at her concerts.
  3. Madonna’s negative outbursts about Guy.

Why are these behaviors unhealthy?  Let’s go through them. 

divorcedFirst, with Rocco, a teenager, and his dad telling the mother the son is not coming back home–this skews the family dynamic.  It takes power away from the parent and gives it to the child (remember, his brain is still forming and his hormones are all over the place).  If we allowed children to make decisions like this, then more of them wouldn’t be attending school–they’d drop out–and they wouldn’t go to church or the doctor’s.  They might be drinking every night, having babies, etc.  You get my point.  They can’t vote, they can’t drink, they can’t smoke–so why should they be allowed to make these kinds of decisions?  They can have input, yes, but these kinds of decisions made without the other parent are unhealthy.  There’s a reason why adults are the parents.  They have the wisdom and the experience to provide loving guidance and support for their children (well, most of them). They may not always get it right, but they’re in a better position to make better choices for their kids when it comes to major life decisions like this one.  Both parents should be having a dialogue about this; it should not be forced on the other parent.

Besides skewing the family dynamics–which is dysfunctional–it is also not a kind and loving thing to do to another parent.  It seemed like Madonna didn’t know this was coming and this reveals something even worse–keeping secrets from another parent like this.  You’re encouraging a child to lie and again, the family’s structure is skewed when you allow a child to have more power than a parent (which they do when secrets like this one are kept).  Not only that, but you’ve got one parent–Guy–supporting his son’s decision by backing him up and not including the other parent in the decision (as far as I can tell, this is what happened).  You’re encouraging/supporting a kid to lie, to be sneaky, to be manipulative–not cool Guy, not cool.  This is alienating behavior.

There’s something else here at play as well.  Everyone is doing well–there’s a wedding on one side of the family, and Madonna is having a concert tour, providing her with a lot of attention.  Lourdes is doing well–she just landed a modeling job–she is also getting a lot of attention.  As the family settles into these roles, Rocco is left trying to find his own identity–and probably attention as well.  He’s a teenager–it’s what many of them do.  Most of this is done unconsciously and it’s easier to see when you’re not in the midst of it all.  Again, I don’t know the “facts” of the family’s history, I just see and yes, I suppose judge to some degree, what is going on in the media.

Okay, Madonna crying over Rocco at her concerts.  I am all for emoting–for feeling your feelings–but this comes across as manipulative.  Look, anyone who’s had this happen to them knows how painful it can be.  It’s devastating to be rejected by a child in this way.  A public meltdown?  Does this create the space for Rocco to come back into her life?  This is a concert–for people who have paid good money to see a performance.  This is professional.  If you need to process this, see a therapist and process it in the privacy and safety of the therapist’s office.  Talk to a friend or loved one. I think what might be happening here is that it is touching on Madonna’s wound of losing her mother at a young age.  She feels the loss of Rocco deeply because of the childhood loss of her mother.  She is probably upset too because she doesn’t want this kind of loss for Rocco–who by making a rash decision to not visit her or abide by the custody agreement, is cutting his mother out of his life.  She went through it–he doesn’t have to, but he is choosing to.  If you’ve done some therapy, you can process the loss (both losses of Rocco and her mother) in sessions and privately.  If you haven’t, you might feel like Madonna–out of control, ungrounded, and having public meltdowns.  In this situation, it’s good to remember to be the parent your child needs.  It is not pleasant to be dictated to by parent and child, but who is the healthy parent in this scenario?  They all could use some therapy.

Okay, last issue:  Madonna’s negative outbursts about Guy–that’s alienating behavior.  You don’t need to badmouth the guy.  We all know what you’re probably thinking–does your son need to know that?  In public?  Badmouthing the other parent does not help, because now Rocco’s probably going to be feeling very defensive of his dad.  If I were Madonna, I would apologize–provide some good modeling by admitting she was wrong to call Rocco’s dad names.

Is this parental alienation?  Again, it’s hard to tell because the public doesn’t have all the facts–and even if we did, it would be hard to tell “fact” from fiction.  That being said, there are alienating behaviors on both sides, from both parents. 

I recommend family therapy for this family.  Start with the parents (if they’re both willing to go), then bring in Rocco.  I would start with the parents by the way to unconsciously send a signal to Rocco that the parents are in charge.  And Madonna could use an individual therapist to help her through this recent loss. 

Anyone not having gone through having a child refuse to visit and then having the other parent back this decision up might not be able to understand how this feels, but it is devastating to parents going through it. I think a lot of parents can relate to how Madonna feels.  There are healthy ways of handling it and not so healthy.  What the public needs more of is to learn how to handle PA and its behaviors.  It’s not going away anytime soon and it’s not healthy for the kids who are caught in the middle.

I would also take this to court (like Madonna did) to uphold the custody agreement they both spent time and money working on.  As a teenager, most courts will rule on the child’s preference so there’s not much legally a parent can do at this point.  I wouldn’t get caught up in an all-out fight.  I would take it to court to enforce the agreement, then if there’s no resolution and it looks like a trial, I would back off instead of putting a child through that.  They know you’ve fought for them and they also know you’re willing to look at their best interests and not drag them through the rest of the court system.  It will only make them dig their heels in more anyway.  In the future, you can tell the child you did your best to fight for them. 

If you’d like to learn more about PA, start here:  PARENTAL ALIENATION or here:  Parental Alienation–A Mother’s and a counselor’s Perspective.

Here’s one definition of PA (there are many):

The website for the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization defines parental alienation as:

Parental Alienation is the act of one parent deliberately undermining the relationship between the children and the other parent to the point of creating a hostile relationship and thus alienation of the children from the other parent. Another way to look at this is alienation of affection, which is one of the basic human needs discussed at length by Maslow in his Hierarchy of Needs. It is a serious form of psychological abuse, and it is very dangerous because it occurs internally and, thus, is harder to treat. Unlike physical abuse where the scars and wounds are on the outside, Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is so deep inside that unlocking the key to it takes years of treatment and unconditional love (Kloth-Zanard, J., n.d., ¶ 1).