Are you worried that your ex is going to ruin your relationship with your children by actively working to turn them against you?
It's a serious concern. Understanding of the concept is relatively new, and it is often referred to as parental alienation, but that does not mean it hasn't been happening for a long time. It is very important to know how it happens and what to expect.
In general, parental alienation is achieved through psychological manipulation. Your ex attempts to get your children to reject you and prefer him or her. This can make them resent the time they spend with you or actively seek to spend more time with your ex. It erodes your relationship with them. Even if it takes time, it can cut you out of their lives.
In many cases, this manipulation is fairly subtle to the children, even when done with intent. For instance, your ex may always belittle you in conversations with the kids or talk down about you in a casual sense. He or she does not sit down with the children and tell them, "Your ex is a bad person and you should prefer me," but that is the message they get from all of these little comments. Over time, they start thinking negatively about you and assuming the worst.
Your ex may also try to look better than you at every turn. He or she will buy the children better presents for Christmas or take them on more vacations or give them pizza and ice cream and let them stay up late, rather than feeding them healthy food and sticking to a standard bedtime. Your ex tries to become the "fun" parent so that the kids dread going back to your house.
Some alienation does include active efforts to turn the children against you. Your ex may lie and say that you do not even want to see them. He or she may blame you for the divorce and try to make the children think that all of the problems in the children's lives are your fault.
Essentially, your ex tries to brainwash the children. They are quite vulnerable after a divorce, especially when they are young. They tend to believe everything that a parent tells them. Your ex can exploit this to lay a negative foundation of emotions and thoughts regarding you, and it may be difficult or impossible for you to overcome this.
When your ex tries to interfere with your relationship with the children or your parental rights, it is crucial to understand your legal options. The court always puts the children's best interests first, and that usually means having a strong relationship with both parents.