The Parental Alienation Syndrome, introduced by forensic psychiatrist Richard Gardner, carries the connotation of the mother as the predominant alienator. I have seen both mothers and fathers alienate their children from the other parent. I have therefore introduced the term malicious divorce syndrome as a gender- neutral name for this disorder.

Much existing advice to parent victims has emphasized the courts with nothing much more than passing reference to how parents can deal directly with alienated children. But many parents cannot afford the legal expenses in pursuing their parental rights. Furthermore, legal efforts are essentially irrelevant when children are adults. This discussion is a guide to victim parents for successfully fighting parental alienation by proactive interaction with their children - with or without the courts.

In my YouTube video, "How to Prevail against Parental Alienation: Lessons from Huckleberry Finn," I use the story of Huckleberry Finn to breathe life into this guide. Mark Twain wrote the novel after the Civil War, but he set it earlier, when slavery was a fact of life.

Huckleberry Finn contains the following elements of parental alienation:
1. seemingly good people indifferent to the cruelty of enslaving Jim - analogous to the seemingly good parent alienating the other parent and indifferent to its cruelty.
2. The hero of the novel, Jim, the slave, whose racist society believes it is OK to mistreat him – analogous to the targeted parent whose children believe it is OK to mistreat that parent.
3. Huck, a 13 year-old boy, who has adopted prevailing racist assumptions about blacks – analogous to the child who has adopted alienating assumptions about the targeted parent.
4. And finally a solution: Jim overcomes the deprecating assumptions about him. Huck even helps free Jim at the risk to himself of whatever moral or physical danger.

Huck is a thirteen-year-old boy. His father is a Missouri town drunk on the Mississippi River. Huck learned in Sunday school that blacks are sub-human. The Widow Douglas and Miss Watson are wealthy sisters who live together, own slaves, and adopt Huck. One of Miss Watson’s slaves is Jim.

Huck runs away from his abusive father. Hiding along the Mississippi River, Huck encounters Jim. Jim has run away from Miss Watson after hearing her talk about selling him to another plantation, where he would be separated from his wife and children. Huck has learned that blacks don’t care about their families like white folks do. Yet Jim, intelligent and caring, has escaped out of love for his family. Jim plans to buy them after he gets to a free state. It is only Jim’s fear of being sold and separated from his wife and children that motivated his criminal act of running away.

Huck also learns that a reward has been offered for Jim’s capture. Huck and Jim raft downriver, intending to proceed up the Ohio River by steamboat to the free states, where slavery is prohibited.

Huck learned in Sunday school that runaway slaves are stolen property. If he doesn’t return Jim to Miss Watson, he, Huck will go to hell. But, on the river, Jim becomes a surrogate father and friend, caring for Huck. He cooks for the boy and shelters him from some horrors they encounter.

Huck’s conscience troubles him about helping Jim escape. Jim talks about going to the free states, planning to earn money to buy the freedom of his wife and children. If their masters refuse to sell Jim’s family to him, Jim plans to have abolitionists kidnap them.

Huck secretly resolves to return Jim to Miss Watson. He believes he has effectively stolen $800 from Miss Watson - the price the slave trader had offered for Jim.

…. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil…and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway… is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps… will give him up for the reward....

But Huck thought over their trip down the river - their floating along, talking, singing and laughing. He recalled how Jim would continue to stand watch on the raft, instead of waking Huck for his turn, thus letting Huck sleep longer; and, when they were tossed off the raft, how glad Jim was when Huck came back out of the fog and from the swam; and how Jim would always call Huck honey, and pet him and how good he always was…. and said Huck was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he's got now. And then Huck saw that paper.

… I took it up… in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things….. sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll GO to hell" — and tore it up.

Jim's sincerity is established by his caring. Jim bares himself emotionally, expressing a longing for his family and admitting his own errors as a father. Having been brought up among racist assumptions, Huck is surprised to see familial love as strong among blacks as among whites.

Huck now decides to risk going to hell. He then sets out on his first truly adult endeavor - to free Jim at whatever cost to himself. His conscience contradicts what he has been taught.

The lessons of Huckleberry Finn and the advice I give to parents alienated from their children are:
1. Children are confused, as 13 year-old Huck was, by seemingly “good” white people such as Miss Watson who seem unconcerned about injustice or cruelty toward Jim.
2. Passivity: Some readers of Huckleberry Finn have criticized Jim as being too passive, but it is important to remember that, without power, he remains at the mercy of every other character, including even a child - thirteen-year-old Huck, as the letter that Huck nearly sends to Miss Watson demonstrates. Jim must find ways of accomplishing his goals without colliding with those who control existing beliefs. In his position, he is unable to act boldly or speak his mind. Nonetheless, Jim consistently acts as a noble human and loyal friend. In fact, Jim is the only real adult in the novel, and the only one who provides a respectable example for Huck to follow.
a. So my advice is… use Jim as a model. If you are alienated from your child, you are at a relative disadvantage with regard to the other parent, and at a disadvantage even with regard to your child – as Jim was even to thirteen-year-old Huck. Like Jim, you must find ways of accomplishing your goal of having a relationship with your child without colliding with the other parent who has achieved control your child’s beliefs about you. Like Jim, you cannot act boldly or speak your mind freely… or you will be defeated by prevailing beliefs. Like Jim, consistently act as a noble human being and a loyal parent. At the same time, don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of by your child.
3. Jim is the alienated one, cast out without rights. But he ultimately wins Huck over. Huck comes to see what is right, even at the cost, possibly of fires of hell. Your child, too, faces the prospect of punishment of one form or another at the hands of the alienating parent if your child dares to cross that parent’s wish to excommunicate you. Your child faces a similar dilemma that Huck faced but finally resolved when he said, “All right, then, I'll GO to hell" — and tore up the letter to Miss Watson.
4. Jim's sincerity is established most potently by his caring. You must not withdraw from your child.
5. Jim displayed an honest sensitivity in admitting his own errors as a father. You have not been a perfect parent. Don’t beat yourself up for your shortcomings.
6. Having been brought up among racist white assumptions, Huck is surprised to see ties of familial love as strong among blacks as among whites. Your child has been exposed, probably for years without your knowledge, to alienating assumptions about you. You need to counter this perception of yourself with nobility and loyalty despite all.
7. There is also a lesson from the Mississippi River, itself. For Huck and Jim, the Mississippi River is the symbol of freedom. Alone on their raft, they do not have to answer to anyone. The river carries them toward freedom: for Jim, toward the free states; for Huck, away from his abusive father and the restrictive “sivilizing” of Missouri. Spend as much time as possible with your child alone on your raft, where your child does not have to answer to the other parent and can come to know you for who you are.

As an aid in understanding this difficult to comprehend and fascinating phenomenon, you may view my YouTube videos on the topic by visiting my website at

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Linet received his medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is board certified in both adult and child psychiatry and has practiced for over 30 years. In the past, he held faculty positions as Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Cornell Medical College and also at the State University of New York, Health Sciences Center at Brooklyn. Dr. Linet completed his residency in psychiatry at the State University of New York, Health Sciences Center at Brooklyn, where he later also completed a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry. Subsequently, Dr. Linet was in charge of medical student education in child psychiatry at the State University medical school and later worked as Medical and Psychiatric Director of a residential treatment center for severely disturbed children and adolescents. Dr. Linet is comfortable using psychotherapy and psychopharmacology. He has expertise treating anxiety, depression and disruptive/acting out behavior - whether caused by psychological problems, ADHD, bipolar or other mood disorders. He wrote "Bipolar Disorder without Mania" and "The Search for Stimulation: Understanding ADHD," links to which can be found at Dr. Linet appeared on television programs featuring OCD and Tourette Syndrome. Internet links to various of his webcasts can be found on He is one of approximately 2000 physicians with a federal waiver to prescribe buprenorphine for narcotic addiction. He also counsels families and patients in handling substance abuse.