Rawlings School of Divinity


Doctor of Education in Christian Leadership (EdD)


Brian Pinzer


Parental Alienation, Targeted Parent, Family Violence, Relational Well-being


Education | Educational Leadership


Parental alienation (PA) is an extreme form of couple conflict in which one parent (the alienating parent) attempts to damage or destroy the relationship of the child(ren) with the other parent (the targeted parent). Research on PA has principally been based on the 1980s model of Richard Gardner. Inquiry into the lived experience of the targeted parent has been sparse. The purpose of this hermeneutic phenomenological study was to understand better the lived experience of parental targeting and the role, if any, intergenerational patterns of marital conflict and social structure play in the formation of parental alienating behaviors as well as the effect of alienating behaviors on the relational well-being of targeted parents. This study examined parental targeting as a multifactor systemic phenomenon. This study utilized a collaborative integration of Bowen family systems theory, hermeneutic phenomenology, and the theological concept of Shalom as a means for understanding the phenomena of parental targeting and the implications of parental alienating behaviors for Christian leaders and educators. A two-phase interview process was used to collect data from self-identified targeted parents. Collected data was thematically analyzed using Heidegger’s hermeneutic phenomenological model and then further reviewed through the lens of Van Manen’s four “existentials” model of reflective analysis (Van Manen, 2015). Thematic analysis revealed that participants generally define targeted parenting as a form of familial violence that impacts relational, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Intergenerational patterns of marital conflict, fusion, and emotional reactivity may contribute to the development and maintenance of parental targeting. Relevant topics for further study include research on the alienating parent and the prevalence of PA in other forms of couplehood.