Many children arrive at the workshop with negative expectations. Many have felt empowered to dictate the nature of their relationships with their parents and are stunned that the court has overturned the status quo. By the end of the first day, the participants are usually relaxed and in an upbeat mood. They are relieved that the process is easier than anticipated and the parents often are overjoyed at having contact and regaining some semblance of a relationship with a once lost child. Children usually are relieved when they learn they can restore a relationship with the rejected parent without forgoing their relationship with the other parent. They reveal that they have all along preferred to keep both parents in their lives. Also, they are relieved when they can save face by not having to rehash all the bad moments and painful scenes in order to reconcile.
For the most part, the program is entertaining, benign, non-confrontational, and presented in a manner that respects children’s emotional needs and capacities. Children are given a great deal of latitude in regulating the pace of the program, the emotional intensity of the discussions, and the frequency and duration of breaks. As opposed to pressure the children might have felt in the past to think a certain way about the rejected parent, this program teaches children to correct distortions of reality and a premium is placed on the exercise, rather than the suspension, of critical thinking. The children appreciate that the goal of the intervention is to foster children’s positive relationship with their rejected parent, not to damage children’s relationship with the other parent.
Also, children appreciate that a goal of the intervention is for children to develop balanced, realistic and compassionate views of both parents rather than polarized views in which one parent is considered all good and the other is considered all bad.
In a 2019 outcome study, by the end of the program most children felt positive about the experience. Naturally the few children who did not respond positively to the workshop had more negative attitudes about the experience. Also, these children, and those who relapse and become re-alienated from a parent, may be prone to retroactively complain about the workshop. For more discussion about children’s experiences in Family Bridges, see the description of the 2019 study results here.