Solomon’s Choice: How the Ancient Story Speaks to Parental Alienation Syndrome Today

Two prostitutes came before King Solomon with a strange story. One said, “We live in the same house. We both gave birth around the same time. But during the night she rolled over on her infant and killed him, then stole my baby boy as I slept, replacing him with her dead baby.”

“No!” said the other harlot, “The living one is mine!”

How to tell which woman was telling the truth? Wise Solomon knew the false mother would sacrifice the son to win the argument, but the real mother would sacrifice for her son. And so Solomon requested a sword be brought, then said, “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one and half to the other,” 1 Kings 3:25.

The real mother cried, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” Solomon had his answer. He ordered that the living baby be given to her, saying, “Do not kill him; she is the mother.”

The true parent will be willing to sacrifice for the child. A false parent will sacrifice the child. This principle plays heavily into the discussion about parental alienation syndrome, or PAS, which plagues divorce courts and custody battles the world over. PAS entails one divorcing parent effectively brainwashing the children to turn against the other parent. Although some falsely apply this label,* the syndrome exists. I’ve seen it. But beyond my limited experience, the concept of alienation has abundant support in scripture, the whole theme of the great controversy between Christ and Satan being carried by a narrative involving the honored Lucifer turning one third of the angel “children” against their parent-God (Revelation 12).

It’s easy enough to see how this takes place. The true parent actually parents the child, which means boundaries, limits, and punishments. The false parent coddles and pleases the child, even to their own hurt, becoming the “treat” parent. The false parent emotionally punishes the true parent; and the child reasons, albeit unconsciously, that if they cross the false parent, they too will be punished. Cooperation and conformity to the true parent therefore entails a significant cost. In addition, the true parent is a “safe” parent who will forgive the child’s disloyalty, whereas the false parent requires perfect loyalty upon pains and penalty of rejection of the disloyal child. The child will make the operative choice to be disloyal to the less punitive parent, a choice influenced by a toxic environment in which they’ve been forced to choose between two parents—a choice no child should have to make.

A true parent will never put a child to that choice. They will avoid divorce in the first place; but if it becomes necessary, they will minimize the conflict, reduce the stress load, and carry the emotional pain of the process upon themselves rather than offloading it on the children. A false parent will stir up the conflict, weaponizing the children’s loyalties against the other parent. A false parent will instill strife toward a true parent as a means of retaliating against them. A false parent is willing to see the child hewn in two; a true parent will cry out, “Don’t kill them!” In principle, a false parent is no better than Lucifer-turned-Satan himself, and a true parent endures wrongful accusations as God has endured.

If you’re one of those true parents, hang in there. Eventually your children will grow up and realize you stayed the sword, and you are worthy of their love and loyalty. One day all liars will be put to shame, their false reports exposed in the dazzling light of truth.

*As you can imagine, false accusations of PAS abound. But the inappropriate use of the label in some cases doesn’t disprove the syndrome in all cases. As with all psychological labels, a label of PAS should be used with great care and only in cases where it is fully warranted.

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