Tag: kids

cps, parental alienation syndrome
Heartbroken Parents of Alienated Children Never Stop Trying To Reach Out To Their Children

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Alienated parents share unanswered texts to their kids and it’s crushing

by:Alexandra Carlton

Being prevented from seeing or communicating with your child is a special kind of hell – but a parent’s love never dies.

Imagine if you were unable to see or speak to your own young child.

You may know where they live. You may have a phone number or email address or social media handle for them.

But because they live with a hostile parent who controls their contact – your efforts to communicate disappear into a black hole of despair.

Alienated parents, also known as ‘targeted parents’ are distinct from estranged parents, who have a rift in their relationship with a child for a legitimate reason such as abuse, neglect or infidelity.

Alienated children have been caught in high-conflict separations where they have been forced to choose a side, and are aligned, both physically and emotionally, with one parent, rejecting the other.

Reaching out to an alienated child: ‘Never give up’

For loving parents, yearning for child who is alive but cut off from them is a special kind of agony – a pain some have described as “a living death”.

Almost all targeted parents continue to reach out to their children by whatever means available, as a way to let their children know that they haven’t given up. Amanda Sillars, who runs alienated support group The Eeny Meeny Miney Mo Foundation, calls these communication attempts “breadcrumbs of love”.

I asked a dozen alienated parents to share some of these “breadcrumbs of love” – messages of unbreakable love that went unanswered.

The responses are beyond heartbreaking:

This mum sent thousands of unanswered messages to her sons over the years before discovering their phone had been cut off. Source: Alex Carlton

Parents never give up – no matter what. Source: Alex Carlton

What does parental alienation look like?

Never assume that a parent who doesn’t see their child has done something wrong.

In some cases there may be court orders that mandate that the child must see both parents, but the alienating parent defies them with impunity.

Sometimes there may be no court orders but the alienating parent has successfully ‘turned’ a child against their mother or father, resulting in the child taking one parents’ side in an effort to reduce the conflict between the parents.

In almost all cases, the alienated child had a loving, normal and secure relationship with the parent they no longer see before the alienation happened – even if their demeanour towards the targeted parent has become hostile.

What does the research say?

There is little Australian data available about parental alienation but according to a study from published in the Children and Youth Services Review, at least 22 million American parents may be a victim of this terrible form of abuse.

It’s thought to affect both mothers and father equally. It can be a difficult concept to understand, even for professionals. Research about it is minimal and there is little consensus about appropriate remedies.

It is recognised in courts in the US, Canada and the UK – and increasingly in Australia – but more research is needed to find out why it happens, what the effects are on children and parents and the what the legal and therapeutic communities can do to help those it affects. The Australian Institute of Family Studies has some information here.

If you are a parent who is alienated from their child or a child who is alienated from a parent, The Eenie Meenie Miney Mo Foundation has some excellent resources that may help.

Most of all, stay strong. And never give up.

How to reach out to your alienated child

Amanda Sillars urges targeted parents to keep trying to contact their children, even if they receive no response, as they may one day be the ‘breadcrumbs’ that their children can follow to reconnect and reunite with the parent they love and terribly miss.

“Often the children read the messages but they don’t want to be caught responding,” she explains. “You might not see the positive outcomes for months or years – but your kids may one day have an opportunity, away from the house or on holidays, to try and reach out. Don’t give up.”

She offers some excellent tips for parents trying to communicate with their alienated child here.

Tips for reaching out to an alienated child

  • Speak with love and kindness
  • Always stay calm and never react
  • Focus forward
  • Don’t bombard them with communications even though you may be excited to get a break through
  • Expect crumbs in communication – anything more is a bonus
  • No response is not always a bad thing
  • Be the best version of you
  • Avoid dark and heavy conversations
  • Show your children that you are interested in them
  • Ask them about school, activities or hobbies they may be involved in, friendships they have and so on
  • Avoid talking about the situation
  • Remember: actions speak louder than words
  • Don’t make promises you cannot fulfil
aging out, cps
The Truth About Aging Out of Foster Care

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Source: view original content here

When this occurs, the child will be placed into the foster care system.

More than 250,000 children are placed into the foster care system in the United States every year.

Aging Out of Foster Care

We are making some promises to these children when we place them into foster care. We are telling them that they are getting the chance to create a better life for themselves.

They are promised a safe home where they can have a family that can be called their own.

For many children, these promise are just empty words that have no meaning.

As the statistics show, many foster kids are aging out of the system and have nowhere to turn.

  • More than 23,000 children will age out of the US foster care system every year.

  • After reaching the age of 18, 20% of the children who were in foster care will become instantly homeless.

  • Only 1 out of every 2 foster kids who age out of the system will have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24.

  • There is less than a 3% chance for children who have aged out of foster care to earn a college degree at any point in their life.

  • 7 out of 10 girls who age out of the foster care system will become pregnant before the age of 21.

  • The percentage of children who age out of the foster care system and still suffer from the direct effects of PTSD: 25%.

  • Tens of thousands of children in the foster care system were taken away from their parents after extreme abuse.

  • 8% of the total child population of the United States is represented by reports of abuse that are given to authorities in the United States annually.

  • In 2015, more than 20,000 young people — whom states failed to reunite with their families or place in permanent homes.

One of the biggest problems that social workers face today is a stigma that people have regarding what they do.

Many people see child protection workers as vengeful, hateful people who just want to take kids away from their parents and families.

The sad truth is that over 6 million children are at a high risk of being abused by their families annually and this is represented by the over 3 million reports of possible abuse that are filed every year.

We know that children thrive in families and that is why we want kids to be placed into foster care instead of an institution.

The problem is that the temporary solution of foster care has become a permanent solution and 10% of the kids that are placed into the system age out of it without every really getting the chance to heal.

Is Violence Against Children A Hidden American Epidemic?

  • substantiated child abuse will become the victim of abuse again within 6 months.

If 7 out of 10 foster kids say that they want to pursue college, then why are we finding ways to limit them?

A college education allows for a number of advantages that can help these kids find happiness, even though their childhood may not have been as fun as some of their peers.

These kids want to change their lives, yet a vast majority of them will never even get to see college.

Only 6% of kids who age out of the system will attend an institution of higher learning and only 50% of them will be able to graduate with a degree.

What is the end result?

These kids give up hope, stop caring, and are at a higher risk of repeating the cycle of violence with their own children one day that led to their placement in foster care in the first place.

Foster Kids Aren’t Always Placed Into Foster Homes

  • Despite the promises of the foster care system, as of 2012, more than 58,000 children in the U.S. foster care system were placed in institutions or group homes.

  • 75% of women and 33% of men receive government benefits to meet basic needs after they age out of the system.

  • 1 out of every 2 kids who age out of the system will develop a substance dependence.

  • States spent a mere 1.2-1.3% of available federal funds on parent recruitment and training services even though 22% of children in foster care had adoption as their goal.

  • Adopted children make-up roughly 2% of the total child population under the age of 18.

  • Children who are adopted make up over 10% of the total referrals for child therapy.

  • 55% of these children who wind up being legally emancipated by the foster care system have had 3 or more placements over their childhood.

  • 33% of children had changed elementary schools 5 or more times, causing them to fall behind academically and lose friends that they had made in the process.

  • There is a direct correlation to the age of a child who enters foster care and their likelihood of being successfully discharged to a permanent home instead of being legally emancipated.

There is more than just the problem of worthless parents when it comes to the modern foster care system – parents who abuse their children are worthless.

There is also the problem of foster families not being able to access the resources that kids need because of a lack of funding… or a lack of desire to do so.

Kids who are taken out of violent homes not only face the struggle of missing their parents and living in a strange environment, but there may be PTSD and other mental health issues present as well.

Foster kids will blow out of homes because the tools aren’t in place to help them cope and there isn’t enough patience within the foster family to allow for the natural grieving process to take place.

When parents, foster families, and the system at large fail these kids and they age out of the system,

is it any wonder why so many struggle to make their way in the world?

Are Things Getting Worse Instead of Better?

  • In 2012, there were approximately 679,000 instances of confirmed child maltreatment from the over 3 million reports generated.
  • The overall national child victim rate was 9.2 child victims per 1,000 children in the US population.
  • State child victim rates vary dramatically in the United States, ranging from 1.2 child victims per 1,000 children to 19.6 child victims per 1,000 children.
  • African-American children had the highest rates of victimization at 14.2 victims per 1,000 children in that racial group’s overall child population.
  • Asian children had the lowest rates, with 1.7 victims per 1,000.
  • Between 2002 and 2012, the number of children in care on the last day of the fiscal year decreased by 24.2%, or by over 130,000 children.
  • The annual rate of children who are discharged out of the foster system without a successful placement: 13%.
  • Children with a diagnosed disability of any kind, including a learning disability, are twice as likely to age out of the foster care system.
  • Kids who enter the foster care system after the age of 12 have a 2 in 5 chance of being legally emancipated at the age of 18 from the system.
  • More than 20% of the children who are currently in foster care are aged 3 or younger.
  • African-American children make up 20% of the foster care population, which is about double the amount of maltreatment reports that are generated for their racial demographic annually.
  • More than 40% of the children who reach the age of 18 while in foster care were in the system for more than 3 years.

Even when foster care isn’t the best solution, it is often still better than the maltreatment that was being experienced at home.

In the United States, the median measurements of child maltreatment are over 5% annually.

In foster car, the median measurement for maltreatment is just 0.32%.

In practical terms, this means that a child in the US is about 15x more likely to be abused in their home then in a foster home.

From this standpoint, we can honestly say that we are providing a safer environment for children, but we need to do more than just provide safety.

We need to be able to provide areas of growth so that these kids can have the tools they need in order to find success in the pursuit of their own dream

What Can We Do To Help Facilitate Change?

  • In 2012, only 4.5% of children who were adopted out of foster care were placed in the system for fewer than 12 months.

  • The percentage of children adopted in less than 12 months out of foster care in 2009: 3.6%.

  • More than 85% of children in foster care have had a minimum of two different placement settings within the first 12 months of being placed in the system.

  • 11% of children who are placed into a permanent setting outside of foster care will re-enter the system within 12 months.

  • Only 32.6% of adoptions from foster care occur within the first 2 years of a child being placed into the system.

  • Less than 70% of the cases of founded child maltreatment had a response time that was less than 48 hours for an intervention.

  • 30.4% of incidents were responded to by caseworkers in 24 hours or less.

  • 73% of the cases of child maltreatment are due to neglect.

  • Kids between the ages of 0-7 make up more than half of all child maltreatment reports that are generated in the United States every year.

  • 48.9% of the reports are generated from families that are Caucasian.

  • More than 6% of children who are placed into foster care have been sexually abused by a parent or family member.

child custody, cps
Are you dealing with CPS or a Child Custody Case? Help is Available!

During this holiday season, It’s Almost Tuesday wishes the best in all things for children and their families.

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We wish there were no bad foster homes.

We wish CPS had no over zealous case workers.

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We wish couples stayed happily married with no divorces.

We wish there was no such thing as parental alienation syndrome or parental kidnapping.

Custody-Battle

We wish for the end of alot of bad things, but there is a reality that wishes can’t erase.

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If you are facing CPS, or a divorce and children are involved there IS HELP AVAILABLE.

Do you know someone in a custody dispute?

What a better gift to give a loved one who is facing a child custody case or court battle but peace of mind?

We want to help you find the answers that you need to fight for your rights and your kids and succeed.

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Win in court.
Check out our new page with a library of books and guides on just about any topics you could think of.

Tell your friends.

The kids who need it the most will thank you one day.

It’s our wish that we would all be nice to each other in every way possible, but if you have no choice and nice isn’t an option, be ready.
GET HELP NOW!

cps, parental alienation syndrome
Obsessed Alienation – Severe Parental Alienation in Custody Cases

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“I love my children. If the court can’t protect them from their abusive father, I will. Even though he’s never abused the children, I know it’s a matter of time. The children are frightened of their father. If they don’t want to see him, I’m not going to force them. They are old enough to make up their own minds.”

The obsessed alienator is a parent, or sometimes a grandparent, with a cause:

to align the children to his or her side and together, with the children, and a campaign to destroy their relationship with the targeted parent.

For the campaign to work, the obsessed alienator enmeshes the children’s personalities and beliefs into their own. This is a process that takes time but one that the children, especially the young, are completely helpless to see and combat. It usually begins well before the divorce is final.

The obsessed parent is angry, bitter or feels betrayed by the other parent. The initial reasons for the bitterness may actually be justified. They could have been verbally and physical abused, raped, betrayed by an affair, or financially cheated.

The problem occurs when the feelings won’t heal but instead become more intense because of being forced to continue the relationship with a person they despise because of their common parenthood. Just having to see or talk to the other parent is a reminder of the past and triggers the hate. They are trapped with nowhere to go and heal.

The characteristics of obsessed alienation are as follows

  • They are obsessed with destroying the children’s relationship with the targeted parent
  • They having succeeded in enmeshing the childrens’ personalities and beliefs about the other parent with their own.
  • The children will parrot the obsessed alienator rather than express their own feelings from personal experience with the other parent.

  • The targeted parent and often the children cannot tell you the reasons for their feelings.

  • Their beliefs sometimes becoming delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince obsessed alienators that they are wrong. Anyone who tries is the enemy.

  • They will often seek support from family members, quasi-political groups or friends that will share in their beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent and the system.
  • The battle becomes “us against them.” The obsessed alienator’s supporters are often seen at the court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.

  • They have an unquenchable anger because they believe that the targeted parent has victimized them and whatever they do to protect the children is justified.

  • They have a desire for the court to punish the other parent with court orders that would interfere or block the targeted parent from seeing the children. This confirms in the obsessed alienator’s mind that he or she was right all the time.

  • The court’s authority does not intimidate them.

  • The obsessed alienator believes in a higher cause, protecting the children at all cost.

  • The obsessed alienator will probably not want to read what is on these pages because the content just makes them angrier.

There are no effective treatments for either the obsessed alienator or the children.

The courts and mental health professionals are helpless.

The only hope for these children is early identification of the symptoms and prevention. After the alienation is entrenched and the children become “true believers” in the parent’s cause, the children are lost to the other parent for years to come.

We realize this is a sad statement, but we have yet to find an effective intervention, by anyone, including the courts that can rehabilitate the alienating parent and child.

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More on Parental Alienation

Divorce is one of life’s most painful passages. It is painful for the spouse who wants it, painful for the spouse who feels rejected, and painful for the children.

We can understand and empathize with the spouse who feels wronged and wants revenge, or the spouse who is overwhelmed with anxiety at the thought of losing the children, or the spouse who prefers to forget that the marriage ever was.

But using the children to get revenge, to cope with anxiety, to erase the past, is unacceptable.

Parents must hold themselves to a higher standard.

Parent/child relationships are particularly vulnerable when children are first informed of the impending separation, or when one parent actually leaves the home.

If your spouse manipulates the children to blame you for the divorce, or to believe you have abandoned them, affection can dissolve overnight as their distress and hurt feelings are channeled into hatred.

The risk becomes multiplied if, for any reason, you have no communication or contact with the children after you leave the home. This keeps you from reassuring the children of your love and helping them understand that they do not have to choose between their parents.

A child who feels caught between two homes may feel that the solution to the conflict is to declare a clear allegiance to one household. This motive can result in alienation from either parent.

A child who is anxious or angry about the remarriage may channel these feelings into unwarranted hatred of the remarried parent and stepparent. Or the child’s alienation may express the disappointment of reconciliation wishes that have been dashed by the remarriage.

Regardless of the child’s underlying motivation, if the favored parent welcomes the child’s allegiance and fails to actively promote the child’s affection for the other parent, the child may cling to a maladaptive solution.

The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent.

enablers

PAS is more than brainwashing or programming, because the child has to actually participate in the denigrating of the alienated parent. This is done in primarily the following eight ways:

1. The child denigrates the alienated parent with foul language and severe oppositional behavior.

2. The child offers weak, absurd, or frivolous reasons for his or her anger.

3. The child is sure of him or herself and doesn’tdemonstrate ambivalence, i.e. love and hate for thealienated parent, only hate.

4. The child exhorts that he or she alone came up with ideas of denigration. The “independent-thinker”phenomenon is where the child asserts that no one told him to do this.

5. The child supports and feels a need to protect the alienating parent.

6. The child does not demonstrate guilt over cruelty towards the alienated parent.

7. The child uses borrowed scenarios, or vividlydescribes situations that he or she could not haveexperienced.

8. Animosity is spread to also include the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent.

In severe cases of parent alienation, the child is utterly brainwashed against the alienated parent.

The alienator can truthfully say that the child doesn’t want to spend any time with the other parent, even though he or she has told the child that he has to, it is a court order, etc.

The alienator typically responds, “There isn’t anything that I can do about it. I’m not telling the child that he can’t.

Alienation advances when the alienating parent urdses the child as a personal therapist. The child is told about every miserable experience and negative feeling about the alienated parent with great specificity.

The child, who is already enmeshed with the parent because his or her identity is still undefined, easily absorbs the parent’s negativity. They become aligned with this parent and feel that they need to be the protector of the alienating parent.

Parental alienation can be mild and temporary or extreme and ongoing. Most researchers believe that any alienation of a child against (the child’s) other parent is harmful to the child and to the target parent.

Extreme, obsessive, and ongoing parental alienation can cause terrible psychological damage to children extending well into adulthood.

Parental Alienation focuses on the alienating parents behavior as opposed to the alienated parent’s and alienated childrens’ conditions. This definition is different from Parental Alienation Syndrome as originally coined by Dr. Richard Gardner in 1987:

“a disturbance in which children are preoccupied with deprecation and criticism of a parent-denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated.”

Parental Alienation Syndrome symptoms describe the child’s behaviours and attitude towards the targeted parent after the child has been effectively programmed and severely alienated from the targeted parent.

Parental alienation, on the other hand, describes the alienating parent’s or parents’ conduct which induces parental alienation syndrome in children. Parental alienation is a form of relational aggression by one parent against the other parent using their common children.

The process can become cyclic with each parent attempting to alienate the children from the other. There is potential for a negative feedback loop and escalation.

At other times an affected parent may withdraw leaving the children to the alienating parent. Children so alienated often suffer effects similar to those studied in the psychology of torture.

Alienating parents often use grandparents, aunts/uncles, and other elders to alienate their children against the target parent.

In some cases, mental health professionals become unwitting allies in these alienation attempts by backing unfounded allegations of neglect, abuse or mental disease. Courts also often side with the alienating parent against the target parent in legal judgements because parental alienation is so difficult to detect.

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Extreme forms of parental alienation include obsessive brainwashing, character assassination, and the false inducement of fear, shame, and rage in children against the target parent. Moderate forms of parental alienation include loss of self control, flare ups of anger, and nconscious alliances with the children against the target parent. In it’s mildest forms, parental alienation includes occasional mild denigration alternating with a focus on encouraging the children’s relationship with the other parent.

Parental alienation often forces children to choose sides and become allies against the other parent. Children caught in the middle of such conflicts suffer severe losses of love, respect and peace during their formative years.

They also often lose their alienated parent forever.

These consequences and a host of others cause terrible traumas to children as studied in Parental Alienation Syndrome.

Parents so alienated often suffer heartbreaking loss of their children through no fault of their own. In addition, they often face false accusations from their alienated children that they cannot counter with the facts.

Finally, they often find themselves powerless to show that this little-known form of cruel, covert, and cunning aggression is occurring or has occurred.

Often the problem can be cured only by realizing the underlying causes. The reasons are very numerous and varied. These are examples:

  • Money. The custodial parent may wish to have more than the non-custodial parent is willing or able to provide and the children are leverage pawns.
  • Retaliation. ‘You wanted a life without us. Now you have it.’
  • New family member.The mother forms a new romantic relationship and wants her new man to be the father. The non-custodial parent is a hindrance to that new relationship, an unwanted reminder.
  • New partner’s interference. Mother’s boy-friend or new husband wants to be the man in the child’s life and works to exclude the father.
  • Jealousy Mother’s empty life is in stark contrast to Father’s recovering one. Mother may not wish the father’s new partner to have the role of ‘rival mother’ – particularly if she is insecure about her own abilities.
  • Property rights. Mother regards child as her property and is unwilling to share
  • Social appearance.Mother could never admit that she is not the sole focus of her child’s life.
  • Depression, Poor health.General negative view on life interpreted by her as being a result of the marital breakup and therefore his fault.
  • Simple hatred by the mother of the father.
  • Hostility from the father toward the mother is viewed by her as a risk to the children as well, so she feels that she must ‘protect’ the child by preventing the father from visiting. Mother may have no basis whatsoever for feeling that the father will be hostile to the child.
  • Possessiveness of the child’s attention and affection. The Mother may have no other close family and be envious of the father’s friends and relatives.

  • Mother convinces herself that the father is a dangerous human with extreme character flaws to which the child should not be exposed. Mother assumes that activities enjoyed by the father are risky to the child, even though other children may engage in those same activities.
  • Mother has taken a gender approach and is hostile to all men. This can be particularly true if the mother has limited her own contacts to other single mothers. She may be unable to sustain a wholesome relationship with a man.
  • Punishment. Mother eliminates visits or shortens contact with the father if the children do not behave. “You have not finished your homework. You cannot go to dinner with your father.” or “You did not obey me about your bedtime. You are grounded here and while you are with your father this weekend.”
  • Perceived competition with the former spouse. This is particularly true when the non-custodial father spends more on the children than the mother is able to do. Also called “Disneyland Dads”, the father uses his time in high dollar activities while the mother has to make do on free and low cost amusements for them. This also works in reverse with the “competitive” mom – where the non-custodial parent plans an activity, such as a driving vacation and then the custodial mom has to ‘trump’ it by flying the children out of the country on vacation. Neither parent seems to notice that the TWO vacations are far more than the child would have received if in a pre-divorce home and that the child’s values are being distorted on a very subconscious, but permanent level.
  • Self-esteem. The mother’s interests and activities may be so focused on the children that she has no life if they are not around. She does not wish to, or cannot admit, that they have fun if she is not part.
  • Fear of abandonment.Mother worries that children may choose the father over her if given the opportunity.
  • Control. The children may be the only means the parent has of directing the life and emotions of the former spouse.
  • Reverse control. The mother may have never wanted a man except to sire the child and, once that role is complete, the mother wants him well away from her child. Watch for parents who say ‘MY child’ when talking to the other parent.
  • Punishment to the Father for forming a new marriage. ‘You were supposed to stay single and grieve for me forever.’
  • Mistaken belief that the father was actually not interested in the child.Many men are not granted much of a role in baby care, so as the child grows older and the father is ‘learning how to parent’ he may not spend as much time with the child –which may be viewed in retrospect as disinterest. Parenting does not come naturally to everyone and non-custodial parents have less of a chance to practice, with their mistakes being more visible.
  • Lifestyle conflicts.Mother and father have different choices in cultures, religions, and values and she wants to isolate the children into hers.
  • Emotional dependence.The mother may feel that the child has only so much capability for affection and wants it all for herself.
  • Resentment of reminders of failure.The mother may view the dissolved marriage as a failure and wish to avoid all memory of it.
  • Concealment. The mother may be having difficulties and does not want the children to provide information about her situation to the father.

Theses cases involving Parental Alienating are very frustrating to the targeted parent. Many times the offending parent feels totally justified in their actions. They cannot see the damage they are causing their children.

How can targeted parents in these situations be helped?

Encourage them to keep their heads up, maintain perspective, and contact the right professionals. Open up the line of communication with their children, recognize early warning signs of trouble, and respond appropriately to rude and hateful behavior.

Avoid common errors made by rejected parents through recognition of the problem and quickly obtaining the proper experts, which is crucial in developing a strategy inn a custody case involving Parental Alienation.

If necessary, ask the courts to order an evaluation and most of all to order treatment to reverse the damages caused by such conduct.

Sources:

Parental Alienation Syndrome by Lynn M.Swank,

Dr. Richard A. Warshak. Divorce Poison, Protecting the Parent-Child Bond from a Vindictive Ex, Regan Books, New York,

Gardner, R.A. (1998). The Parental Alienation Syndrome, Second Edition, Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.

Three Types of Parental Alienation Copyright 1997 by Douglas Darnall, Ph.D.)

Forensic Family Services, Inc.

child, children, cps, families, General, love
Taming the Mommy Tiger

This article from StepMom Magazine is too good to not re-post. In the arena of parental alienation, I have been doing my research into many areas, including blended families.

One of the most common issues I see presented is the battle between a stepparent and the natural parent.

This article has great insight, by Wednesday Martin, Ph.D. 

Taming the Mommy TigerOne of the most common questions I hear from women who marry or partner with men who have kids is,

What should they call me?”

While there’s no one right answer, I do concur with the overwhelming majority of experts and women in the trenches who know from first-hand experience that there is, in a broad sense, to which there are rare exceptions, a wrong one: Mom. Or mommy. Or mother. You get the idea.

I’m not big on oversimplified advice—there’s way too much of it out there for stepmothers in books, which tend to gloss over the point of view of the woman with stepchildren, as if she’s got no right to have one. That’s just wrong, and that’s why I wrote a book from a stepmother-centric perspective. But when it comes to this particular issue, unless the planets are aligned just so (and we’ll get to that, to the factors that might make it easy and OK for his kids to call you and think of you as mom), it is best for all parties if you acknowledge the specialness of your bond with his kids of any age by coming up with a word other than mom to define it.

“Hey!” you’re thinking, “That’s not fair! I’m just like a mom. I do lots of heavy lifting. I do X, Y and even Z for those kids!! And she’s (fill-in-the-blank with neglectful, or a terrible mother or unloving and selfish and disinterested in  her kids, or even an alcoholic/drug addict/liar).

So, why is she the only one to be called mom?

Does just giving birth to them make her the only mother?

Yep, it does.

Whether we like it or think it’s right or wrong, we will likely be able save ourselves a lot of grief and aggravation by acknowledging a simple truth. In our society, motherhood is romanticized and idealized, and mothers—no matter how bad—are put on a pedestal by the world in general and by their kids in particular.

Sometimes, you may have noticed, the more problems the mother has, the more fiercely protective of and attached and irrationally loyal to her the kids are. It can make your head spin, especially if you know you’re a better parent than she is. Whoa, there, Step-mom!

There’s a reason step-family experts—from the National Step-family Resource Center to the last book you picked up—are virtually unanimous in their advice,

“Don’t try to replace their mother, and don’t ask them to call you mom.”

While you’re at it, when they ask to call you mom, as flattering as it is, as much of a victory as it feels like, as much as you feel you earned it and deserve it, your life will probably be a whole lot easier in the long run if you point out,

“I love you very much, but let’s think of something else for you to call me, since you already have a mom.”

Again, there are exceptions, but they are few and far between.

Why are the experts and so many of the women who have been there such killjoys about the kids calling you mommy?

Because they know what they’re talking about. First, there’s the reality of the loyalty bind—a feeling that kids get, often because their moms
encourage it—that loving or even liking you is a betrayal of her. They
suspect that bonding with you will actually cause their bond with her to wither and die. What could be scarier for these kids than loving you and calling you mom, mommy or any variant of The Mother? Sometimes, kids feel and fear this even without their moms doing what too many moms do— badmouth you and your marriage.

If there’s anything that provokes a woman with stepchildren, it’s a mom who doesn’t want her kids to get too close to dad’s new wife—and tries to assure it won’t happen by telling lies or saying inappropriate and undermining things about their step-mom.

“If it weren’t for her, your dad and I would still be together,” such women might say to their kids. Or, “You don’t have to listen to her or be nice to her. She’s not in charge of you.”

If there is anything that provokes a mother, it’s the feeling that someone— someone married to her ex-husband in particular, whether she instigated the divorce or not—is competing with her for her child’s affection. “I love them like they’re my own,” you might say to her in a conversation, trying to set her at ease. But the words have the opposite effect, making mom feel encroached upon and threatened.

But why? As I researched my book, “Stepmonster,” I reviewed what sociologists and anthropologists had to say about stepmothering worldwide and about wife/ex-wife conflict across cultures. What quickly became clear was the following simple truth: In our society in particular, many women find the idea of sharing their children with another motherlike figure incredibly threatening to their core identity and their very sense of self. And when they have to do it, they lose it.

Many are the stories of crazy exes and vengeful biomoms (can we please just call them moms or mothers?) who undermine the stepmother/stepchild relationship as if their very lives depend upon it.

Why are these women so angry, so dead set on keeping their kids from bonding with stepmom? Sociologists Linda Nielsen of Wake Forest University, Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen University and the Council on Contemporary Families tell us that, unlike many Caribbean, Native American, and Pacific Island cultures—where children have a number of parent-like figures who care for them and may have several mother-like “aunties” who look after them in all senses, such as feeding, clothing and even disciplining them—middle and upper-middle class Caucasian American women are dramatically more likely to have been raised in a “one-mother only mentality.”

That means these women have been taught from an early age that mothering means one woman and one woman only doing the heavy lifting mostly, if not entirely, on her own. They are less likely, in a broad statistical sense, to have had fictive kin, aunties and even extended family involved in their upbringing. In their view, mothering comes from one person, and one person alone—period.

This exclusive, exclusionary view of mothering is deeply ingrained for many of us and results in a mindset that there can be only one mother. Further implied is that if one mother isn’t doing it all on her own, she’s a bad one. And being a bad mother, in our culture, makes you a bad woman and a bad person. There’s no separating those categories in our thinking.

Coontz, Nielsen and other sociologists point out that Caribbean, Pacific Island, Native American and African American children are more likely to have “allomaternal” and “allopaternal” figures in their lives—“aunties” and “uncles” who contribute to their well-being in numerous ways. They also tell us this is likely to be the case in immigrant and lower-income groups, where extended family living arrangements and a belief that “it takes a village” prevail. In contrast, for many of us in the U.S., it’s nuclear family bonds uber-alles.

Why do so many ex-wives go nuts when their exes remarry and their kids get a stepmother? In large part, it may be because they are programmed to do this.

Understanding this might help those of us with stepchildren understand how an otherwise sane-seeming, high-functioning woman is capable of demonizing us in irrational ways. It takes hard work and commitment to overcome this social programming, and our collective hats should be off to the mothers who manage it. As for those who don’t, we will do everyone a good turn, perhaps most especially ourselves and our step kids, if we use this knowledge to avoid provoking the mommy tiger by insisting on our “right” to be called mom and to share what she considers to be her exclusive mom privileges.

These often include parent-teacher conferences, doctor’s appointments and conversations with kids about topics like reproduction, sex and drugs. In all of these areas, ask yourself just how dreadful it really is to have to concede to her irrational-seeming wishes you just stay away or remain uninvolved.

As many therapists and stepfamily coaches ask their clients,

“Do you really want to go to every parent-teacher conference? If it provokes your husband’s ex so tremendously, might it be wise to sit back?”

Sadly,our well-intentioned impulses to be involved in his children’s lives might be read by mom, owing to her social programming, as territorial and aggressive.

Does that mean you have to skip the Winter Sing, the graduation or the gymnastics meet every time, be excluded and shut out? No way. But if there is a high conflict situation with a Mommy Tiger, it makes sense to ask yourself exactly which battles are worth having and when it might be more fun to skip the science fair and go out for a night with friends.

And then there are those rare exceptions. I know a few—and perhaps you do, too—women whose step kids call them mom and who have a highly involved, maternal relationship with the kids. Here’s the planetary alignment that might favor a kid calling you mom and thinking of you as one or another one, without blowback:

1. His or her mother is out of the picture. Not as in deceased. A child whose mother has passed away will likely need to preserve her memory and her name—mother—just for her, no matter how badly that child may want and need mothering from you. But out of touch and out of sight for almost all of the time might make it easier and less
fraught for you to take on a mom role and name. Remember, though, although she may be out of sight and out of touch, she may not be out of mind.

2. He or she is young enough and open enough to forming an attachment so the mommy thing will not inspire tremendous ambivalence or confusion.

3. His or her mother actually encourages a warm, closer relationship between you and her child—and means it.

One woman I interviewed—I’ll call her Sarah—was nine months pregnant when her husband, never reliable, left her. He came back when the baby was 3 months old and left again three months later.

Sarah knew her ex, given his yearslong pattern of abandoning her and others, would never be part of her child’s life. She also found out that
a court was very likely to support her barring contact should it come to that. So, when Sarah eventually decided to remarry, she and her partner thought long and hard about what her 2-year-old girl should call her stepfather. Given all of the factors, they settled on daddy.

However, they decided her new husband’s son Zach—whose mom was
sufficiently unreliable and irresponsible to have lost custody of him—had a mom, however imperfect. Having and being a mommy, Sarah and her husband knew, is uniquely fraught in our culture. And they suspected that letting Zach call Sarah mommy might cause problems—resentments, confusion or ambivalence—down the line. They were probably right.

And five years later, Zach and Sarah, whom he calls Sarry—a variation on mommy that is different enough from it to set everyone at ease—are doing just fine.

“In our society in particular, many women find the idea of sharing their children with  another  mother-like figure incredibly threatening to their core identity and their very sense of self. And when they have to do it, they lose it.”

© 2011 StepMom Magazine
Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., is a social researcher and the author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do (2009).
She is a regular contributor to Psychology Today
(http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stepmonster)
and blogs for the Huffington Post and on her own web site
(www.wednesdaymartin.com).
She has appeared as a stepparenting expert on NPR, the BBC Newshour, Fox News and NBC Weekend Today, and was a regular contributor to the New York Post’s parenting page.
Stepmonster was a finalist in the parenting category of the 2010 “Books for a Better Life” award.
A stepmother for a decade, Wednesday lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.
Her stepdaughters are young adults.