The intentional alienation of a child’s affections with his or her parent without cause.
The tactics used after methodical and calculated acts of child abuse which can result in severe consequences. The alienated child an targeted patterns can suffer irrepairable harm.
Even if the child and the targeted parent once had a close, loving relationship before the alienation began, in severe cases, they can lose any existence of a relationship as the direct result of the alienation.
The “alienator” is not always a parent, it can be anyone in the child’s life that has the control and opportunity to influence the child.
The alienation also oftentimes extends to the child’s friends and extended family members.
While family courts recognize that parental alienation happens, (especially in high conflict divorces with child custody disputes), allegations of domestic violence can create an atmosphere of improper justification for the tactics used in alienation.
Daniel G. Saunders, Ph.D., Kathleen C. Faller, Ph.D. and Richard M. Tolman, Ph.D. or the University of Michigan, School of Social Work, submitted a research report to the U.S. Department of Justice which analyzed parental alienation in the family court system.
In their findings, it was concluded that the Judges, private attorneys, and custody evaluators were more likely than domestic violence workers and legal aid attorneys to believe that mothers make false allegations of abuse. This position creates a difficulty for a battered spouse to protect themselves and the child from abuse as they are labeled as an alienator.
This can have catastrophic consequences when “parental alienation syndrome” is brought up by the abuser to counter an allegations of domestic violence. The. battered spouse can even lose custody to their abuser and be erased from the childs life..
In a 2002 case in Nassau County, a trial court found that in cases where parental alienation is alleged, “the court has the duty to become aware of and seek out every bit of relevant evidence and advice on the custody issues before it”, which included a forensic evaluation. (Zafran v. Zafran, 740 NYS2d 596).
This can be achieved by a forensic custody evaluation, home study, or in cases where conflicting testimony is present, the court has the authority to use is an “in camera” interview (also called a Lincoln hearing) with the child.
The judge will interview the child in the absence of the parents and their attorneys, having only the child’s attorney present. The judge has the discretion to do an “in camera”, usually making this determination by assessing several factors. These factors include the facts of the case, the age and maturity of the child and the need to protect the child from the adversarial proceeding. The judge will conduct an “in camera” if they hear conflicting testimony or if one of the attorneys make the request. A lot of judges are partial to getting children directly involved in child custody or visitation cases and will therefore only conduct an “in camera” when it is absolutely necessary.
Parental Alienation as Form of Emotional Distress Tort Claim
Divorce lawyers see quite a bit of parental alienation in its various forms.
Some cases are severe, like the Tsimhoni case from Waterford & Clarkston, while other cases are mild.
An interesting case, Fukimaki v Ichikawa, decided in the Washtenaw County Circuit Court makes the Tsimhoni case look like a pro confesso divorce proceeding.
One particularly unusual aspect of the case is that the ex-husband filed a brand new case against his ex-wife in the court of general jurisdiction more than a decade after his divorce was completed in the family court.
The basis of the new case: tort claims for “alienation of parental affection” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress”.
The trial court judge dismissed the action on the grounds Michigan does not recognize the parental alienation tort claim and that the emotional distress claim was time-barred.
Not so fast, says the Michigan Court of Appeals. While the appellate court agreed that there is no cause of action for parental alienation, it held that the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim did not accrue until the mother began preventing parenting time with the father.
The trial court selected a much earlier date to begin running the “statute of limitations” clock: the date mother was awarded sole physical and legal custody of the child.
To establish the intentional infliction of emotional distress, the appellate court held that plaintiff must demonstrate that a defendant’s conduct was, “so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”
In sum, the courts have held that to be actionable, the defendant’s conduct must be so severe and shocking that a community member is compelled to shout, “Outrageous!”
In his complaint, father sets forth the following allegations:
Mother was twice held in contempt of the family court for disallowing father’s parenting time with the child;
Mother arranged for the child’s teacher to keep the child while she served a stint in the county jail following her second contempt of court ruling;
Mother sent father letters promising that she was committed and determined to completely destroy father’s relationship with the child;
Mother denied father parenting time for 22 consecutive weeks, and
Mother conspired with the child’s school to exclude father from all school-related events.
Based on these facts, if proven by a preponderance of the evidence, would constitute “Outrageous!” acts of conduct.
The case now goes back to the Washtenaw County Circuit Court where this father gets the opportunity to establish the elements of an intentional infliction of emotion distress claim; not an easy thing to do.
Father will have to prove extreme and outrageous conduct that is intentionally designed to cause severe emotional distress.
Although rare, torts can be filed against one’s spouse or former spouse, just like any other named defendant.
Recognizing Parental Alienation
Parental Alienation can be difficult to detect, largely because it may not be intentional. Yet whether the alienating parent intends to disrupt the relationship between the targeted parent and the child, the damage is the same.
In extreme situations, the alienating parent may relocate the child without the targeted parent’s knowledge or permission. Generally, alienating parents feel they are doing the right thing.Fortunately, courts have jurisdiction over most cases; the relocating parent must obtain leave from the court to move out-of-state or more than 100-miles from the child’s established custodial environment.
It was 4 days before Christmas, 2004, when I arrived at my scheduled visit with my 8 year old son. The visitation center was getting ready to be closed until after the new year. I waited, and waited. I had driven over two hours in sleet and snow with an arm full of presents to give him for the holiday.
After about a half hour or so, the Director of Collin County CPS, Claudia King, came in to inform me that there would be no visit that day. When I asked why, she told me he “forgot” it was visitation day. I knew that could not be true.
When she proceeded to tell me it would be after the New Year before I could reschedule, I threw a fit and threatened to file emergency court papers if I did not get to see my son that week, before Christmas. She finally agreed to reschedule for the following day. Her reluctance was a red flag to me so I came the next day with a tape recorder and camera.
When my son arrived the following day, he was scantily clothed in a pair of shorts and a cut off red t shirt that had no sleeves. He wore no socks, and no jacket, and it was snowing that day. He had a pair of mittens on, pink girl mittens. His shirt had blood all over it. He had dried up blood in his nose. His eye was freshly cut, near his brow, and blood filed the whites of his eyeball.
The following are notes from that visit and the audio can be downloaded here.
I had only one more visit with him after that – a few months later.
It would be more than ten years before I was able to see him, or talk to him again. Once he was an adult. It was more than a decade after this and one other visit before I was allowed to see so much as a photograph of my son.
It was this visit that uncovered the abuse he suffered in that home. It was this visit that haunted me and became the story, “It’s Almost Tuesday”
I tell every family involved in the system that my advice, most of all, is to record as much as you can. Record everything!
If I hadn’t recorded this visit, I wouldn’t have been able to go back and listen to what he was telling me. I wouldn’t have had the proof of the abuse which my lawyer had to leverage good release from foster care.
Unfortunately my was released into the custody of our abuser and the parental alienation and brainwashing was set in motion. Our sacred mother/child bond was severed and our lives destroyed. my relationship with my son – as it stands today- (almost 2 decades later) is, I am almost certain, beyond repair. Barring a miracle.
Regardless, my child in these audio recordings was taken from me and forever gone. Nothing can give back that time. No amount of money, apologies, sanctions, not God, not Satan, not a judge, social worker- not a single person or thing can give back my little boy.
The best I got back was an adult version of my son, who is as broken as I am. Or more broken as I am. I don’t know hope broken he really is, and I may never know.
That haunts me every single day of my existence.
As for me, I was murdered in cold blood, just because I haven’t taken my final breath yet does not mean I was not murdered.
He was 8 years old in the following three audio recordings.
Below are notes from the transcript of these audio recordings.
The time stamps are the markers for each note.
Thank you for your support over the years.
4:25 my child tells me that he was not there the day before this visit. he was told that i never showed up the day before which was not true. I was there the day before to visit him and had been lied to by the director, Claudia King when she told me the day before that my son “forgot” that he had a visit.
5:30 my son describes the 3 of the other foster kids ganging up on him and the incident that occurred when they threw rocks at him in front of the foster mother
6:20 my son says “i’ve learned how to control my anger” he says – who has told him he needs to learn how to control his anger? That means to me that he’s getting angry and someone’s saying “You need to learn to control your anger!”
7:10 He asks “what sister?” . henn i ask about his visit and he tells me he sprained his ankle playing dodge ball at PE – Was he taken to the doctor?
7:56 I’m really ja…. piped up right now” he says … sounded like he was gonna say “jacked up” but he said “piped up” where did he learn those words?
8:39 – describes how they gave him pills he’s not supposed to take because they “forgot” and how it triggers his muscles and he can’t control his hands, and how it keeps him “going and going and going” and how its a “good thing” – is he being told in there that making my son a drug addict is a good thing?
14:28 I tell him to wear more clothes than sleeveless top and wet pants in the snow – he says that’s all the clothes he has, the rest are in the wash.
15:10 he shows me the camera he bought with a $50 gift card from a party (a party??)
The caseworker takes photos with the camera – I would like to have a copy of all pictures taken with that camera.
16:50 talks about being afraid to plug things in since being at his cousins… and cuts off into totally separate topics, obvious effect from the drugs of “speeding”
22:20 Argues with me about playing with fake guns and talks about the target his foster father set up and how his foster brother can shoot it “in the heart” over and over again. He says “everybody plays with fake guns”
24:30 mentions how foster parents don’t have much money. He said he got his foster sister to take pictures of his eye when he got beat up … who is the foster sister? where are the pictures?
he says the foster mother doesn’t look at the pictures they take.
25:15 He says he’s got a cold (did he go to the doctor?)
25:52 he says “I just want to hug you” and says “I only have a few more months until I’m out of foster care” he tells me that he won’t have to stay more than a year to a year and 1/2. Who is telling him this?? He says he worries that it’ll be too long before he gets out that they’re tearing apart his life.
26.55 his Daddy (stepfather) calls, and they won’t allow him to say Merry Christmas, even supervised. Ryan gets upset and starts crying. I tell Ryan his daddy misses him and he says “I miss him too”.
28:08 hear people crying in the background.
28:27 I tell him to be strong and tell him that alot of people love him.
28:29 Everything time I go home from a visit i just scream at my foster mom Cuz each time she walks in, it’s not you.
20:55 You okay? What are you thinking I’ll give you a penny for your thought?
He said I don’t know what I’m thinking – – well, i’ve been having visions. he talks about “visions”he’s been having, like the kind of visions Jesus Christ has.
Parental alienation syndrome(PAS) is a term introduced by child psychiatrist Richard Gardner in 1985 to describe a distinctive suite of behaviors in children that includes showing extreme but unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent.
Parental alienation is the intentional targeting of a parent by the other parent, but it also can be done by another non-parent adult in the child’s life.
In its severe form it is referred to as”obsessed alienation”.
Parental Alienation Syndrome has been described as the brainwashing of the child’s mind much like a cult leader would brainwash the cult members.
It is an intentional act with the goal being the interference with the relationship and affections between a child and the targeted parent. The longer the alienation is allowed to continue the more damaging the long term effects will be.
If the alienation is allowed to continue uninterrupted for too long, the relationship can become so damaged it is irreparable. Without strict intervention the parent/child bond will be unfixable. The bond will be forever severed.
In my case, the alienation began when my son turned 8 in 2004.
I became the targeted parent in an unnatural campaign of hate by my own mother. She was bitterly angry at me for reasons that had nothing to do with my son, so she teamed up with my ex-husband (despite knowledge that he was under investigation for multiple sex crimes against children). The two of them ABDUCTED my son from church on mother’s day.
When court ordered by the judge to return my son to me, they voluntarily placed my son in foster care to keep him from coming home. He was abused in foster care.
As a defense, my mother and ex made false allegations of horrific acts of child abuse against me. The claims of abuse were brutal. Those allegations of abuse against me were never substantiated.
Had they been true, I would have been a monster to ever do anything to my child. I didn’t even believe in spanking my children.If anything, I was overprotective.
In retrospect, my (fatal) mistake was a belief that if i was truly innocent (which I was), then the system would not wrongly convict me.
I believed that without concrete proof of abuse, they would not take away my parental rights. I was a good, loving, attentive parent.
In other words, I believed in the system.
I believed in the United States Constitution and the rights of families to raise our children free of government interference.
I believed the government protected those rights.
I believed in the law.
I believed that cases were judged by their merit and on the weight of the evidence presented.
I had been foolishly NAIVE.
I learned the hard way that merit had nothing to do with it.
Until I saw for myself, first hand, I would have never known how crooked and corrupt the system can be. I had no idea how flawed the sudden really is. By the time I figured all that out, it was too late.
Nevertheless the entire process of losing my son, and the campaign of alienation was so strong (see obsessed alienation) it extended into my entire family.
My family, two brothers who are attorneys, another brother and a sister and all of their spouses, ALL failed to intervene or attempt to stop the tactics my mother and ex employed.
All of the members of my family knew the allegations against me were false and that my ex was under investigation for sex crimes.
It was over ten years before I saw or talked to my son again. I still have no contact whatever with any of my family. They are all in my son’s life though and I am not.
By the time I saw my son again- it was at my father’s wake. My father passed away in May of 2010- 5 years later – my son was not my little boy anymore but the shell of a damaged young man.
He has been on a self destructive path ever since.
What Is An Ambiguous Loss?
The grief associated with the loss of a child to P.A.S. is an experience so painful and deep. The loss is called ambiguous or unresolved.
This type of loss is often described as an “ambiguous loss,” which is a term used to describe the nature of trauma, grief or mourning people endure when they have experienced a loss that is open-ended. (Boss, 1990).
Targeted Parents encountering alienation from their children are experiencing an open-ended loss. This type of loss is often times more difficult to come to terms with than the grief of morning a death.
When someone we love passes, the absence of the person is final and the mourner recognizes this finality.
In dealing with my grief, I have said many times that if my son had died, I could have layed him to rest, and grieved. I could have moved on, with a place to visit him, at his grave.
Of course I have heard the argument that as long as he is still alive, he is somewhere out there in the world. There is hope of a future in that. But is there?
At first, i believed that one day it would happen.
I visualized it.
We would embrace.
We would talk through the night, tell each other our stories and life experiences while we had been apart.
We would compare notes and both understand what happened to us.
We would hug and cry and get to know each other again. Then, one day, it happened.
I did reunite with my son. It was, to me, glorious, but not at all as I imagined.
He refused to talk about what happened, so I never have been able to tell him my side of things.
Instead he spoke of tall tales. Experiences that he has had that I can’t imagine could have been real.
He didn’t engage me, but talked over me and through me. He told me things almost to see if he could shock me.
He was a stranger.
It was only after that first reunification, that I saw how the years of brainwashing he endured (and STILL endures) have damaged him. Our bond that was once so close, was gone.
In fact, the harm done was so incredibly deep that I am struggling to accept that my years of hope had been nothing more than an illusion.
Is this really what my mother wanted to do to us? Did my family really think we deserve this pain?
Finding my son again only led to me losing him again.
It has been almost 17 years since our loss and I am grieving today, as deep, if not deeper than the day he went to church and never came home.
I lost him.
To learn more about ambiguous loss and ambiguous reunification, click here.
The following two pictures are of me before I lost my son, and during the initial months after he had been taken. In the moment of the most stressful times. (Warning, that picture is graphic, but an honest representation of the whole body response to stress and grief).
I was so affected by the loss of my son, my friends described me as “disconnected” when they talked to me. I spent the first few months writing over 1500 letters to anyone I could think of desperately begging for help. I would not allow myself even a moment to rest. I felt like I didn’t deserve to rest while my son was locked away in foster care.
The stress from the grief quickly landed me in a hospital having emergency surgery. The doctors had to drain an antibiotic-resistant infection from my eye socket and nasal cavities. The doctors said if it had reached my brain, it would have killed me. They said I was hours away from deaths door by the time I got to the emergency room.
It took almost a year before the scars on my face faded and I could bear to look in the mirror again.
I never was the same again. You can see it in the after picture below, I was dead inside.
I became someone new.
I became a mother, murdered. I became “she”.
Broken heart syndrome
The heartbreak of grief can increase blood pressure and the risk of blood clots. Intense grief can alter the heart muscle so much that it causes “broken heart syndrome,” a form of heart disease with the same symptoms as a heart attack.
Stress: What is it, exactly?
Stress links the emotional and physical aspects of grief.
The systems in the body that process physical and emotional stress overlap, and emotional stress can activate the nervous system as easily as physical threats can.
When stress becomes chronic, increased adrenaline and blood pressure can contribute to chronic medical conditions.
Research shows that emotional pain activates the same regions of the brain as physical pain. This may be why painkilling drugs ranging from opioids to Tylenol have been shown to ease emotional pain.
Depression is a mood disorder, not a normal part of grief
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinicaldepression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.
Depression is not a normal part of grief, but a complication of grief.
Sidney Zisook, MD, a grief researcher and professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, says people can distinguish normal grief from depression by looking for specific emotional patterns.
“In normal grief, the sad thoughts and feelings typically occur in waves or bursts followed by periods of respite, as opposed to the more persistent low mood and agony of major depressive disorder,” Zisook says.
He says people usually retain “self-esteem, a sense of humor, and the capacity to be consoled or distracted from the pain” in normal grief, while people who are depressed struggle with feelings of guilt and feeling worthless.
They also feel a limited ability “to experience or anticipate any pleasure or joy.”
Complicated griefdiffers from both depression and normal grief. M. Katherine Shear, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and director of its Center for Complicated Grief, defines complicated grief as “a form of persistent, pervasive grief” that does not get better naturally.
It happens when “some of the natural thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that occur during acute grief gain a foothold and interfere with the ability to accept the reality of the loss.”
What are the Symptoms of Complicated Grief?
Symptoms of complicated grief include persistent efforts to ignore the grief and deny or “rewrite” what happened.
Margaret Stroebe, PhD, a bereavement researcher and professor of clinical psychology at Utrecht University, says that recent research has shed light on many of “the cognitive and emotional processes underlying complications in grieving, particularly rumination.”
Research shows that rumination, or a repetitive, negative, self-focused thought, is actually a way to avoid problems.
People who ruminate shift attention away from painful truths by focusing on negative material that is less threatening than the truths they want to avoid.
This pattern of thinking is strongly associated with depression.
Rumination and other forms of avoidance demand energy and block the natural abilities of the body and mind to integrate new realities and heal.
Enduring the experience of parental alienation is also a profound psychological trauma experienced by the targeted parents. It is both acute and chronic, and externally inflicted. It is thus a type of domestic violence directed at the target parent. The fact that children witness such abuse of a parent also makes alienation a form of child abuse. The events that plunge a parent into the role of an alienated, targeted parent is especially damaging to those who are closely attached to their children and were actively involved in their lives.
Research by Stroebe, and others show that avoidance behavior makes depression, complicated grief, and the physical health problems that go with them more likely. Efforts to avoid the reality of loss can cause fatigue, weaken your immune system, increase inflammation, and prolong other ailments.
A Vicious Cycle of Passing on Childhood Traumas
Parental alienation is also a form of complex trauma. It is no coincidence that the pathology of the parent who engages in alienation is often born in complex trauma from the childhood of that parent, and that the current processes of attachment-based parental alienation are transferring onto the targeted parent a form of complex trauma. From a psychodynamic perspective, the processes of parental alienation represent a reenactment of the childhood attachment trauma of the alienating parent into the current family relationships.
When my mother was, herself, a child, she endured the loss of both parents. As an infant, her father passed away from a plane crash which decapitated him at the young age of 30.
My grandfather was the pilot of the plane that went down, killing him and leaving three young children without a father. The time period was the early 1930’s. It was a difficult time with WWI ending and with third Reich and Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Regime rising power in Germany.
The youngest of three children, my mother didn’t remember losing her father, but was only told about his death by her paternal grandmother. She had taken the three children following her son’s death, and kept them hidden away from their widowed mother who eventually died of cancer at age 39. In effect, my mother never knew either one of her parents, and developed psychiatric malformaties from the attachment traumas resulting from the loss of both parents in her own childhood.
Understanding that, I can understand where her own twisted justifications came from for taking my child. My mother is an extremely damaged woman as the direct result of being orphaned as a child. Still, knowing doesn’t make it less painful, heal it or make it any easier to come to terms with.
In fact, it’s the opposite. It is exactly her sad history of own traumatic childhood experiences that make it obvious to anyone looking in who knows her (such as my three older brothers and my older adopted sister) . They all know that what she’s done to me is wrong and she should have been forced to get help for her own issues rather than to be allowed to transfer them onto me via alienating my son from me. They know her family history. There is no excuse that any of them did nothing to stop her.
in my opinion, they are even more guilty of the P.A.S. abuse, as she is obviously sick and so sick, as a matter of fact, that she doesn’t even see it. A true indication it’s mental illness. My siblings, though, can all see it. They all know all too well how broken and mentally disturbed she is.
My father took care of her until his death, even though they were divorced, because, as he’d say, “I take care of her because I can remember her before she was so crazy”.
If any of them had stopped her, I might still have a relationship with my son. If any one of them had stopped her my son might have been able to grow up without being abused and traumatized by her.
I have heard from people who knew our family say that ‘if it weren’t for your mother, you might have actually had a good life.” and “She ruined your life, and you had such potential.” and “How sad it is what she did to you and your children”
I can’t count the times I’ve heard people say things like that.
People THAT KNEW HER.
Truth is, she murdered me with the full assistance of my brothers and sister.
Particularly me oldest brother, who actively funded and facilitated her murdering me. I may still be breathing but what she did, with my brother’s help, absolutely killed me.
If I could, I wouldd have them charged with the crime of murder.
They must strive to achieve the triumph of light over the darkness of trauma, and find their way out of the trauma experience being inflicted upon them. They must free themselves from the imposed trauma experience, restoring their psychological health within the immense emotional trauma of their grief and loss.
As much as targeted parents desperately want to save their children, they cannot rescue their children from the quicksand by jumping into the quicksand with them. If they do,they will both perish.
Who Am I now?
When i first lost my son, I was obsessively dedicated to fighting the system that allowed for him to be taken.
I spent thousands of dollars and worked tirelessly to file pleadings, write letters, join causes and support groups. You name it, I tried it.
In my obsession, I would say, “my son, [his name], repeatedly emphasising that he was MY SON, MY son. MY SON.
After some time, when the realizations began that said he wouldn’t be coming home .. he became my son (less his name), to my boy, the boy, the child.
I began to de-sensitive myself from being a mother of a child would never be coming home.
When [you lose] someone close to you – or someone close to you dies, your social role changes, too. This can affect your sense of meaning and sense of self.
Caregivers face especially complicated role adjustments. The physical and emotional demands of caregiving can leave them feeling depleted even before a loved one dies, and losing the person they took care of can leave them with a lost sense of purpose.
“Research shows that during intense caregiving periods, caregivers not only experience high levels of stress, they also cannot find the time and energy to look after their own health,” says Kathrin Boerner, PhD, a bereavement researcher and professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
This can result in the emergence of new or the reemergence of existing ‘dormant’ health problems after the death of the care recipient. These health issues may or may not be directly related to the caregiver’s grief experience, but they are likely related to the life situation that was created through the demands of caregiving,” Boerner says.
It can be hard to make life work again after a close family member dies. Losing a partner can mean having to move out of a shared home or having to reach out to other loved ones for help, which can further increase emotional stress and worry.
“Most often, normal grief does not require professional intervention,” says Zisook.
“Grief is a natural, instinctive response to loss, adaptation occurs naturally, and healing is the natural outcome,” especially with “time and the support of loved ones and friends.”
Grief researchers emphasize that social support, self-acceptance, and good self-care usually help people get through normal grief. Shear encourages people to “plan small rewarding activities and try to enjoy them as much as possible.”
But the researchers say people need professional help to heal from complicated grief and depression.
“The thing about grief and depression and sorrow and being suicidal is that you can’t reach out.
For many people going through a hard time, reaching out is impossible. If your friend is in grief, reach out to them. Do the legwork. They’re too exhausted!”
Credit…Sylwia Kapuscinski for The New York Times By Michael Winerip Sept. 23, 2007
THIS is a nice moment in Joe Rabiega’s life. At 31, he has a good job as a research coordinator for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is happily married and feels blessed that his wife of five years, Tiffany, is pregnant with their first child.
His hope is to give that child a happier upbringing than the one he had. Mr. Rabiega’s parents divorced when he was 8, and though they were supposed to share custody, he said, his father, a truck driver with a drinking problem, did everything possible to turn him against his mother and eventually kept him from seeing her.
“He bullied my mother into giving up custody,” Mr. Rabiega said. When he was still allowed to visit his mother, he’d have to stay by the phone to take a call from his father at 4 every afternoon and 8 each evening. He said his father trained him to spy on his mother’s socializing and spending habits.
“His ability to manipulate her was so lopsided, it never got to the point where a court heard it,” he said in a phone interview. “His threats of violence made it clear she’d never get me.”
Continue reading the main story For several years, he said, until his late teens, he didn’t see his mother and believed everything his father said about her.
“He took me to the police station and told them my mother abandoned me, even though it was completely not true,”
Mr. Rabiega said. “He had the entire neighborhood convinced that my mother no longer wanted me.
“He had me convinced without him, I had nobody,” Mr. Rabiega said. “When he’d been drinking, he’d get out his gun and threaten to kill himself if I left him.”
Thanks for reading The Times. Subscribe to The Times It wasn’t until Mr. Rabiega was an adult that he began to see his mother in a different light, he said. “She was a seamstress in a garment factory who didn’t graduate from high school. She was weak, no one to guide her, no money, no education, no resources to fight for me.” At one point, he said, she attempted suicide.
Mr. Rabiega is one of 40 research subjects in a new book by Amy J. L. Baker, about parents who turn a child against the other parent, “Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome.” Dr. Baker, the research director of the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection at the New York Foundling, does not identify the subjects by their real names, but Mr. Rabiega (called Jonah in the book) agreed to let his name be used for this column. “If this can help people, it’s worth it,” he said. “I really compare what I went through to people who are kidnapped and brainwashed.”
Continue reading the main story Most people would agree that one parent has the power to turn a child against the other parent; however, classifying the behavior as a mental health syndrome, as Dr. Baker does, has met with considerable criticism in the past.
“It’s been a very controversial area,” said Dr. Baker, 48, who lives in Teaneck, N.J., and has a doctorate in psychology from Teachers College at Columbia.
Dr. Baker’s book is written in an academic style and sticks closely to the stories of the 40 adult subjects, ages 19 to 67, who describe being wrongfully manipulated by a parent.
It is an attempt to take the sensationalism out of the subject. Accusations of such manipulation have been an issue during high-profile celebrity custody battles, like the ones involving Woody Allen and Mia Farrow and Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger.
There is none of that in Dr. Baker’s book, which includes a seven-page bibliography of scholarly research. Instead, she tells the stories of ordinary people like Mr. Rabiega, struggling into their adult years with the damage they describe from having been manipulated into hating a parent.
While most research has focused on children, Dr. Baker looks at these children once they’ve become adults. A key question she set out to answer: Do any of these kids grow up and figure it out? “That I can answer yes,” she said. “I can’t say how prevalent it is, but I have found lots of people.”
Some of what she found undercut earlier research. When therapists first described the behavior in the 1980s, they talked about it as manipulation by mothers to punish fathers. This drew criticism from some women’s groups, who dismissed the syndrome as something concocted by lawyers for abusive fathers trying to improve their custody chances.
Continue reading the main story Dr. Baker said her research — both for the book and with several hundred subjects over the last five years — indicates a mother or father is equally likely to do the manipulating. It is “truly 50-50,” she said.
Other patterns emerged from her 40 subjects: 75 percent were the products of divorce, and 58 percent were divorced themselves;
70 percent suffered depression; 35 percent developed problems with drugs or alcohol.
And perhaps the saddest: Half of the 28 who had children said they were estranged from their own children.
Dr. Baker believes the behavior is prevalent enough to qualify as a syndrome in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of the American Psychiatric Association. While that’s not going to happen soon — the manual won’t be revised again until 2012 — she hopes her research might cause social workers and therapists who investigate custody cases to be more aware.
“If you believe it’s possible for a child to be brainwashed by one parent, the job of a custody evaluator is a lot harder,” she said.
The challenges in such cases can be daunting. How do you know if the scorned parent is being unfairly victimized or if that parent is abusive and deserves to be scorned? “It’s a lot of investigating, and there’s no one definitive tool,” Dr. Baker said.
Some of that investigative muscle is missing from her own research. Dr. Baker did not interview parents for their version of events, nor did she cite independent sources like court records that could corroborate the stories.
“I did what I could,” she said. “This is just one study. It’s a very new field and there’s little research. The point is to give voice to these people who have not been heard.”
It is also hard to get people to talk publicly about family dysfunction. Mr. Rabiega was willing to speak partly because both his parents are dead.
He said that when he was in his 20s, he again developed a relationship with his mother, but that his father’s “brainwashing” had been so strong, he couldn’t entirely overcome it.
“It was hard for me to fully love my mom,” he said. “If she needed me to do something or needed money, I didn’t want to and I’d get angry. My father implanted a disgust and disdain in me for my mother that wouldn’t go away and tainted our relationship.”
Ten years of therapy helped, he said, as did his wife and finding religion. “It helped when I reconnected with my mom, she held nothing against me,” he said. “She reiterated it was my father’s fault, and I had no choice.”
“Unfortunately,” he said, “I realized a lot after my mother died.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
By Richard A Warshack, Psychologist and expert on P.A.S. @richardwarshack
This post is in honor of Parental Alienation Awareness Day—April 25.
A boy wrote a letter to his mother telling her that she belonged in a mental institution, that she was nothing to him, that she was nothing but a screw-up, that she was sick, selfish, that he wanted to have nothing to do with her or any of her relatives, and that he hoped she died a horrible, painful death. In other words, this boy disowned his mother with the most aggressive, vile, and hateful language.
The father’s attorney attempted to minimize the child’s alienation by claiming that the boy merely loved his dad a lot more than he loved his mom.
Attorneys spin the facts to zealously advocate for their clients’ positions. We expect it.
But what excuse do others have for denying the reality that a child can become irrationally alienated from a good and formerly loved parent? And for denying the reality that the child’s unjustified rejection of one parent can be traced to the other parent’s relentless manipulations to drive a wedge between child and parent?
How could anyone who works in the family law system deny the reality — affirmed nearly unanimously by legal and mental health professionals — that children can be influenced by one parent to turn against the other parent?
Encouraging a child to align with one parent against the other, and teaching a child to hate a parent for no good reason, is cruel. If a teacher did this to a student, bad-mouthed a child’s parents and systematically undermined the child’s love and respect for her parents, that teacher would be out of a job.
“Stealing the soul,” is how I described this process in DIVORCE POISON—enlisting children as agents in their own deprivation and violating children’s trust.
Leading authorities on divorce agree. Dr. Joan Kelly and Dr. Janet Johnston held no punches: “Whether such parents are aware of the negative impact on the child, these behaviors of the aligned parent (and his or her supporters) constitute emotional abuse of the child.”
Society has a checkered track record in recognizing and protecting children from abuse. Denial and minimization intermittently subdue awareness and acknowledgment. It has been this way with physical abuse, with sexual abuse, and with psychological abuse. So we should not be surprised that a subculture of parents and professionals denies that children can be manipulated to reject a parent for no good reason—or that they go so far as to claim that most children will turn against the parent who is abusing them in these ways.
How do deniers rationalize their apparent blindness?
Here are five strategies.
1. Deflect attention from the reality of divorce poison and its destructive impact with debates about whether parental alienation constitutes a bona fide syndrome. The claim is that because the official manual of psychiatric diagnoses (DSM-5) does not include the term “parental alienation,” the problem must be bogus. You also will not find “reckless driving syndrome” in the DSM-5. But you would be wise to avoid getting in a car with a driver who has this problem. Children need protection from reckless, toxic parenting, regardless of how we label the parent’s behavior. Moreover, the DSM-5 does refer to the concept of irrational parental alienation. The diagnostic manual mentions “unwarranted feelings of estrangement” as an example of the diagnosis: Parent–Child Relational Problem.
To the parent who loses her child, or the child who loses a parent, it matters little whether we label the loss a syndrome, a disorder, a condition, or a problem. What matters is whether a child is suffering and whether a parent’s behavior contributes to a child’s suffering.
2. Claim that it is only a speculation, hypothesis, or theory that children can become alienated from one parent when exposed to the other parent’s negative influence. As I explained in my article, “Bringing Sense to Parental Alienation,” there is nothing theoretical or speculative about the existence of irrationally alienated children. These children can be directly observed by anyone willing to look.
3. Attribute unsupportable, fake positions to parental alienation studies, and then refute the fake positions—a tactic known as “attacking a straw man.” For instance, a recently published study claimed that “the alienation hypothesis” (see denial strategy #2 above) maintains that parental denigration is only unilateral, not reciprocal, and that all children exposed to parental denigration become alienated from the target of denigration. When the study found that a group of volunteer college students reported that both parents denigrated each other, and the children did not reject either parent, the authors of the study concluded that “the alienation hypothesis” was not supported and that parental denigration does not cause children to reject the parent who is denigrated.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that no scholar has claimed that parental denigration necessarily leads to a child rejecting the denigrated parent. Of course many children whose parents badmouth each other maintain relationships with both parents. Rejecting a parent is an extreme consequence, not a common one. Furthermore, anyone who has worked with irrationally alienated children knows that these children are reluctant to admit that their favored parent maligned their other parent— in fact, these children are reluctant to admit anything negative about the parent whom they favor.
Researchers who genuinely want to learn about the forces that lead children to irrationally reject a parent will begin by studying alienated children. Studying children who are not alienated merely makes the obvious point that their parents occasionally bad-mouth each other without alienating the children from either parent. This is the sort of “scholarship” that gives social science a bad odor because the study advocates for and confirms a bias against the existence of parental alienation.
4. Ignore studies that fail to support one’s pet theories. For example, while promoting skepticism about the notion that children can be manipulated by a parent to hate the other parent, the authors of the study mentioned above failed to cite the largest study, published by the American Bar Association, that explicitly attributed children’s problems to being brainwashed by one parent against the other. They also failed to cite the volume of scientific evidence about various mechanisms by which children’s attitudes can be influenced and by which negative stereotypes about a parent can be promulgated.
Children’s feelings and behavior toward each parent are influenced by the way their parents treat each other. Does any reasonable person seriously believe otherwise—that children are immune from a parent’s influence? If so, tell that to all the child psychologists and authors who study and write about how to raise smarter, healthier, happier, and better behaved children.
Ironically, one of the authors of the straw-man study, in a previous article, railed against scholars who selectively cite research that confirms their biases, a tactic he called “cherry picking” or “stacking the deck.” Pot, meet kettle.
5. Promulgate, or accept without investigation or critical scrutiny, dramatic and exaggerated claims that the evaluator, therapist, child representative, and judge in a case mistook a child’s justified rejection of a parent for unjustified alienation, or that children removed from toxic alienating environments have been abused by the family court system. Such claims are repeated without considering all the evidence weighed by the court in reaching its decision.
We have a lot to learn about the roots of parental alienation and about why some children become ensnared in a campaign of hatred toward a parent while others resist. And why some children draw closer to the target of bad-mouthing and reject the parent who dispenses divorce poison, a phenomenon called “blowback” in the video, WELCOME BACK, PLUTO: UNDERSTANDING, PREVENTING, AND OVERCOMING PARENTAL ALIENATION.
But the existence of parents who effectively teach their children to hate the other parent, and of children who absorb this lesson, is beyond dispute.
Exactly two weeks before Parental Alienation Awareness Day in 2017, British High Court Justice Russell delivered her judgment in a Liverpool family court case. She wrote, “By manipulating her children, [the mother] has achieved what she has always wanted and stopped contact with their father. She has done so either because she cannot help herself or because she had quite deliberately set out to expunge their father from their lives. These children have suffered significant emotional harm as a result of their mother’s manipulative actions.”
Do the deniers and skeptics think Justice Russell was deluded?
As journalist Kathleen Parker observed, “Anybody old enough to drink coffee knows that embittered divorcees can and do manipulate their children. Not just women, but men, too.”
We may not want to face the fact that some parents prey on the children in their charge—physically, sexually, or emotionally. Often these parents carefully groom children to engage in harmful acts that victimize children. Whether children are victims of sexual abuse or psychological abuse, we must not turn a blind eye to them.
The fact that some children are able to resist does not obscure the reality that such abuse exists. Professionals who feed denial and skepticism play into the hands of those who want us to look away.
Because deniers and skeptics contribute to a backlash against protecting psychologically abused children from efforts to alienate them from a parent, 13 years after it was introduced we still need Parental Alienation Awareness Day to shine a light on the plight of children and parents caught in this maelstrom, and to remind us that much work remains to be done.
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.
One 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.”
I am going to focus my attention for a while on Parental Alienation Syndrome. I encourage comments and ideas from the readers.
(From Wikipedia):Parental alienation syndrome was a term coined by child psychiatrist Richard A. Gardner. He defines Parental Alienation Syndrome as “a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against the parent, a campaign that has no justification. The disorder results from the combination of indoctrinations by the alienating parent and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the alienated parent.”(ref:Gardner, RA (2001). “Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS): Sixteen Years Later”. Academy Forum45 (1): 10–12. Retrieved 2009-03-31.)
Parental Alienation is child abuse and a hate crime of the worst kind – with the consequences primarily going to the child that the alienating parent is trying to estrange from the targeted parent.
I can tell you, as the ‘target parent’ – the pain is deep. There is no words to describe it. There is such extensive damage done, to both the child and parent, that to heal seems impossible. Where do we start? How do we start to heal when the alienating parent (or grandparent in my case) still has control of the child, still alienates the child, and does not want anything to change? Now, my child isn’t even a child anymore – he is an adult. So he is no longer part of any custody agreements or court rulings. There is no custody modification possible. There is no reversal of court orders possible.
It is over. Or is it?
I waited ten years after I realized no matter what I did, how hard I fought, or what happened, I would not win custody of my son back. I had to give up eventually or it was going to kill me. I eventually had to accept that it would be his adulthood that I would have to wait for. So I did just that – I waited.
I imagined for years how it would go – his 18th birthday. I imagined what it would be like to have his birthday party take place, with his custodial family present and I show up – to their dismay- and how my son would run to me, because he could.
I imagined how after that day we would be best friends. How he would call me for advice or to share good news with me. I imagined how he would come to stay with me, and we would talk all night about the good times, and cry together over the bad.
I imagined so many things we could do together. I never imagined there would be silence on his end. I never imagined I would call on his 18th birthday and he wouldn’t answer. I never imagined emails would go ignored, chats would not be initiated. I never imagined he was so alienated from me that even though he’s old enough now to decide for himself, she still controls him.
I never imagined that my son might hate me – or that I would wonder if he really does hate me. My gut tells me he doesn’t, but I have not heard from him, so maybe I am wrong.
I never imagined this pain might last forever.
What do I do now? How do I reach him? Do I wait for him? Do I find a seminar to attend? Do I drag my entire extended family to some weekend camp retreat where we make clay sculptures and have group sessions about our dysfunctional family and how its come so far between me and my son that he’s out of control. I cannot believe or understand how my brothers, my child’s uncles, have allowed this alienation to take place, and now that the deleterious effects are shining through they are ‘washing their hands of it’ – frustrated at the results of their inaction. WELL WHAT DID YOU THINK WOULD HAPPEN?
I have to fight the demon that tells me i want to commit suicide when I think about the idea that my son may hate me for real and we may never heal. I have to fight the demon that gives me so much rage that I cannot take out against anyone but myself. I have to fight to forget everything I don’t want to remember, but then I am afraid to forget too much. I don’t know anymore, I just want to know my son again. I want him to be okay.
How do we fix the damage that’s been done?
I am going to include articles about PAS that I found from around the web here, and ask that anyone out there who has something to say, please do. I need to know how to fix this. It hurts.
PAAO is dedicated to educating the general public, schools, police, counselors, and religious leaders on the subjects of Hostile Aggressive Parenting and Parental Alienation Syndrome. To achieve its goal, PAAO uses not only seminars and conferences to disseminate information, but also actively collects information. The PAAO website is clean, well organized, and highly informative.
Breakthrough Parenting is a California-based organization that offers both classes and counseling on child custody, co-parenting, parenting plans, and parental alienation. The Breakthrough Parenting website offers several interesting books for sale. The executive director of Breakthrough Parenting, Jayne Major, PhD, has also put up an informative article entitled “Parents who have Successfully Fought Parental Alienation” that can be downloaded for free in PDF format.
This no-frills but highly popular website describes itself this way: “PsyCare hopes to address issues that are not always popular or politically correct. Instead, we want to stimulate debate and research on important issues affecting today’s families[,] to learn from other’s experiences and try to influence social policies based on empirical research and objective findings.” Highly informative and contains links to many other high-quality PAS websites.
Florida psychologist Dr. J. Michael Bone has put up a solid website that deals with both parental alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome. Dr. Boone has provided a number links to some highly informative sources.
“Help Stop PAS is a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering healthy, rational, supportive and sustainable relationships between parents and their children during and after divorce. Our mission is to educate parents, extended family, law practitioners, clergy, medical and mental health professionals to recognize the signs and symptoms of parent alienation in order to intervene, in the appropriate discipline, and to reduce the occurrence of parent alienation. We also seek to obtain funding to promote and perform research projects aimed at providing new information about the appropriate professional definitions of, and the legal and mental health effects of parent alienation.” Another very solid website.
Far from painful, Dr. Glenn Cartwright’s site is a great no-nonsense PA and PAS information source.
Victims of Jeffery Epstein:
From Jordan Merson, Jeffrey Epsteins’ victims lawyer:
There is nothing more heinous or outrageously offensive than when those who have money and power in our society use it to viciously sexually abuse and dehumanize those who are powerless, young, naive and easily influenced.
Jeffrey Epstein’s actions as set forth in the new criminal allegations against him are inexcusable and deplorable, for it is claimed that the billionaire financier used his money, power and influence to sexually abuse, sexually assault young girls.
If Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused you when you were under 18 years old, you may have a civil claim and be entitled to monetary compensation.
This is separate from the government’s criminal prosecution.
New York has changed its statute of limitations so your claims, no matter when they occurred, will be revived on August 14, 2019 for a limited window.
If you have any questions, please call child sex abuse lawyer Jordan Merson of Merson Law, representing the victims of Jeffrey Epstein, one of the nations prominent sex abuse and child sex assault victims attorneys. (212) 603-9100