Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Demonizing Daddy and the Alienation Invasion

Today I'm going to write about something much more personal. It's a lightning rod, so put on your big girl panties and brace yourself.

Before I begin:

Disclaimer:  I know that one answer is not always the best, just as I know that not all scenarios are the same. I understand that the issue of which I am about to discuss is multi-faceted and contains many shades of gray. I also understand that a vast number of people have their own story- or side of a story. This is not your story. It's mine. So please do me a favor and don't play devil's advocate. Just . . . listen.

As a long time feminist I have spent a great deal of time and energy snarling at dead-beat dads and demonizing men of divorce-torn families with children as casualties of war in the fight to "win". Yet, simply by existing and living through experience, I have had my eyes opened to my flaws and have learned that not all stories are one-sided, one side can never be always right, and that women can be just as evil as men . . . just as men can be just as innocent as women. Because the truth is, we are all human; flawed, struggling, adapting, and feeling human beings. Gender does not guarantee an ethical standard and stereotypes are dangerous.

That being said, I'm ready to get my gripe on.

I believe I have only mentioned in one previous (and brief) post that I am a stepmother (I am a biological mother as well . . . but that is a different story). My husband dearly loves his children and works hard to make sure they're provided for. We moved to the city in which we now live in order to be closer to his children (we are located within twenty minutes of their home). Yet despite the close proximity we seem to see them less and less every month. Now, three years later, they hardly want to see us at all. They have more important things to do than spend time with daddy.

We have gotten reports from the children that mommy says bad things about daddy, or that when the children say bad things about daddy mommy agrees with them and eggs them on.

We have offered to take care of the children during the summer months while mommy works (during daddy's time off) but they'd rather stay home alone than spend any time with us.

And here's another stinky factor: they think we're boring. Daddy doesn't have a lot of money because he spends a lot of his earnings on child support payments. Not that we're griping. My husband is working 60 hour weeks to make sure his children are provided for and does so gladly . . . But because we can't play SuperDad and take them out shopping, to restaurants, and other entertainment . . . we're boring. We've tried taking them fishing, to free events, making up family entertainment, etc . . . but it's just not the same as it is at Mommy's.

It seems a shame to penalize Daddy for being boring because he's broke when so much of his income goes toward taking care of them. Of course, being children they don't understand that. They just can't make the connection. And trying to explain it to them will only further traumatize minds that are already struggling to come to grips with the reality that Mommy and Daddy are divorced and now who is this crazy lady Daddy married?

So here is the current conundrum: Daddy gets one solid week of summer visitation (as per the Parenting Plan- the Divorced Parent's Bible). The children were busy with camps and other activities from June through July. My husband was promised a wide open August to schedule as he pleased. So we waited. The only thing we pointed out to the biological mother was that our anniversary falls in the middle of August so we wouldn't be available on that particular weekend. The children start school on August 22, which nibbles down the window of opportunity a little.

First of all, at the end of July the mother told us that she'd planned a three day camping trip with the children for the first weekend in August. She offered us a window of opportunity for the one week visitation that fell right in the middle of our anniversary. Okay, I'll play Pollyanna. Maybe she forgot. We were ready to accept a five day visitation so as to avoid squabbling with the kids in the middle. Then, the week before said camping trip, their mother informed us she'd canceled the trip altogether. With great hope, we saw an opportunity to mend the visitation plan and utilize the full seven days promised to my husband. We asked for August 4 through 11. After a week she finally got back to us (but only after we reminded her of our request and that we needed an answer so that we could prepare) and said that would be fine . . . Except that the oldest and youngest child only wanted to stay for three days, not seven.

We tried to be diplomatic, and we wanted to know why only three days. We felt that if they could give us a valid reason then we'd be understanding and supportive. We also asked that the children call their father and discuss it with him. Our motive for this is that we needed to know that this was the children's idea and not their mother's.

So the children called. It turns out that a family friend was supposed to visit the same week and the children didn't want to miss out. Understandable. These things happen. What if Daddy agreed to take you home (on his way to work, at 7a.m.) and leave you there all day so you can visit this family friend and then pick you up on his way home from work (7p.m.)? Would that be a reasonable compromise. Ummmmm..... uhhhhhh..... nooooooo. Oh, and by the way, stepmom is boring.

So this is the dilemma: children don't always know what's best for them. If we didn't MAKE them brush their teeth, do their homework, and go to school most of them wouldn't. Sure, spending time with Daddy may seem boring now but fostering a bond and a relationship is more important than spending a few days with a family friend you only see about once a year. So do we MAKE them stay the whole seven days? Is it REALLY for their own good? Because if they're here and they're sulky and they feel forced into it that sends a negative message. But if we give up any more time than we already have and continue to allow their mother to alienate us with her games and negative comments isn't that also fostering a negative relationship? Do we let them get away with being selfish only to lose quality time with them and perhaps have them think that we only let them do what they want simply because we don't care about them? Do we let their mother get away with continuing to put us in a position where no matter what we do we are always the bad guys or do we put our foot down, which only compounds the children's belief that we're picking on their mommy? I don't know. There is no easy answer.

And to make matters more convoluted: we just found out today that this family friend changed their plans and is, in fact, not coming at all. The children's mother knew this all along. Did she mislead them? Did the children know? Do we call the children on it and ask them if they have changed their minds?  Or does doing so only make them feel more pressured? Or do we teach them accountability by encouraging them to be honest about their feelings?

Okay, I'm done whining. I'll put my big girl panties on . . . one leg at a time.

In the meantime, parental alienation is a real and present danger to children caught up in the middle of a divorce and/or the aftermath of divorce. If you are a separated or divorced parent please take a moment to participate in the following quiz to find out if you are an alienator:

Am I a Parental Alienator? 

Please answer unconditionally, YES or NO

1.  Have I ever criticized or spoken negatively about the other parent or his/her family or friends in front of my child or where the child can hear me?
2.  Have I ever forced my child to choose between loving the other parent and me?
3.  Do I talk about child support, money, or legal issues in front of my child?
4.  Do I ever limit time with the other parent because I feel I am the best parent?
5.  Do I ask the child to keep secrets, lie or hide things from the other parent?
6.  Do I pump my child to get detailed information of where they go and what they do when they are with the other parent?
7.  Do I ever prevent the child from speaking with the other parent by blocking phone messages, not returning phone calls, erasing email messages, not giving them mail or gifts?
8.  Do I interrupt the child’s time with the other parent by calling too much or planning activities during their time together?
9.  Do I deny my child the right to spend the designated time with the other parent?
10.  Have I ever sabotaged any activity that my child is doing with the other parent?
11.  Do I encourage my child to blame the other parent or to choose sides?
12.  Do I use my child as a therapist or my special friend to share my deep and upsetting emotions?
13.  Do I let my child know that I feel badly when he/she has a good time with the other parent?
14.  Do I ask my child to spy for me while with the other parent?
15.  Do I ever instill guilt, pressure, or rejection of the other parent in my child?
16.  Do I make a contest of how much love, care, and attention the child gives to the other parent and his or her family and friends versus how much attention I receive?
17.  Have you ever made false accusations, such as implying drug abuse or inappropriate sexual behavior to the police or Department of Child and Family Services?
18.  Do I stop my child from expressing his/her feelings whether I agree with them or not? (e.g., love, happiness, excitement, anger, fear, sadness)

"If you answered "YES" to any of these questions, you need to evaluate to what extent you are engaging in parental alienation. Children need to be free to love both parents. If you don’t like the other parent or feel that they are inappropriate for your child, you need to solve the problem without resorting to destroying that child’s relationship with this parent. Your child can make up his or her own mind about how much they love or even like the other parent without being unduly influenced by you. Obsessed parent alienators will stop at nothing to damage or even
severe a child’s relationship with a parent. This is a serious form of child abuse where a child is not allowed to have loving feelings for his parent, or his or her extended family and friends. These people represent half of the child’s heritage. Most parents "slip up" once in a while, however, parents who really care about their child’s best interest will do all they can to keep their child out of the middle and allow them to love both parents."
To know more about the above quiz and/or other information regarding PAS, please visit the following link:   Major Family Services *
Here is another link to an excellent website offering more information about what parental alienation is,  how it happens, the motives and "logic" (or lack thereof) of the alienating parent, what to expect from the courts and child support services, and how alienated parents can cope:   Parents Who Have Successfully Fought Parental Alienation Syndrome *

* I am in no way marketing or encouraging the purchase of any products that may be offered for sale on the links I have provided. I have provided the links because I feel that they offer some helpful information about Parental Alienation Syndrome.

August 3 update: The oldest child now states that she wants to take a babysitting job that will keep her busy from Monday through Wednesday. The cynical part of me says, "Isn't that convenient now that she doesn't have the 'friend coming to visit' excuse?" The exasperated part of me leans more toward, "Oh hell, if she doesn't want to come then why make her?" Then there's the principled part of me, "I will not give up. We are fighting for our family here."
Sometimes I wonder who is more stuck in the middle of this tug-of-war: me and my husband or the children? A sneaky little voice in the back of my head reminds me, "The children."


  1. I had stepchildren. They are mostly grown now. The truth? As adolescents? They are angry and hormonal, full of angst and bitterness. Just like every other teenager on the face of the earth. When they are young adults? They see the manipulation for what it is, they resent, and then they accept the flaws of their parents.
    You are making the effort. It is largely unrecognized now. But it won't be in the next few years.
    A post about my youngest step-daughter: http://www.mybadparenting.com/a-letter-to-kat/

  2. Thanks, Krissy. It's sometimes difficult to remember, in the heat of battle, to remain focused on what it is you're fighting for. Your comment gave us strength and courage. <3

  3. Update (10/29/2011): My husband and I finally scrounged up enough money to visit with a family law attorney. The attorney advised us that the mother is blatantly in violation of the court ordered parenting plan and thus is in contempt of court (if we should desire to pursue such a path). Instead we allowed the mother to know that we have the ability to do such and that if she does not concede to the parenting plan we will have no choice but to allow the courts to make a determination for us. She spoke with her own attorney, who obviously verified for her the veracity of our claim, and has agreed to relent. We are now being offered the two full weekends per month to which my husband (and the children) have the right. Originally, the mother was only allowing one "weekend" a month (her idea of a weekend being Saturday evening through Sunday afternoon), if that. We will now have the children two weekends per month, from 6pm Friday night until 6pm Sunday evening. We have also made her understand that the summer visitation is ironclad and is not up for negotiation and that she may not, under any circumstances, manipulate the children to avoid summer visitation.

    So, for all of you parents out there who are fighting the good fight, take a lesson from us: it is important to know your rights and HOW TO EXERCISE THEM. This is NOT a losing battle.

  4. It's good to see a father being supported and following through with enforcing his rights and backing up his wife, the step mother. Thanks for the encouragement. My situation is extremely similar except they just don't visit even though we want them to and ask for them to.