Parental Alienation Awareness

by Carolyn on April 25, 2010

From Postcards from Splitsville

As a young teenager, I had a brush with parental alienation.

While standing at a sink washing dishes it was declared to me that one of my parents must not love me.  Then I was assaulted with all the twisted evidence to prove their claim. The lack of phone calls, the apparent lack of interest, and of course the lack of child support all while I was assured that my ‘other’ parent had always provided all of those things for me. The propagator of this garbage got incensed when I asserted that I was indeed loved by both my parents, and I was shrilly asked what evidence I had to prove it. When I couldn’t provide any, I was told that my lack of any ‘real’ counterpoints merely confirmed their argument. And the debate was over. I was told again that I obvously wasn’t loved by ‘that’ parent.

I remember that night so well. Each word felt like a rock being hurled against my skin. I remember the anger that raged within me and the sadness that threatened to overcome me. I fought with all my might to hold back the tears because crying felt like defeat and I wanted more than anything to appear strong in the shadow of my perpetrator. Even twenty years later, remembering that night and writing this post, I can feel my heart beating faster and a tightness in my throat.

On that night, the alienation was not done by my biological parent but that didn’t matter. It was an adult.  An adult who knew better and who’s care I had been entrusted. I was alone and they had all the power. The damage was done and that moment of our lives can never be retracted. Over the years, my hurt and anger has faded, and has been  replaced by a sliding scale of disdain, pity and indifference. But trust is another matter. The trust is gone and no matter how many years pass, it eludes me. At the time I felt like I was the one being attacked, but now I know that I was merely collateral damage in an attempt to hurt and gain power over ‘that’ parent.

Yet understanding only brings me that, understanding. Everything else remains.

Sunday April 25, 2010 is Parental Alienation Awareness Day. And although there is much debate about what actually constitutes parental alienation or if the syndrome even exists, this grown child of divorce simply wants to spread this message: kids of divorce have enough on their plates without having to negotiate the impact of someone negating a parent. Chances are, they are already dealing with anger toward their parents, guilt about those feelings, shame about the characteristics they have from their other parent, and of course the stress of living through the trauma of divorce and anything else that came before and after it. They really don’t need anything else.

The other thing I’d like to inform parents, step parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and the like, is that the damage inflicted by this kind of abuse is significant and leaves very deep scars. You may be angry and you might even feel a bit better after lashing out or having your say. But for that child, whether it be for days, weeks or even years, that child will hear those words you spoke to them every time they look at you. Even long after you’ve forgotten them. Truly whatever benefit you may feel by getting things off your chest will be far outweighed by the negative impact you will have on that young person’s heart.  And if you are able to force your way of thinking on that child, realize that your short sighted gain will one day be lost and a day of reckoning will come. And in those particularly heinous cases, know that it will come even harder.

I remember witnessing one day a child of divorce coming home from her non custodial visit.  Her mother became displeased with her behaviour and said to me and all those around that she always acted that way when she came home from her dad’s house. The mother also added that she felt her daughter’s poor behavior was a reflection of her father and was evidence of him rubbing off on her during their time spent together. A moment later, after her daughter said something out of line, she sarcastically called her daughter by her father’s name. Her daughter crumpled into a pile of angry tears and my heart couldn’t help but break a little as the scene played out before me.

When it comes to putting down a child’s parent, the rules are simple. Don’t do it. It’s not like telling ‘yo mama’ jokes with your friends. That child is not your equal and with your power comes a great responsibility.  Your words carry a sense of authority and will cut more deeply than you know. And what’s hardest of all for us kids is that we will undoubtedly see some truth in what you say, no matter how loudly we dispel it. I think the author of The Divorce Encouragist said it best when she wrote, to speak ill of your co-parent is to tell your child, “Honey, I love you. But biologically, you are 50% jackass.”

Yes, that’s exactly how it feels.

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Today: PA Awareness Day « The Divorce Encouragist
April 29, 2010 at 9:55 pm

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1 Angelia Sims April 25, 2010 at 8:59 am

I clearly remember my mom talking about my Dad. I remember shrugging it off with anger. That’s MY Dad I would think and mumble under my breath. I guess looking back it did hurt me and it helped me when Sydney’s dad and I divorced. I SWORE we wouldn’t do that and we didn’t until recently.

I’ll admit…I’ve been angry with him for moving away. Sydney only had three more years of school left. Could he have not waited? It feels like he abandoned her and me for his new wife and little boy. I am sure I lashed out with words. He was my best friend and her amazing Dad, I just don’t know what happened. Maybe, it feels like the divorce I went through as a child all over again. I didn’t want her to feel the same kind of pain.

Sydney says she is fine and luckily she has a very strong bond with her future step dad but I still think it will affect her down the road. BUT instead of lashing out, I will stay supportive for her sake.

Thank you for this awareness. It is very timely for me.
.-= Angelia Sims´s last blog ..Beach Breath =-.

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2 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:33 am

How difficult. I’m sure it does feel like he’s abandoned her and I’m sure in a small way (even if she denies it), it does to her too. I know lots of divorced parents have to move away from their children for various reasons, work, relationships, etc but personally I can’t even fathom it. My father moved away when I was eight. And at the time I simply accepted it for what it was (after divorce, kids just kind of go into that mode, huh?) and went on. But as a parent now, I find myself sometimes gazing at my children wondering how he ever did it. What in the world could ever pull me away from their daily lives? And the only answer I can come up with is nothing.

Funny, I accepted it better as a child than I have as an adult and parent.

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3 Sassy Chica April 26, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Garbage slinging is no bueno…I agree.
Powerful post, loved it!

Smooches,
Sassy Chica
.-= Sassy Chica´s last blog ..Wild At Heart =-.

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4 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:34 am

lol, no bueno indeed. :)

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5 toothless April 26, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Wow Carolyn! Thanks for writing this! Your pain and anger really come across but in a cool way that might actually communicate.

I just wad up in a big mass of confusion thinking about this topic. It was just par for the course in my family before the divorce as well as after, so I don’t even really see it as connected with the divorce. Married parents need to pay attention to this behavior as well.

The example you gave about the kid being scolded because she is acting like her other parent. That’s priceless!

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6 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:37 am

That was priceless. I understand how frustrated as a parent you can get and how again as parent you can say lots of things that you don’t mean. But that mother isn’t a child of divorce and I’m sure she had absolutely no concept of how deeply those words cut her daughter.

And I agree that this is something married parents need to be cautioned about too. Thanks for swinging by, Toothless!

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7 Theta Mom April 26, 2010 at 8:56 pm

When you said, “Your words carry a sense of authority and will cut more deeply than you know,” I think this rings true on so many levels of parenting, don’t you think?

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8 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:37 am

Absolutely, Heather.

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9 WhiteSockGirl aka The Fabulous Bitch April 26, 2010 at 10:52 pm

You did it again. You just went for it and made me think. Another piece of brilliant working, emotional and deep.

I can relate. Even though the parents are not divorced, they went through some serious ish in their marriage and of course it rubbed off on us, my brothers and I. The arguments, heated discussions took place, ‘properly’ behind closed doors. But we were very aware.

One Saturday, I was 16 and boyfriend just dropped me off, I walked straight into an argument. The parents expected to be alone for most of the day and they just went for it. Father took me aside to have a one and one with me. Till this day, I can’t get that conversation out of my head. He told me a couple things about my mother he should have rather kept to himself.

I have never told my mother about the content but my relationship with my father has never been the same. Cause might thought that he scoring points with me, but he just allienated me. In my mind he is just not the man I thought he was.
.-= WhiteSockGirl aka The Fabulous Bitch´s last blog ..A Story for Every Picture: Frame Us =-.

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10 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:39 am

And it’s moments like that can alter the entire life of a relationship, isn’t it? I wonder if your father remembers that conversation sometimes and wishes he could take it back. I wonder if he has an iota of understanding as to how impactful his words that day were. I know I often wonder about moments I’ve had with my parents the same way.

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11 Maureen April 27, 2010 at 3:58 am

Very well written! Love it! I have to agree with Theta Mom on your words: “Your words carry a sense of authority and will cut more deeply than you know” that is so powerful and can be applied in every essence of life whether to your children, to your spouse or to your neighbor.
.-= Maureen´s last blog ..Jammin’ Wiggles Way =-.

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12 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:41 am

Yes, words often leave more of an impression than we give them credit for, don’t they?

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13 fairyprincessmamma April 27, 2010 at 10:56 am

Wow… i just came upon your blog… and I am so glad I did… being a child of divorce… and now a parent of divorce… I try to see all the angles… but sometimes that is so difficult when you are caught in the middle of it all. Glad you started a blog… I myself was alienated from my own father…. on more levels than I can list in this one comment… hell… it deserves a whole blog to itself… so glad you created one because parents need to see this perspective from someone who has lived through it… children and parents have so much to learn from eachother…i look forward to reading your posts…

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14 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:43 am

Thanks and welcome fairyprincessmamma! I absolutely love readers who are both grown children of divorce and now either divorced parents or step parents. As part of the first real ‘divorce generation’, there are more and more of you seeing this equation from more than one angle. I’m sure I have lots to learn from you too.

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15 Mayhem & Moxie April 27, 2010 at 11:45 am

I had no idea that Parental Alienation Awareness Day even existed. How wonderful! A day dedicated to something so important.

Your story literally broke my heart. People can be so cruel. I am glad that years later you are able to do something so amazing and productive with your experiences. We can all learn from your blog.

-Francesca
.-= Mayhem & Moxie´s last blog ..When Men Go Grocery Shopping =-.

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16 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:44 am

Thanks Francesca. I think the day was a success. There was quite a bit of chatter in Twitter about it and such. Thanks for your kind comment!

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17 Diane April 27, 2010 at 12:33 pm

This is an absolutely FANTASTIC POST!! Indeed it is without a doubt the best written and most meaningful and significant post I have read in all my surfing of blogs. KUDOS to you. As a mother of 4 kids who’s lives were tortured and almost ruined by their parents divorce (you might want to read my own post about the impact of the divorce on all our lives (http://dianeswords.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/its-complicated/). you’re so right when a parent says things like that they send the message that 1/2 of you is not only AWFUL but they also so…i can’t love that part of you. so so horrible. but…it’s a such a hard time and you aren’t in total command of your senses. i so regret things i did. i can’t take them back and my heart aches for the hurt i caused them, my ex, our extended families—myself. your message is SO important. thank you for writing this.
i invite you to visit my world sometime…hopefully i’m being kinder and more gentle in my interaction with the world than i was a decade ago. dianeswords.wordpress.com

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18 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:48 am

Thank you for your kind words, Diane. And thank you for taking the time to comment and share you own experience with me too. There is that saying, ‘when I knew better, I did better’, and that reminds me of you. I can be hard to keep your wits about you when your life is being tossed around. And I’m not excusing anything, but taking ownership of those things is big, and worth being proud of.

I’ll visiting you in your neck of cyberspace too. Thanks!

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19 Diane April 27, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Indeed I’m telling all my kids to come and visit this post and your blog. I think it would be very helpful for them.
.-= Diane´s last blog ..For My Friend: A Walk Down Memory Lane =-.

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20 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:48 am

That’s so nice of you Diane. Thanks again.

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21 cheri April 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm

as adults, we tend to forget that we forge memories for children, something they have to carry for the rest of their lives. it’s bad enough that these kids feel guilty about the whole thing; they actually scar because of the alienation. thank you for reminding us :)

shuttling in from SITS :)
.-= cheri´s last blog ..joyful, joyful! =-.

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22 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:49 am

It’s quite true. Like adding insult to injury. Thanks for your comment, Cheri!

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23 Cheryl N. April 27, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Wow, this was really touching. I’m sorry you had to go through that. I’m sorry for ANYbody who has to go through that. It’s not something I’ve really ever been put in the position to have to think about… Thankfully. Thanks for bringing it to my attention and spreading awareness!

Stopping by from SITS
.-= Cheryl N.´s last blog ..Crafty Tuesday: A Fab-Tabulous Craft-Tastic Swap! =-.

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24 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:50 am

Thank you for taking the time to comment, Cheryl!

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25 Heather April 27, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I was 22 when my Dad moved out. It’s been 13 years and I’m still struggling with it…maybe struggling with it more in some ways. Divorce sucks. I look forward to digging around in your blog…I think. :)

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26 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:52 am

Welcome, Heather. I hope you can relate to what you find here. My parents divorced when I was three. Although we are both children of divorce, we are very different breeds. I wrote about it in a post called A Beautiful Diversity From Divorce. I’m glad you found me.

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27 Abigail April 28, 2010 at 2:55 am

This post made me a little teary. My best friend’s wife does this about him to their daughter constantly, discourages her from saying ‘I love you daddy’, tells her what a terrible father he is and how if he loved her like other daddies loved their little girls he’d earn more/give them this that and the other/be more Japanese/etc. etc. etc. All lies, he’s one of the best dads I know! Luckily they still live together for part of the week, so he does get chance to counteract this horrible behaviour, but they’ll be divorcing soon, and my heart breaks for him and for his little girl.
I grew up without loving parents and I find it obscene that a child should have a parent that loves them and yet be robbed of that by another person’s selfishness and vindictiveness.
.-= Abigail´s last blog ..Magic loop knitting – cabled shrug =-.

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28 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:57 am

That is heartbreaking. And what that mother doesn’t realize is that in committing this terrible behavior towards her daughter (although she thinks it’s directed at her ex), she is guaranteeing that her daughter will one day walk away from her and shut her out. For an indefinite amount of time. Children who are actively alienated from a parent and one day (for lack of a better phrase), figure it out, almost always end up literally walking away from the alienator.

And yes, it’s criminal that a child who is lucky enough to have parents who love them cannot simply, be loved. Sad.

Thanks for taking the time to share.

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29 Melinda April 30, 2010 at 9:40 am

very powerful post, it brought back a lot of memories.
stopping by from SITS

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30 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 12:58 am

Thanks Melinda. If it brought back personal memories, I’m sorry about that. This stuff can be hard to digest.

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31 Carolyn D. June 7, 2010 at 1:00 pm

I, too, grew up with divorced parents, but the alienation came wholly from the insecurities of my stepmother. My “real” mom never said an unkind word about my father, never said an unkind word of my stepmother. However, my stepmother made it a point to constantly put my father in the unsavory position of having to choose between his children and his wife, and the children lost. We were all grown or nearly grown, so we weren’t under foot too often. Eventually my father just gave in to her demands and gave up having a relationship with his children.

He died last year and, although I hate to admit it, the pain is still there. You see, I tried for nearly 40 years to have a relationship with my father. Yes, I knew he loved me, but he was not free to express it in front of his insecure wife.

People will tell you that in time you’ll hurt less. This is not true. In time you learn to suppress your feelings of abandonment and loss, but you never stop having those feelings.

My hope is that stepmothers will read things like this and realize the enormous impact they have on the lives of their stepchildren, and ultimately the children of their stepchildren. My father was forced to choose, and so he lost the opportunity to know my children, and they lost the opportunity to learn from him.

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32 Carolyn June 24, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Carolyn ~ Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your experience. This almost made me cry because your today is most likely going to be my future. It hurts. And I’m not sure if it ever really stop hurting.

Thank you again. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone. That I’m not the only child who’s parent chose someone else.

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33 Maresa November 4, 2010 at 8:37 pm

My ex partner and I brokeup about a 1 & 1/2yrs ago. The child is biologicially hers and not mine. He loves me very much and wants to see me, she however uses her rights to cause me pain and alienate him from me. Constantly changing plans on me, making excuses for why this or that changed. It breaks my heart. He is 6 now, and I can only wonder what he must think. Why I am not at school functions, or special occasions, why he doesn’t come to my home ever…etc. He told me on one of our visits that he missed me being his mom. My heart sank as you could imagine, I just took his little face in my hands and looked him in the eye and told him that I think about him everyday, and that he is always in my heart. See I am forced not to say anything to him that will make her mad, or I risk not seeing him. I journal now to him telling him all the things I wish I could but I can’t. I hope someday he will understand. I don’t know how to handle this any better than I have, it is so hard missing him everyday. If anyone has any advice, I am open to it. Yes I am not his mother by blood but I would die for this child to protect him, and he loves me dearly, and I helped raise him only to be treated like this. But, I put up with it because I love him so much, and that’s all I can do.

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34 Virginia Divorce Lawyers February 8, 2011 at 1:27 am

Parental Alienation Awareness Day was a huge event around the world — garnering lots of attention and raising the visibility of an issue that is affecting countless parents, children and extended family members every day.Parental alienation and hostile aggressive parenting deprive children of their right to be loved by and showing love for both of their parents. The destructive actions by an alienating parent or other third person can become abusive to the child – as the alienating behaviors are disturbing, confusing and often frightening, to the child, and can rob the child of their sense of security and safety leading to maladaptive emotional or psychiatric reactions.

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35 thegirlfriendmom August 22, 2012 at 10:20 am

I found you through Brooke Secretan and so glad that I did. This was very powerful and thought provoking. I’m a Girlfriend Mom, which means that I live with a divorced father of two. I never wanted children but it was a package deal. Insta-family. It’s been so great to find sites such as yours that address all aspects of family; i.e. blended, divorce, and to get the perspective of the child. I hope to read more and if you’d like to hear what I’m dealing with, you can check me out at http://www.thegirlfriendmom.com. Thank you. Dani

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36 Cindy August 26, 2012 at 8:44 am

Kids lose their childhoods when they are positioned to be a tool of revenge for a spiteful parent. I literally watched the joy being sucked out of my daughter’s life day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. She has not spoken to me for two years, yet I hang onto truth and pray.

I want to say that kids do come home from the alienating parent with a twisted and distrubing behavior. Although commenting on it to them makes it worse, it is extremely hard to deal with. Parenting is challenging under normal circumstances. Add the hateful, entitled behavior being prompted by their other parent and you get a difficult situation. Kids are on their guard to prevent a positive relationship with the parent they are to reject. They feel disloyal if the smile, laugh, and have fun. So, often, they aim to start trouble and prove the other parent right in what they say about the parent they are to reject.

I always said “I Love You” to my daughter. At seven she stopped saying it back, for she was told she could choose to not have me in her life when she turned 12. By accident, when she was at a friend’s house, she left a message for me on the answering machine telling me when I was to pick her up. At the end she said, “love you.” I saved this tape.

Love is a commandment. God is love. It is abuse when a parent or anyone is motivated to make a child hate!

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37 Ione September 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm

This is so true. My parents divorced when I was 3, and I had full access to both and so was never scarred or hurt by the divorce. Life was normal. But around age 18 or so till present, one parent feels that since I’m “grown up” and able to “understand” and take their side in things, I can now be told how bad the other parent was during the marriage, all the bad traits, and just everything that is wrong in general. It’s miserable and I’m forced to bite my tongue. It’s seems obvious to people to protect children during divorce, but that doesn’t mean save the mudslinging for later.

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