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Tuesday morning, I, Diane, was watching Good Morning America and the guest being interviewed was Alec Baldwin. He was speaking about his new book, which comes out today, entitled, “A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce.” In this book, Baldwin discusses Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), or one parent turning their child against the other. Although I believe this to be a real issue in today’s society; I will stand by the fact that some people don’t need to have children because they aren’t capable of being good parents. But for most of us, this is not the case, we just need to learn how to reconcile our feelings in order to co-parent effectively, thereby making PAS a non- issue.
Everyone knows that with a nasty divorce, more than likely a nasty custody battle follows. Often times the divorcing parties don’t take their child into consideration while engaged in such a battle, and as a result, he or she ends up caught in the middle. This type of behavior can lead to barriers being put up by one party which imposes on the other parent’s relationship with their child. Sometimes, like Baldwin, some almost give up and lose the will to keep fighting for their parental rights and in the end, the child suffers irreparable damage.
I, Kela, have watched my stepson suffer from PAS for years now. It is what motivated me to do some thorough research on the topic. Additionally, I want to be absolutely sure that I never alienate my child, even if it’s unintentionally, from his biological father. It is imperative that we understand this phenomenon so that the children caught in the middle don’t continue to suffer.
PAS is a complicated concept that historically has been difficult to clearly identify in court. Cases involving PAS are filled with accusations and counter accusations which are eventually dismissed as nothing more than hearsay. However, psychologists, therapists and other mental health professionals assert that PAS is much more than hearsay and there are signs and symptoms that one can look for in order to identify it. Below are some criteria that you can follow to determine whether or not PAS is an issue for your blended family.
Access and Contact Blocking
Access and contact blocking involves the active blocking of access or contact between the child and absent parent. Most mothers will try to defend their actions by claiming that they are just trying to protect the child. She may argue that the absent parent’s parental judgment is substandard and, therefore the child is much worse off from the visit. Access and contact blocking usually occurs when the alienator feels attacked and/or is trying to prove a point. It is a form of control that has nothing to do with protecting the child; but, has more to do with protecting their own ego.
In my (Kela) case, if my husband and his ex-wife don’t agree (which is all of the time) on a matter that pertains to their son, the first thing she does is block phone contact and visitation. There is no discussion and my husband has no control. Her claim is ALWAYS that she’s just protecting her son’s mental health. She will also appear to be trying to work towards a solution. But, while they are working towards the solution SHE determines whether or not my husband will see his child. My husband went 6 months without seeing his child and has only seen him 15 hours (5 hours per month) in the last year. Crack heads get more time than this with their children! In her eyes, they are only working together if he agrees with her.
Access and contact blocking can also come in the form of the alienator working to limit contact with the parent as well. This is often done when the alienator claims that other events (birthday parties, funerals, weddings, ect.) should take precedence over visitation with the targeted parent. The message to the child when this occurs is that the absent parent is treated less like an important family member and more like an annoying acquaintance that the child must see at times. This type of behavior can have a detrimental effect on the child’s relationship with the absent parent.
Emotional Abuse Allegations
False emotional abuse allegations is another very common form of PAS. Often times what actually occurs in a difference in opinion that the alienator frames as “emotionally abusive.” For example, one parent may let the child stay up later than the other. Or one parent might introduce a new significant other to the child before the other parent feels that he or she should. Both examples reflect a difference of parental opinion that is now described as emotional abuse by the alienator. Although these examples may seem insignificant, it is a suggestive theme of how the alienator uses difference of opinion to keep the child away from the absent parent.
Deterioration in Relationship Since Separation
The least identified, but one of the most important criteria is the deterioration of the relationship between the non-residential parent and the child since separation. It has to do with the existence of a positive relationship between the minor child and the nonresidential parent, prior to the marital separation; and a considerable deterioration, of it since then. If a father has a good and involved relationship with his child prior to the divorce, and is clearly trying to maintain a positive relationship with their child; but there has been a substantial change in their relationship since the divorce, one can naturally assume that alienation has occurred. Healthy and established parental relationships do not erode naturally of their own accord. THEY MUST BE ATTACKED! As such, any dramatic change in this area almost always indicates that the alienation process has had some success. If this puzzle piece is left out in court, the court can be easily fooled into thinking that the existing relationship is representative of the true parent-child relationship. It isn’t an easy feat to correct this perception, once it’s been determined by the court. I (Kela) believe that this is the reason why Judges often group all absent fathers into the category of “deadbeat.”
I (Diane) was guilty of alienating my son from his father. I was hell bent on trying to prove something to him because he hurt ME, not my son. Sometimes we confuse lashing out because we’re hurt with trying to protect our children. At any rate, I alienated my son from his father for 6 years. When I finally did come to my senses and realized that it wasn’t about ME, my son only got to spend a year and half getting to know his father before he (his father) was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. My son was only 10. I made a HUGE mistake by convincing myself that I was protecting my son when in actuality, I was only trying to protect my own feelings.
The above criteria can exist together or independent of each other as well. And, if all or some of the criteria is present, but alienation is unsuccessful, it doesn’t mean that the act of alienation didn’t occur.
Parental Alienation is a common phenomenon in which early intervention is essential. If allowed to continue, it can be destructive to your child’s well-being and mental health. Often times, the targeted parent (usually the father) washes his hands of the situation and walks away – gives up, thus greatly increasing the chances of successful alienation.
Side Note: PAS can only occur if the targeted parent is and has been doing everything in his or her power to maintain a relationship with his or her child. Don’t claim that you’re a victim of alienation if you choose to spend a limited amount of time with your child, call him once in a blue moon and try to avoid your responsibilities as a parent.
Characteristics of An Alienator
- They are obsessed with destroying their child’s relationship with the nonresidential parent.
- They have succeeded in enmeshing the child’s personality and beliefs about the other parent with their own.
- The child will parrot the alienator rather than express their own experiences from personal experiences with the nonresidential parent.
- Their (alienator) beliefs often become delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince the alienator that she is wrong, and anyone who tries is the enemy.
- They will often seek support from family members, friends, co-workers who will share their beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent. The alienator’s supporters are often seen in court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.
- They have so much anger because they believe the nonresidential parent has victimized them and whatever they do to protect the child is justified.
- They work so hard and sometimes succeed, in getting the court to punish the nonresidential parent with court orders that would interfere or block the parent from seeing his child.
- The court’s authority DOES NOT intimidate them.
- The alienator believes that she is protecting the child at all cost.
- The alienator will not want to read this post because the content will just make her even angrier!
REFERENCES: The Florida Bar Journal, VOL. 73, NO. 3, MARCH 1999, p 44-48
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I had a long conversation with a reader, Amy, a few weeks ago. Some of you might remember her as the outspoken ex-wife who wasn’t too happy about my Wives Wars article and didn’t hesitate to let me know. However, through our written dialogue, she raised a very good question – “Why does it seem like it [the blended family] is always about mom and step-mom raising the kids while dad just kicks back and watches?” Although I referenced a similar notion in that article [“If we can get the women to act like adults (usually men will follow suit), then we’re more than half way there”]. I never deeply pondered Amy’s question until she brought it to my attention.
Because so much of the breakdown in communication occurs between the wives, I think it’s necessary to examine potential reasons why this happens.
There has been tons of research on the topic of how women and men communicate differently. Women tend to lead with their emotions, and men would rather lead with facts and logic (so they say). When it comes to women and their children, they are born with a protective instinct that can be compared to a mama bear and her cubs. Often times this instinct is based on an emotional response to the situation instead of being based fact and logic. As such, when the second wife enters the picture, many ex-wives react to their inability to control the situation, and when one loses control, fear sets in. When fear sets in, anything having to do with logic and fact goes out the window. All that woman is concerned about is protecting her children from someone that she doesn’t know. And, don’t expect her to trust her ex-husband’s judgment because in her eyes, he doesn’t use good judgment. This is called the mama bear syndrome.
I can relate to the mama bear syndrome as I experienced it myself when my ex suddenly remarried. Although my ex had only known his current wife for a very short time before they married, and my ex spent most of the year out the country; thereby he lacked the experience in raising our child. I still don’t know if my initial reaction [feeling a bit threatened by her presence] would’ve been any different. To me, his current wife symbolized the end of my son’s family. His parents would never be back together again, and consciously or unconsciously, that’s what every child wants at some point in their lives. Not to mention that now my ex would now be primarily taking advice from her, about MY child; a child that she didn’t even know. Although I wanted my life with my ex to change (that’s why we broke up in the first place), I didn’t want my son’s world, as he knew it, to drastically change. As a result, I will honestly admit that I didn’t give her much of a chance in the beginning. But, I had to take a step back, check myself and realize that (1) it wasn’t about me (2) this is the woman that he chose and the ring indicated that she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon (3) it doesn’t matter how sudden their marriage was, maybe she could be a positive integral part of our son’s life (4) I was pre-judging her, instead of getting to know her for myself.
The next reason that the wives seem to keep the war going is what I like to call emotional baggage. Usually this is something that many ex-wives have so much trouble letting go of. Emotional baggage consists of those irrational thoughts such as; she [second wife] is going to replace me; my children may like being with their father more than me; now my ex won’t listen to me anymore, etc. Notice all of those me statements? You can’t have all of those me statements, but still think that it’s about your children. Don’t weigh down our plane [blended family] with your emotional baggage. Check it before getting on the plane. And, this is not Southwest, Northwest or American Airlines, you check more than one bag. Now, just because you can’t bring your emotional baggage on the plane doesn’t mean that you can not or should not deal with that baggage. You can deal with it in your own way, but not in a way that affects everybody else on the plane.
Ex-wives aren’t totally responsible for the breakdown in communication between the ex and second wife. Second wives and divorced dads also add to the conflict. Step-moms have a tendency to over do it in the beginning. Yes, it is possible to over do it. We get caught up in being the best step-mom that we can be. We get caught up in fixing “it,” because in our eyes it must be broken, that’s why the divorce occurred in the first place. As such, we also have the tendency to butt in when it’s not our right or business to do so. Step-moms need to step back and let the biological parents lead. Our job is to be there as support. Our opinions are certainly relevant and valuable, but at the end of the day, bio mom and bio dad need to be communicating the decisions that are made for their child. I always say that if (in most cases – when) we go to court, the step-parent isn’t going to be allowed to speak for his or her spouse. So, don’t start off allowing the step-parents interfere to the extent that it keeps you from civilly communicating with your ex-spouse.
My ex’s wife was guilty of this is the beginning, and it didn’t help our relationship. Every time we discussed an issue of visitation, child support or any other matter that I should have been discussing with him, I was discussing it with her. This made me resent her even more. After all, I shouldn’t have had to discuss such matters with his new wife, who had only been on the scene for a hot minute. Well, it doesn’t matter if she had been on the scene for several years. Certain matters should be handled by the biological parents. In her defense, however, I could tell that she was only trying to help, but it didn’t. Like I said, when we ended up in court, we [the biological parents] were expected to communicate our issues to the Judge and each other. She wasn’t even allowed in the court room. Therefore, I shouldn’t have been expected to discuss those issues with her outside of the courtroom.
One of the final reasons that second and ex wives can’t seem to get along is because divorced dad is all over the place. I realize that dad is automatically placed in what seems like an impossible position in the blended family. His ex-wife will often feel that his loyalty should be to her because she is the mother of his children. But, his current wife will feel that his loyalty should be to her because she is his wife. As a result, many divorced/remarried dads seem to “side with” whoever he’s talking to at that time. He’s easily led, sets no boundaries for his ex-wife and lacks control of his family. My advice to these dads is to man up. It shouldn’t be that difficult to know what to do. Your second marriage vows should be no different than your first. Your loyalty should always be to your wife! Your only responsibility is to remain an active parent in your children’s lives and treat your former wife with respect and civility. It doesn’t mean that you have to do whatever your ex-wife says. Set boundaries. She should not be allowed to wreak havoc on your marriage just because she can’t get a grip on the dissolution of her marriage and family. You are the head of your household (the one your wife lives in), so act like it. Instead of giving in to your ex-wife’s every whim, thereby making your current wife lose trust and faith in your relationship, take the appropriate measures to remain an active parent in your children’s lives. Remember, just because you married your current wife second doesn’t mean that those vows should be any less important than the first. By that same token, remember that just because you divorced your first wife doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t be treated with respect. She shouldn’t be told to “get a life” just because she expresses concern for her children. Trust me, you want the mother of your children to love her children with every ounce of her being. Just because you get married a second time doesn’t mean that she all of sudden doesn’t know what to do with HER children or that she shouldn’t continue to express concern for them. She’s glad that you’re happy, but her opinion as it relates to HER children, still counts!! They are still her babies, and if you got married ten times, that wouldn’t change – remember that!
As I listen to, speak with and lend advice to other blended family members, if they only retain one thing that I say it would be this: “If one looks deep enough into their problem, he will recognize himself as both part of the problem and part of the solution.” If I have learned nothing else, I have learned that the blame of blended family issues can not be placed solely on one person within the blended family. We ALL add to the breakdown in communication and in many cases, the demise of our blended families. The problem is that we want one person to take responsibility for it. But, we all have to hold ourselves accountable and be responsible for the mistakes that we make within this family structure. If we all focus on ourselves (I know, it sounds selfish) instead of each other, then our hearts and minds will be more free to focus on our children.
Thanks to http://www.kweenmama.wordpress.com Blended Family Soap Opera received the Brilliante Weblog Award!! The award is given by other bloggers for brilliant content or design. We are so excited and honored to receive such an award.
According to the rules, after receiving the award we must pass it on to at least 5 other blogs that we feel are worthy of the same. We’ll be back at a later date to do so. Stay tuned. And, thanks again to kweenmama and our other readers. We hope to continue delivering “brilliant” content that you felt was worthy of this award.
September 16th is National Stepfamily Day, according to the Stepfamily Foundation. As such, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the bonus (I don’t like the word step) members of my family. Don’t forget to do away with the negativity on Stepfamily Day and instead, take this opportunity to recognize and thank the members of your blended families for what they are doing right!
- My first thank you goes to my wonderful husband who is daddy all day, everyday to our son. Thank you for being the primary and prominent male figure in his life. We love you!
- Next, I’d like to thank and recognize my son’s second mom. Every time he leaves your house he comes home talking about how much he loves you, and I can’t tell you how great that makes me feel. And, the fact that you still welcome him with open arms even when his father is out of the country for most of the year is also amazing. I love you for that!
- I’d also like to thank my bonus son’s second dad. We appreciate you being the primary and prominent male figure in his life.
- Finally, I’d like to thank my sons, K and M. They are two of the most wonderful kids I know. We have put them through a lot of changes, but still they remain, kind, honest, intelligent and thoughtful kids. How lucky are we?
Don’t forget to take the time to thank the special members of your blended family as well. Let’s forget about the challenges that we face in our respective blended families and instead, take this day to recognize the blessings that exist within our families.
HAPPY NATIONAL STEPFAMILY DAY!
Do you guys remember when I told you, in some of my earlier posts, that you’ll get nothing but complete honesty from me? And that this blog will be comprised of insightful posts, some of my published articles and ocassionally, a rant or two or three or four or five or ten??? Well, I need to vent so here it goes.
My husband and the ex had another pointless mediation session yesterday. During which some very disturbing, but not shocking, things were revealed. Fortunately, this time the mediator began to see right through her little “I’m only trying to protect my son” routine. Thank you Jesus! The mediator asked her what she sees as a problem, and she told the mediator that my husband isn’t an involved father. She neglected to mention, however, that the reason he hasn’t exercised his visitation rights is because she got a court order preventing him from doing so.
At any rate, she started spitting out accusations such as; “I always invite him to school plays (during the day), but he never comes.” My husband immediately fired back by saying that his school plays are during the day, and we live almost 3 hours away from each other. I don’t get to attend that many day time plays of the son that I am raising BECAUSE I HAVE TO GO TO WORK! Not to mention that the last time we were all in same vicinity as each other it ended up in an ultimate fighting championship brawl. She went on to say that she always invites MY HUSBAND (not his family, mind you) to their state for activities, but he never wants to come. My husband said that going to their state every weekend isn’t realistic or affordable because he doesn’t know anybody, but them there. So, he would have to get a hotel every other weekend to see his son. So, get this, she told the mediator that she offered to pay for HIM to come to their state as often as he would like to spend time with their son. My husband, myself and the mediator are still wondering why K (son) just can’t come to his father’s house to spend time with him. Why does visitation ALWAYS have to be on HER terms? We also began to realize that she just really wants me and my son to go away. Even to the extent that she’s willing to pay my husband to only have visitation with them – now that’s crazy!!
She also has a funny way of twisting words (she’s an attorney). She told the mediator that I was trying to label K as a bad kid because I said that he’s a distraction and disruption in our household, and that’s why I don’t want him here during the summer. Are you kidding me? Now let me tell you what was really said, and some of you probably remember from earlier posts. Our visitation was originally set for June and July (we get 8 weeks in the summer) and she had August. Well, she decided that we were too happy with that arrangement so we had to go back to court, AGAIN, to play her little game. She said that she wanted July so that K could go to summer camp (not summer school) with his friends. Well, M (my son) starts school in our state at the beginning of August, but K doesn’t start in his state until the beginning of September. I said that having K return after being gone for a whole month would be a distraction for M, at the very beginning of a new school year. Not only that the situation is a disruption to our household because there is literally no where for him to go. One summer I had to take K to work with me (for a month), which is very unprofessional and not to mention inconvenient.
But she thinks that only she and my husband need to make decisions for K. Who in the hell does she think does everything for him? Don’t you guys think I should be apart of the decision making process if I’m going to be the one responsible for him? How in the world are they going to decide what I am going to do? But as soon as I even voice my very logical opinion, I’m labeled the ’evil stepmother.’ Are you serious?
Anyway, I suggested that K have visitation with his father when both children were out of school. She left all of that information out. Instead, she decided to make me look like the evil stepmother by only telling the Judge and the mediator that I said that K was a disruption and a distraction.
Whoosa Whoosa…. Num yo ho ray hay key hoooooooo….I’m chanting to release the anger!
With all that said, I understand why she’s hurt, for lack of better words. My husband was an excellent husband to her and excellent father to his son. For those who know him, know that he went above and beyond to take care of her and their son, even after the divorce. It’s partly his fault because he must have known that he couldn’t continue that behavior (taking care of her even though she had a boyfriend way before the ink was dry on the divorce papers) when someone new came along. You just can’t be the man of two households. I always tell my divorced dads that how you start off is how she is going to expect you to end up. So, don’t start something that is going to cause problems later. I’ll admit that my husband was “stuck on stupid.” Every time she called, he jumped, even though it had nothing to do with their child. When she moved, from state to state, he moved too! But, they weren’t together at this point. They were divorced, but he was clearly still very much apart of HER family. She had the best of both worlds: a husband who still acted like one and a boyfriend. Well, this was all before he met me. He fell in love and he no longer wanted to do those things for her. He wanted to do them for me, and she wasn’t and isn’t happy with that. I changed the game!!! I redirected his attention from her, to me, and that is when our problems began. She told him that she was moving to the state that she lives in now and he said, “BYE.” This took her by surprise, of course, because this wasn’t what she was used to. In her mind, no one comes before her! WRONG! I do – I come before you.
Whoosa Whoosa…Num yo ho ray hay key hooooooo…
In any event, all I feel now for her is pity! She has tried so hard and for so long, to get rid of me, but I’m still here. And, I am more in love with my husband every single day!!! All of the trials and tribulations that we have faced because of her have only made us stronger. Most days, we just sit back and laugh at her because she really thinks she’s doing something. Other days, we pray for her because it must be hard for one to live their life that way. Always consumed with what someone else is doing. Always spending your time trying to make other people unhappy. You just can’t be happy with yourself or your situation, if you spend all of your time doing these types of things. It is impossible!!
And so, I will keep this in mind every time she tries to attack. I feel sorry for her. One day I hope that God saves her soul. I just hope it isn’t too late, and she hasn’t completely ruined her son before that point.
Thanks for listening.