23rd February 2009
This letter is the culmination of a number of years of personal experience and self-education and is both a story and a lesson for all mothers who have been or are in the midst of divorce proceedings. I have experienced the pain of family disintegration, single- parenthood, child support difficulties and yes, the joy of rebuilding and remarriage too. There is a very disturbing phenomenon emerging from a dark source in angered ex-spouses that is becoming widely recognized in legal and medical circles because of its devastating impact.
As a woman, mother, stepmother, wife and divorcee, I have heard and shared experiences of my female and male friends. One trend has disturbed me immensely -- men whose precious relationships with sons and daughters of all ages have been almost or in some cases completely lost. I speak of successful men in their early 40s who have warm hearts, soft voices and deep thoughtful eyes who love their kids profoundly and regularly pay support, but who have not sufficient energy or desire for psychological warfare with ex-spouses seeking revenge. I suspect that there are many (both women and men) who are already beginning to see their own reflections here.
There are two important truths about this issue that most of us would prefer neither to recognize nor discuss: 1) Children make very effective weapons, and 2) sadly, motherhood can have a dark side. Women have the power (and certainly not all of us use it) to punish ex-husbands for perceived unforgivable transgressions.
There are the tried-and-true tactics -- convenient reasons why visits can't take place, ensuring his new partner will never be accepted, psychological punishment for the child who speaks well of a step- parent, locking kids into loyalty issues they struggle with but accept painfully, making Dad feel like the "wallet" and nothing more.
Women do these things with confidence because courts cannot enforce the "soft" clauses of divorce agreements such as "you will consult on matters of education and health." Controlling the behaviours, thoughts or desires of a child is tough to prove and the system has put all its effort into the really important stuff -- collecting support cash.
It gets worse. The psychiatric community has thoroughly researched and documented what has become known as the "parental alienation syndrome." (One reference book is The Parental Alienation Syndrome by Richard A. Gardner, MD.) It is a disorder that is probably most easily recognized in bogus sexual abuse charges against ex-spouses where a parent (most often the mother) convinces a child and the courts that "Daddy touched you, didn't he?"
For some women, it's handy in other ways and is used on kids from tots to teenagers in varying degrees. Here are a few examples of typical parent-alienating statements: "The way your Dad got angry at you over the car, you know that really is abusive" or "You wouldn't believe some of the things your father did/said when we were married É " or "I just don't know how we're going to pay these bills, and look at your father in that nice house," or "I guess your Dad has taken her side against you -- I would never do that to you."
I could go on, but you probably get the point. The strategy is to create a negative image of the other parent consistently and continuously so as eventually to ensure that the child himself will choose to have nothing to do with the target parent.
Women's groups should be proud of the work done to empower their constituents. And parental alienation is perpetrated by fathers as well. However, it is primarily women who seem to engage in this activity as their only means of wreaking vengeance. Although a subterranean type of warfare, it has its victims, and the most critically wounded are the very children one claims to be protecting.
Much of this is understandably difficult to accept since we want so much to live in a world where motherhood is honoured.
The father gives something very special to his children that has nothing to do with the relationship (good or bad) between him and his ex-spouse. We have every right to fear for our communal health and well-being when fathers are prevented from loving and children from being loved.
For some men, the alienation strategy is successful and they silently admit defeat, fleeing emotionally or physically -- some likely become what we refer to as "deadbeat dads," others resigning themselves to whatever sort of relationship is possible from a comfortable distance out of firing range. You can imagine the silent suffering of shattered children who stand dutifully behind their grinning victorious mothers. We have all lost something.
When society vocalizes the need for fathers to take more responsibility, we must wonder how many silent female voices will never admit publicly that they simply won't let them.
There will be a reaction from those with opposing views and examples to support "dead-beat dadism" and "single mum heroism." The real issue, however, is prevention -- what can we do?
Well, aside from raising daughters who have sufficient self-worth to renounce such tactics, if you have a friend, a sister, a daughter-in- law, a cousin who you believe to be in the process of alienating the children from Dad in whatever measure, say something in a kind, gentle and supportive way about the importance of a father in a child's life. You will surely have made a small contribution to the greater good and maybe a big difference in a child's life.
Let's hope they Google your name Leeahn to find out what you're really saying about the children and that someone steps in to save them. See Earlier Post about Leeahn Griffin-Scott
Also goes by various aliases on the net including Griffoscott, cawzforconcern, csavictim1994.