Coping with children’s transition difficulties and avoiding alienation Date: 15 Jun 2012Author: karenwoodall 3 Comments Download the flier here [PDF]: Coping with transitions flier Share this:TweetShare on TumblrPocketTelegramEmailPrintWhatsAppLike this:Like Loading... Related
Hi Karen, I regularly enjoy your blog and find that you very often articulate what I think and feel in a way that I cannot so we’re very often on the same page, and more than just literally! I am a father from a separated family and have been through a court process and am out the other end with a Shared Residence Order which is working very well 8 months in.
I think about the issues discussed quite a lot and today I remembered something I wanted to share for what it’s worth. My parents separated when I was 12. It was a very difficult time as it was very unexpected for me and my brothers and very acrimonious for my parents. My mother left my dad for another man and we stayed at the family home with my father. In the first few weeks, our house was full of extended family members and friends, all there to sympathise with us, and my father. It was like someone had died. Many of these family members and friends would talk openly with my father about what a terrible person my mother was and I even remember my cousin calling her something really horrible. At first we felt we must stand by my father as he was clearly in pain and needed our loyalty, so we disowned our mother. I swore at her on the phone and refused to see her. What I can remember is this feeling of needing to be completely loyal to my father. I felt that if I had accepted my mother, this would be a slap in the face to my very hurt and wronged dad. This must have been the ‘splitting’ that you describe.
Then, as these ‘supportive’ family members started to fade away, which I’ve found is normal as time passes after a family crisis, we began to have the freedom that we needed to be ourselves. Then someone made a decision to let everyone know that they were no longer to bad mouth our mother in our presence, which gave us a really clear signal that we could love our mother again. I can’t remember how that came about or who announced it. My dad would still sometimes angrily show us a solicitor’s letter and then swear about our mother and remind us what a terrible thing she had done to leave her family for another man, but this was only occasional and somehow I just kept wanting to see my mother. I even accepted my mum’s new partner quite quickly, which must have hurt my father at first and I’m quite sure that I hid that part from him initially. I remember my dad used to refer to him by his surname as his way of keeping it impersonal and disrespecting this man, so we would never use his first name either, when talking to my dad about him.
When I look back, I think my Dad held it together really well considering what he’d lost. Both my parents made huge blunders in the way they dealt with their separation where we were concerned but my father could have been so much more alienating and it would have worked back then as we were at his disposal and quite ready to back him all the way. He had our loyalty and attention. All my mother would say to us is that there were reasons she did what she did that she could not talk to us about yet but would tell us when we were older. It wasn’t enough to convince us on her side, whereas my dad’s side of the story was loud and clear – mum had had an affair and left him for another man. As much as my dad showed us his pain, he could have been much worse but he was never a vindictive person.
Fast forward nearly 30 years and during my own separation and court case for Shared Residence, I felt that my ex did some horrible things to me where my daughter was concerned and made some huge blunders herself including telling our then 2 year old that “daddy is trying to take you away from me”. I’m convinced my daughter (who is now nearly 4) still suffers some anxiety due to this. However, during all of this, I have always spoken positively about her mother, I have always done my best to give her the permission to love both of us freely, and despite having had the most outrageous allegations thrown at me during out court case, and for periods of time, being pushed out of my daughter’s life by either not being allowed contact or being only allowed short, monthly contact, I now sometimes sit and have a cup of tea with my ex when I go to pick up my daughter, and we talk about our child’s welfare, nursery, ballet class, behaviour and more. I don’t think I will ever respect or like her again but for the sake of my precious daughter, I pretend I do and it works, so far.
But it takes a minimum of two to reach a compromise; it takes a minimum of one to ruin everything… I truly envy you…
What my parents’ separation did was polarize us children. My sister was older, and saw how my dad was treated like an old sock and thrown out for a younger man; she sided with him, and still does in a way. I was younger, did not understand anything, but later came to believe that my dad must have been the bad guy, not because he was, but simply because everything I had read or absorbed sort of conspired to form the opinion that if a man and woman separated, it was always the man’s fault. I’m much wiser now, of course, but often reflect on how my earlier reverse sexist thinking must shoot through British society like a kind of drug, blinding judges, doctors, teachers, etc. to all manner of ways that women hurt men, especially where children are involved. Looking back, I’d consider myself generally lucky that overt parental alienation was not so pronounced, but I also wonder about the extent to which the mere presumption that a child is a resident possession for mothers is not already a manifestation of parental alienation. Indeed, the whole notion of residency strikes me as poison. Growing up, I just accepted that a troubled youth of a step-father had replaced the role of my more stable father, whom I saw only every second weekend. I can imagine the pain he must have felt, and the hopelessness, and when I do, I find myself judging my mother in a negative light, even though she was just doing what the system allowed her to do, which is deprive her children of the man who cared about them most deeply. The notion of residency already seems to sew the seeds of alienation.