This week I have been writing about cross generational coalitions in parental alienation and I thought it may be useful to embed this concept within the overall concept of gender equalities work, which as you know, forms one of the foundations stones of the work that we do at the Family Separation Clinic. I was prompted to think and write more about cross coalitions after my thoughts about how the government responds to interest groups and how the existence of interest groups can distort for those on the outside, the reality of real people’s lives. I was also prompted to think more deeply about this by the response from a paternal grandparent to my statement that paternal grandmothers can be one of the most powerful (and toxic) components of a cross generational coalition, usually when they are in a fused and enmeshed emotional and psychological dyadic relationship with their son. This paternal grandparent felt that I was distorting the truth and that all paternal grandparents are the people who are alienated from their children. This in her view had to to be the truth because of all of the paternal grandparents she supports in her work. This is the kind of thinking that both prevents the debates that need to be had about families where alienation strikes AND contributes to the kind of pre boxed and labelled groupings caused by interest groups. If we are to move beyond this we must open up the discussion about families and we must leave behind the ways in which the women’s rights groups have created a belief system about the family in which who you are in the family system, determines the role that you play, the support that you get and the atttitudes of the outside world towards you.
To unpack that particular box here is an example to describe what the women’s rights groups have done in dividing the family into good and bad. This has been achieved by using a patriachal analysis, in which the history of human kind has been assessed as having been driven in the best interests of men, with women’s needs secondary and children’s needs last. This analysis, which sets the foundation for how all of the interest groups are forced to relate to the family, means that the only way that those supporting the needs of men can act is to invert the original analysis, literally turning it on its head but still being forced to work within that original paradigm.
This creates a situation where those people who support one interest group or the other, are forced to relate to their members and thus those who are causing their members suffering, in ways that box all members of the same grouping together. Thus, for women’s rights groups, all mothers are good people who only have the best interests of their children at heart and any mother who harms her child must have been made to do that by a man. Conversely, all the father’s rights groups have to represent men who have been driven out of their children’s lives by mothers who are deliberately harming their children by alienating them. In the grandparent world, as asserted by this commentator this week, all the paternal grandparents must be good people who have been prevented from seeing their grandchildren because 90 % of non resident parents are fathers which automatically means in this conceptualisation of the world that all paternal grandparents are the people who are suffering.
But the world is not like that. The lives of separating families are not like that and to believe that people live in boxes labelled resident = good and non resident = bad or the converse of that, is to fail to understand and serve the real needs of families, especially families where alienation strikes.
The reality of the world is that the hierarchy of power which is described by feminism is a construct. It is a constructed image and a constructed belief system. It is a political ideology which, when it is applied to the family as it separates, serves no other purpose than to drive a wedge between parents so wide that it creates a gulf which is impossible to cross. If we lived in a world where all children’s needs were last in a hierarchy of power and control and women were wedlocked into subservience. If we lived in a world where men are all born inherently powerful and dangerous and all grandparents were either benign and suffering or wicked and controlling, then this way of thinking and working would be useful. But we don’t. We absolutely don’t. And we especially don’t when it comes to dysfunctional family patterns, cross generational coalitions, fused dyadic relationships and toxicity. And working in the feminist construct of men at the top of a triangular construct of power and control or men at the bottom of the same inverted construct, is not useful, it does not help parents, grandparents or the children they love.
The world is not a place where people live in boxes labelled good and bad. The world is a confusing mash up of good, bad and indifferent and all of the possibilities in between. And it is this which is our starting point when working with families where alienation strikes. Instead of using the dominant model of patriarchal power and control analysis, a new model is necessary, one which takes into account all of the elements of what happens in families where alienation is present.
This looks like this.
Analysing each individual using this model, allows us to step outside of the imposed feminist construct and into a mental health analysis of the family. When we are working within this paradigm, things become much clearer and people do not have to be fitted into constructed boxes. In this paradigm, mothers can be good, bad and everything in between, so can fathers and so can grandparents on either side of the family. Children, in this model, are the recipients of the generational messages which are positive and negative or a mix of both and their behaviours in alienation situations are much easier to understand and therefore treat.
Paternal grandmother is very much present in the children’s lives and when she is present, her son gives way to her and allows her to be dominant. She is dominant in the family home and she expects to be dominant in her son’s home. Her son, unable to stand up to his mother, reconfigures her behaviour as being beneficial to the children (after all she was a wonderful mother to him). This deification of his mother elevates her to a powerful position in the family hierarchy, a place she is used to occupying. When her daughter in law finds this difficult, the grandmother interprets this as her being difficult and unpleasant and uses sulking and withdrawal of affection from her son to force him to put his wife back in her place. Over time, the paternal grandmother’s power erodes the marriage and the mother decides that she will leave the relationship. The children however, without her really being aware, have aligned themselves to their grandmother, forming a cross generational coalition which is toxic to their wellbeing because it is focused upon deifying their grandmother and demonising their mother. The son becomes a helpless player in this game and is used by the grandmother to enforce the separation between the children and their mother. The lead player in this family drama is paternal grandmother, the children are aligned to her and the men in this family are silenced and emasculated.
If we were to approach this through a feminist lens we would attribute the power and control not to the grandmother (she cannot be controllling because she is female) and would attribute it to the father. To treat this we would focus upon the father and changing his behaviour. However, the father is only a bit part player in this drama and to focus upon him would be futile because the power is held by his mother. Only by locating the locus of control in this family through analysis of generational messages and coalitions, can we address the real issue which is causing the children to reject their mother.
In the parental rights based paradigm, where those representing paternal grandparents who are being pushed out consider that all paternal grandparents are by definition suffering the same fate, the opportunity to address this issue at its core is missed. The lesson is, people do not live in boxes. The family is a curious mix of different experiences and just because we know one group of people who share the same experience, does not mean that this is representative of everyone bearing the same label.
The truth is that where the family is toxic, it is cross generational, it is toxic along the horizontal line of living relatives and it is toxic along the vertical line of our ancestors. It is often toxic but normalised so that people do not know that it is toxic and it is hidden within the different folds of coalitions which are formed under the surface and not readily visible to the naked eye.
Falling into analysing this through a constructed ideology is both harmful and lazy because it is not so difficult a step out of that paradigm and into the real world. All it requires is a little bit of thinking, the key tools which help to turn that into critical thinking and the willingness to take off the blinkers and really look at the families we work with.
If more of us woke up to this, more children could be helped and the generational march of dysfunction could be stopped.
We don’t all live in pre-labelled boxes. We do come in all shapes and sizes and we are, to a man and a woman, the sum total of the ghosts of our ancestors. Raising those ghosts from the dead and understanding the impact on the living is a major task for anyone working in families where alienation strikes.
Ghost busting outside of the feminist construct. It is not for the faint hearted but it changes lives.