Those readers who are Van Morrison fans will recognise this as one of his song titles and I am indebted to him for the creation of the sentence which headlines this blog.
I have this week re-banned myself from the twitter-sphere after a lengthy exchange about how to present oneself in court and the issue of message making about parental alienation. Perhaps I am not sophisticated enough to convey a message in limited characters or, perhaps the meaning of my words, meant for guidance but interpreted differently, fitted together wrongly. Suffice to say I was once banned from twitter by my family and I am now re-banned by myself for not being able to convey the true intent of my words as usefully as I meant them to be. My speech, though from the heart, was clearly inarticulate to the recipient and therefore my meaning became lost in the fog of misinterpretation. As I watched this dynamic unfold, it became clear to me that so much of the work that we do in the field of parental alienation, mirrors the dynamics which unfold between parents who are not only left inarticulate in their speech from their heart but also separated by emotional, psychological and physical distance.
The hurting heart of the rejected parent, is a deep soul wound which clouds the sky and darkens the sun, the moon and the stars. From this place, communication about the loss, pain and suffering is an incredibly difficult thing to convey. I have lost count of the number of rejected parents I have sat with through the pain. I have written about this on here over many years but that doesn’t make each new journey any easier for me to bear witness to. It doesn’t make the individual journey any less difficult either although I can assist in helping parents avoid the worst of the traps they can fall into.
What being with a parent can do however, is prepare them to understand the way in which the system they are suffering in, is not there to help them. It is not there to help them and it is not there to bring justice to their lives either. It is not there because it cares, it is not there because it has any vested interest in the wellbeing of children even,(though it proclaims in its framework that it does). Helping parents to understand that the family law system they are entering is not going to see the truth, deliver the truth or uphold the truth either, is a key step in preventing the worst of the harm that can befall a parent. A parent who enters in hoping for help and justice, but who exits having received little other than judgement and harm.
Don’t go into the family courts expecting justice is what I tell the parents I work with. Family law is not there to deliver justice, it is not there to punish the other parent for their wrong doing and it is not there to repair the hurt that has been done to you. What family law is there for is to attempt to resolve a dispute about how a child has a relationship with a parent. And in providing that resolution, it is a pretty blunt instrument in delivering what is required.
All of this is not to say that there are not talented, dedicated and absolutely determined advocates for parents and children working in the family court system. These diamonds, which sparkle amidst the political ideologues, (those working in the social work model and those who make decisions based on knowledge bites not standardised training), are human in the family courts and their work stands head and shoulders above the rest. The Guardian who really understands that children do not reject a parent without good reason, the therapist who is willing to ask for the order which goes against the child’s wishes and feelings and the psychologist or psychiatrist who isn’t afraid to take action on the basis of what they diagnose. All of these people bring about swift change in children’s lives and I have spoken with many people who are downhearted about the family law system overall but who are able to cite these diamonds amongst the dust. Lest it be said that I am always critical, I am always the first to acknowledge the work of powerful practitioners who do what they say they do. The rest, as I tell parents I work with, are working from a subjective place in which the power they hold is disproportionate to the training they received and the knowledge of self they possess. The family law system in the UK does its best, but when it is advised and supported by ancillary staff who are often less experienced than newly qualified social workers, the outcomes it delivers are deeply problematic.
And so one of the first things we say to a rejected parent is to know the system and know your place in it. In fact we issue ‘the rules’ of engagement with the family court.
- Understand that the court is a system with rules, learn the rules. You would not expect to play a game of cricket without knowing the rules, don’t go into court without doing so.
- Understand that the court is applying the law and the law is a system which was written by people. Understand the law and the people who wrote it. You will waste less energy that way because you will understand the law in context, you will recognise that there are parts which are unfair and you will recognise how to avoid the mistakes that will get you tangled in those parts.
- Understand that when you go into court you are a parent and that you are being observed and scrutinised as a parent and nothing else. If you take it personally that the Judge doesn’t want to hear about your educational or other qualifications you will find yourself wounded and traumatised. Recognise that the system works in a particular way and know your place.
- Understand that the court system is adversarial, it will offer you the opportunity to make your own arrangements but if you cannot do that (because the other parent will not play ball), it will pitch you against each other mercilessly. If you are going to go into court, be prepared to get the gloves off and fight because the reality is that it comes down to either having the deftest of counsel who can get your case onto the front foot quickly or the good luck of having a Judge who knows his/her stuff.
- Understand that even with a court order in your glad and grateful hands, if the other parent won’t play ball, that parenting time you just secured, is not going to happen without an ongoing fight.
- Understand that for situations where your children are completely rejecting you, it is going to take time, strategy, guts and determination to lay out the trail that evidences the reality. And at the end of that you are going to need a mental health professional who knows how to work with alienated children.
- Understand that there are many people who say they are expert in parental alienation without having ever met or worked with an alienated child. Learn how to ask for references. If you don’t get them, don’t go there.
- Understand that the best person to manage this process is you and to manage this process you are going to need a team on your side. You need a team of all the players, a coach, a guide, a crack legal representative, a mental health professional with proven expertise in reunification work and someone to make you tea, prop you up and help you to keep going. Someone who believes in you. Someone who isn’t going to get drawn into the depths of despair with you but who is able to stand at the side of the depths and hang on to the rope that keeps you from sinking too far down.
So much understanding but all of it important for anyone who is going to go into the family courts and survive. If this is you, forget everything else whilst you are doing it. Forget fighting for justice, forget changing the system, forget the harm that has already been done to you and focus. Focus down and put your shoulder to the boulder which stands in your way. That boulder is made up of ignorance about parental alienation and ignorance about how it plays out. In order to get the leverage to make that boulder move you have to weave all of your understanding together to create the dynamic force which shifts it.
And remember –
- Always be other than you are being portrayed to be
- Focus on your children and their experience of being pressured and how you can avoid contributing to that
- Keep notes of everything
- Learn how to put a position statement together that directs the eye to the problem so that the light which is shining on you is turned upon the alienating parent
- Play by the rules of the court
- Be respectful in all that you in court and out of it
- Recognise that everything you write on social media can and will be used against you (my re-banning of myself from twitter is in recognition of how every word I have ever written has been scrutinised by someone somewhere and can and is used against me).
I understand the hurting heart of the rejecting parent and I empathise deeply. But empathising doesn’t stop me from wanting to share the reality of what I know, the reality of what we have helped so many parents deal with and the reality of what can become of you if you go into the family courts unprepared.
Ten years ago I worked with a man who had been told he would never see his child again. He was desolate and truly despairing. We worked together for three years on strategising, overcoming every barrier that was set in the way and then some. By the time we had finished we were like the competitors in the Iron Man challenge, crawling along, dragging each other forward. He sent me a photograph of himself and his child skimming stones a while back. The light in the child’s eyes told me that all would be well for this man in the future. We had worked through a system which had chewed him up and spat him out. It was wrong, it should not have happened, it was cruel and it was unjust in every way. But we ignored all of that and we focused on one thing and one thing only, his child. We kept going and going and going until we got the breakthrough.
I wish I could say he was the only one I have had to do this with but I can’t because he isn’t. I wish I could say that every parent we work with got the breakthrough in the end but they didn’t, they don’t and they won’t. Some will, some won’t. What we have to do is do our best to assist and focus and support in a system which is not designed to do any of those things. It is deeply unjust.
But if we had focused on justice, his child would be lost and so would he.
We made a choice, did he want justice or did he want his child back in his life, some way, any way?
This man made the right choice, it is not the choice every man would or should make but for him and for his child it was the right choice and he made it work and we supported him.
In doing so, we remember that systems are not made of bricks and mortar, iron or steel, they are made of people. And systems can be managed because people can be managed. Managing people is what rejected parents need to do most urgently. Learning to do it whilst in a heightened state of anxiety is about the toughest task a parent can face. But they do face it and they come through it too. We help parents to do that, to survive the system by understanding it and using it to get the outcomes they seek.
Inarticulate speech of the heart may be what we do on twitter but in our work with families in the family law system, our work is designed to assist, support and change lives.
It might not bring justice but it can and does help to bring children home.
(with my apologies to the twitter person who I appeared to upset recently, this was not intentional and was, in a clumsy way perhaps, an effort to help you to understand how to make the system work for you. I have now re-banned myself from twitter!).
Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal is the book we wrote for parents in the family courts. It is full of our expertise in managing parental alienation cases, understanding the court system, preparing and delivering on your strategy in court. You can buy it here.
Our coaching service is for parents inside and outside of the family court systems around the world can be booked here. We offer coaching to parents in the UK, USA and Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe (Apologies -English speaking only) and other countries by arrangement.
We are also working in partnership with coaches and therapists we have trained in Belgium, Croatia, USA and New Zealand. We will be training additional coaches and therapists in the UK Europe, USA and Australia in 2018. I will be writing about our work around the world with links to our partners shortly.