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What To DO When Your Ex Is Turning Your Child Against You

Sometimes, It's a Slow Trickle of Alienation, Sometimes It's Quick

This article serves to put some relief in your mind and heart to know that you are not the only one out there in a contemptuous relationship with an ex spouse.  So many unfortunate people have to deal with the question of what to do with your ex-wife or ex-husband who refuses to be rational and cooperate in the best interest of their children. This often dysfunctional relationship is still something you don't need in your life but have to navigate if you want to participate in your childrens' lives. Whether because of money, in-laws or simply retribution and control, there are many ways to navigate this disruptive and damaging trend.

To Keep Your Sanity, We Sometimes Have to Give-up Something Valuable

Consider what most people do to eliminate a perceived or real threat to their sanity, lifestyle or happiness. They go through an often lengthy and painful process of separation, divorce and  then years of acrimony, arguing, posturing and far worse in some cases. That isn't to say all people are irrational, vindictive or malevolent, but if you aren't in a divorce and post-divorce relationship with a crazy ex, then you likely wouldn't be reading this article in the first place, because you are truly free. By free, I mean mentally, physically and spiritually free to pursue your interests and personal relationships with other people. With children and an ex, we are not  ever really "free" because the separation and break  from a divorce usually never happens except in court documents.

Sure, you may not be living together anymore. You may also show plenty of bravado telling your friends, family and even yourself that you feel good, are moving on and aren't irritated. When in fact, so many emotions are being frayed on almost a daily basis. For this article, we're focusing on divorced couples that have children, since they most often are the ones that suffer the slings and arrows of the feuding married couple. While, intuitively, most divorced couples know they shouldn't drag the children into any argument nor the demise of the marriage, but inevitably, the kids are dragged into it for the ego or support of one parent over the other.

Children as Pawns in A Game of Parental Alienation Syndrome

Often, the children are used as pawns in a game of control and in an effort to punish the other partner. One area that has caught the attention of so many in the therapeutic and judicial arenas is called Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), which is basically one parent turning a child against the other parent. How can it happen, so many people ask? They question how a loving parent and child relationship can so quickly turn into the child hating that parent.  Yet it happens all too often when one parent doesn't have custody or isn't living with that child or children.

In my case, I fought to see my girls for over two and a half years when much of the initial damage was done. The emotions and needs of my ex actually had my two little girls (ages 9 and 11) being brought into court with their mother as "support" for her. All the attorneys and the judge were shocked at this obvious lapse in judgement where a 42 year old woman needed to pull her minor children out of school, bringing them to court simply as support to make her feel safe and secure without a thought for the children. Certainly, there were and are many emotional issues that had and still have to be worked out, plenty of history too, but no self-respecting professional in couples counseling, therapy or otherwise would see where this kind of involvement for minor children is supportive of a relationship with their natural father, especially since he hadn't been involved in any questionable actions with his kids.

It's Almost A Decade and Little Has Changed

This kind of behavior would go on for another four years, fully a decade after the separation and now, with the children being able to legally add a voice to their opinions, feelings and emotions,  my younger daughter recently professed that she doesn't want to see me or speak with me now because she was angry about the way I talked about her mother and she feels scared of what I might say in general. A decade of brainwashing sadly worked on my younger daughter. Lies and innuendo, the mainstay of an exes tool box to get back at a former spouse for not paying enough or doing enough in their eyes. In most cases it is never enough and this is why there is a an absolute need to extract yourself from the maddening cycle that so many people are forced to deal with because they love and want a relationship with their children, but are forced to take at best a tertiary role by meddling, angry adults who are bent only on destruction.

Are negative emotions part of my situation? Sure. Do I have the ability after 10 years to be immune to feelings from this constant tug-of-war with whether I can see my girls, when I can see them, at what hours? If I drive the two hours to see them every two weeks, is that enough, or should I see them for supper once a week if the ex will "allow" it ( one of her favorite cries is that all plans have to be authorized by her...). Yet, if I had hundreds of thousands of dollars to waste on a dysfunctional family court system, I know I would at the very least get joint custody and therein lies one major part of the problem. Act Pro Se (on your own behalf) and be ridiculed and demonized by most of the judges and opposing attorneys in the system, or spend money that is far more important to have for your children's schooling and upbringing.  The choices aren't great even if you had the money.

Choose to Let Go, Save Your Sanity and Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

So in my case, I am choosing to let go of my youngest daughter and focus on my eldest daughter who  has at the very least not been completely consumed by her need to meet her mother's expectations of her as a supporter, "friend" and erstwhile partner in opposing me as a parent and father. Most egregious of all the injury to fathers, mothers and children (nobody wins in these cases as we all know), is the perception that becomes reality where a child can say: "I don't like you and I don't want to see you anymore". How preposterous is that? Our system of family and child rearing has gotten to the point that minor children, in this case a 12 year old, brainwashed by an angry, unstable vindictive mother, can say she doesn't want her father in her life. Mind boggling at the very least since so many children fight to have a father in their lives and so many programs are set-up to help children without male role models to have that interaction.  This system of divorce, separation and courts sets it up so that a child can actually sever ties with a parent based on hearsay at best and lies at worst.  Then, the vast majority of parents (in this case fathers) get lumped in with the few who lose all sense of reality and give in to their most primal and uncontrolled need to make justice for themselves.

Not a Darren Mack Killing

With Mr. Mack, his lifestyle was questionable to begin with and it wasn't exclusively his, but his wifes as well. However, we still aren't talking about a parent that is an addict, career criminal, abusive or anything remotely close to those cases we sadly hear about on the news and in television shows, although for Mr/ Mack it became that was and was played ad-nauseum on 48 hours, with one parent killing the other after an acrimonious divorce. Darren Mack was a millionaire gone to extremes by shooting a judge and killing his wife. His good friend, when interviewed about whether he thought it was possible that Mack did these things, responded by saying he could see how it was possible to feel that way and I know there are many others out there who likely feel the same way about the judicial system and ex-spouse, but didn't act on the feeling. That is how strong the emotions are and that is why everyone has to reach a point in their dysfunctional relationships and say enough is enough. If my ex thinks she is winning by destroying my relationship with my child (ren) and I don't have the funds to pursue it in court and can't ruin my life to continue another decade in this downward spiral, then the only choice is to let go and hope that your child comes around and sees your ex for what she is and why it happened.

I know plenty of grown-ups who had mothers and fathers just like the ex that I have. They squeezed the hands of their kids so hard when the visit of the ex-spouse was "at hand" that the child eventually didn't want to go because they knew how much the parent they were living with didn't like them to. They would get dressed down and yelled at if any positive comment was made about the non-custodial parent as if they were a prisoner of war returning from capture and getting debriefed. In some cases, children were physically hurt, hit, slapped, dragged about because they expressed a desire to live with their mother or father and the courts would simply say to the child after they ran away, that they would go to juvenile detention if they didn't return to the custodial parent. Children have been taken to other countries, imprisoned in their own homes and even murdered to avoid having the other parent "get them". So the courts and public opinion don't have a taste for more mundane cases like my own, yet the damage is done, continuing and all pervasive, with some children growing-up reasonably well adjusted while others are scarred and damaged from their experiences. We shouldn't have to leave this up to a percentage game, but unfortunately that is what it has become. A wait and see, hope for the best with the perpetrator of the damage being given a wide berth for her/his effects to take hold and create those adults that so loath what happened to themselves, unable to extract a relationship in some cases and turning soar on everyone and everything in many others.

Fathers Portrayed As Murders

I can go on with horror stories like this, but many of the readers are all too familiar with these and more examples of how the system and break-down of the nuclear family is further destroying our childrens' lives by allowing this kind of PAS to continue unabated. Unfortunately for fathers, the systems of "justice", and I use the term loosely for the obvious prejudice fathers face in family court, continue to look at the mothers as better prepared to take up the child rearing role with a part time father. Again, the perception of having a parent relegated to a once every two weekend visit and perhaps a supper during the week, further weakens the bond of that parent. Cases  like Darren Mack, don't help either, with men being portrayed as violent murderers, with poor judgement and a lack of caring. Nothing can be farther from the truth for most fathers.

Indeed, with women working more often than they used to in the age of  "Leave It To Beaver", the shared responsibility and task of bringing up children should have also reached the public psychology, but hasn't yet permeated the family court system or what is deemed acceptable in our culture. So children will continue to be pawns in a game of control by one parent or another. The court system will only help those who have sufficient money to get the evidence and reality across and without proper training, most justices and judges will continue to look at their case load as a burden with their preconceived views of who is a better parent when not one such bench employee can be considered an ideal parent able to act like a Salomon and make fair and unbiased decisions on behalf of the children at risk.

Most often, I was told after acting Pro Se for myself, that judges and justices focus on cases where children are imminently at risk of being physically hurt, while cases where they are dealing with educated parents that they perceive as bickering are relegated to an area of annoyance for them, so that the children's needs and situation are not heard or helped in any way, except to pay the attorneys, who frankly don't have any incentive to see any case resolved because their money train would run out (yes, I have sour grapes and I do resent having paid tens of thousands of dollars with multiple attorneys, in multiple jurisdictions to still find myself faced with not speaking to my youngest daughter. It amazes me!).

How Do You Live When Your Child Stabs You In The Heart?

Yes, you can hear it. You can feel the pain, torment and hurt that a child can lay on you. Not to mention your own child. Despite a knife piercing your heart when she speaks to your current partner, because she is led to believe that she doesn't want to speak to you (pounded into her subtly, daily by your ex), you know you can't blame your daughter (or son as the case may be). You need to breathe; to let go of the anger and frustration and hope that your daughter will one day realize, in a week, a month, a year or  more, that she was misled systematically,  by listening to her mother (your ex). Sometimes children of PAS do come around and sometimes they don't, but that isn't your fault for sure. This alchemical mix of emotions and situations will decide how your relationship with your child unfolds. In my case, I am fortunate that one of my children is strong enough emotionally to recognize the game that is going on between her mother and myself, but in many cases, the children feel devotion and allegiance to the custodial parent and believe what they are being told, despite having no apparent issue with you in reality.

Now, it is your turn to be the very bravest and selfless person that you can be. Just like me. I am letting my daughter go.  Letting her live with her mother and hear how bad I am, how mean I am, how I don't care because I am not buying her things, etc... (damned if I do and damned if I don't). Let the onus of resurrecting your parental relationship fall on your child, since trying to rationalize with your ex won't work (it hasn't in 10 years, why would it now?). As long as the child remains within the clutches (yes, clutches, like  a bear) of the ex-parent, more damage to  your perceived character will be done and no support of your relationship will surely be provided, which is a bulwark of helping any child in a divorce situation, but is so often ignored or trampled on because of the acrimony between the parents. That, however, is what you have to do to save your own sanity (and likely, your childs as well).

Letting Go Doesn't Mean You Are a Bad Parent

It doesn't mean you are a bad parent. It was and is a war of sanity that you are fighting and in order not to lose it, you will lose some things that are dear to you. Some may say, keep fighting and be drawn into the madness of your ex. While others would say, you have the right to be happy and grow. So the truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. Make it clear somehow, in a text, an email or a phone call or letter, that you love your child and are available to her whenever she feels the need or desire to communicate. Will your attempts be blocked, ridiculed and belittled? Sure they will. The ex is relentless in her need to control and hurt, but you have now passed beyond that and will not engage in that madness. It won't stop hurting and the bewildering reality will continue even after your child is 18 and either speaking to you or not.

Whether you choose to financially support the child that had been dragged into the morass of your ex by not speaking to you and cutting you off, is another question only you can decide. There is no benefit to her, if she considers you the go to person when she needs something. All she is learning is that men are there to pay bills and no more. The minute you stop providing stuff, you will be considered useless, bad, mean or some other negative embodiment of a parent. Please understand, it is in our nature to want to take care of our children and I was the biggest offender in this area. My daughter actually called me just days before to ask me  if she could buy a book online and I said sure, only to hear two days later that she doesn't want to speak to me. Was I shocked? Yes. Surprised? No. Money may help make things easier in the short run, but it won't solve the disease. Whether it was $300 a month or $5,000 a month, the money will never be able to satisfy your ex, or the child that has tucked herself under your ex's wing. She has learned the fundamentals from her mother after-all and you shouldn't believe that it is anything other than that.

In the End, You Love Your Child

In the end, you love your child. Focus on that. Don't be angry with her. You can be hurt, sad and despondent, but no matter what your child says to hurt you, it isn't your child speaking. She wants a father, just like any other child. She just doesn't have the breadth of understanding and the independence of mind yet. She may never have it either and that is a truth that I, like so many other mothers and fathers that are being forced to be estranged from our children have to face. Yet, we have so much in our lives to be grateful for. Perhaps a new wife or husband and partner. A great career. Supportive family and friends. This is the time to consider our assets and prepare for our child to want to re-enter that fold one fateful day.

How can any child at the age of 12 or even as a young adult, understand what they are forfeiting just to look good in the eyes of the custodial parent? They can't. Forget the "stuff" for a moment, just consider the weekends doing whatever. Getting lifts to see friends, going shopping, playing sports, seeing their grandmother. All this can't happen while helping their custodial parent punish you. You can try to impress upon your child what they cannot see, but the ex will block that too by saying that they can see the grandparents whenever they want, always looking like the generous one, when they in fact are the embodiment of evil and poor parenting. Forget, for now, your desire to help her in school, go to sporting events with her, maybe even a vacation. Focus on what you can do for her at some time in the future. Be there for her, love her always and do not buy her affection, love and devotion back because that is precisely what your ex wants since it is not the foundation of a true relationship with your child. You have the tools and they will be available to you, when and if she can peek her head out from under the dark cloud of her custodial parents desire to hurt you.

You Have The Right To Be Happy

I remember my very best friend telling me before I got separated almost a decade ago, that I had the right to be happy. He himself was divorced, going through some, but not all of the trials and tribulations that I would face. His constitution was far stronger than mine and I had no idea it was to be a marathon for me, leaving me penniless and struggling to forge a relationship with my children. So was the price of happiness worth it? Considering the alternatives, it is the price for me and I had no choice, or I may have done far worse to myself, because my brain isn't hard-wired to do some of the things we hear about in the news or see on shows like 48 hours. Journalists and correspondents love to pass morality and opinion, doling out judgment on  people who struggle with divorce, separation and the difficulties that ensue. Those cartoonish talking heads that spew venom for ratings and are now dancing to win trophies like Nancy Grace, are the pent-ultimate in what is wrong with our system, allowing hang-men to forge our public opinion. Yet, millions, the vast majority, know exactly what I'm speaking about and yes, we do have the right to be happy, but there are consequences and if we haven't done the work going into a relationship, then we must pay the price going out of it. In many cases, we lose our children's love,  affection and worse, their presence. Could we have predicted these results? Not likely, since we are all hopeful and looking forward to a new reality having been married for just a few months to many decades perhaps. That is our new cultural reality and while it may support the dissolution of parental relationships with their children, we can only keep the door open while bringing ourselves back from the precipice of lunacy. If you are able to do that without having your insides eaten-up, then you will be a better parent for your child when he/she wakes up from the nightmare of control from your ex. If they don't, you will have come a long way to repair yourself, but be prepared for the raw nerves, blaming and hurt that your child might likely exhibit. Remember, you can't do any right and will have done all the wrong if you don't appear to be throwing yourself on your sword to see her. However, committing a crime, suicide or any other severe action is simply falling into your ex's insanity and you, will be lost or dead. That isn't the goal here, is it? No. The goals are to survive and thrive and be there for your children and other loved ones when they need you. Talk to your family, friends and network. Let them help you move beyond today. Love your child and be there for them whenever they can open their eyes. Your own life will be rewarded as well as that of your childs.

 

About the author; Lorne Caplan started his career in biotech and medical device financing, moving into spas, skincare and all things anti-aging and romance related.  His focus on romance, passion and intimacy products and services came from the hundreds of fragrances, cosmetics and skincare products he formulated and unique ingredients he became privy to. As a father and stepfather to five girls, his unique understanding of female physiology and mentality combined with his own personal experiences, allow for a unique and all encompassing perspective on these subjects.  Lorne is a speaker and presenter, appearing on television shows such as Dr. Phil and Perfect Proposal. He is frequently published and quoted in multiple media outlets like Shape, and Spa 20/20.

 






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