> No More Secrets And Lies: The Road Home

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Road Home

Can you see by your lonely light of day
Is this road really the only way
Can this road be taken, taken at all
                                                                                  — Graham Nash

When I say it's been nearly three years since I've seen Mary and Grace, what I mean is that I haven't had a relationship with them for that long. I've seen them though, here and there, around town mostly, and usually always from a distance.

I saw Grace riding by my house one day in her mom's car, and I saw her on the news one night standing next to a politician who was visiting her school. I hardly recognized her, though — her hair looks shorter and she looks taller. And one day my doctor told me he saw her name in the paper after winning a speech contest at her school — something I didn't know anything about. But she and I have never actually seen each other face-to-face since that day I asked her if she wanted to go get ice cream with me — the last time I saw her. I never run into her around town.

But I run into Mary sometimes. We've bumped into each other a few times — once or twice in grocery stores, once in a coffee shop, and on a couple of occasions I saw her walking down the street with a friend. One time we even had a brief encounter outside a convenience store. But like our other encounters, that one ended badly with her screaming at me and threatening to call the police if I didn't leave.

And none of these encounters qualify as "seeing my girls," in the sense that they're what I'm looking for when I say I'm trying to "connect" with my girls. Seeing them like this is actually worse than not seeing them at all because it only magnifies the distance between us and shows me how much they're hurting.

I have no connection with my girls whatsoever anymore. I know this but I don’t want to believe it. But I realize it's true when I wake up each morning and notice they're not with me and I don't know where they are, what they're doing, or anything about them. I realize this when they never return my calls or my letters and I can't even be sure they're getting my letters. And I realize I no longer have a connection with my children anymore when I can count the number of times I've seen them in the past three years on the fingers of one hand.

The Road Home

And so I'm still on a journey to find my girls, and I'm still writing about my attempts to do this. But finding them means more than us accidentally bumping into each other on the long road that separates us and then scrambling to escape these encounters.

For them it means finding their way back to the people they once were who could trust their feelings and perceptions about the world and didn't have to close a big part of it off because someone told them to.

It means standing up to and establishing boundaries with the people who made them chose a parent they were going to love and a parent they were going to hate. And it means developing a strong sense of self so they can take charge of their lives, determine who they want to be, and stop the hurt.

For me the road home means being able to live an effective life without having to crawl into a hole of denial, self-pity, and depression whenever I think about the life I used to have with the girls and then remember we don't have that life any more  It means realizing that just because my children are gone from my life, doesn't mean I can't have a life. And it means having the courage to continue searching for them, speaking up for them, and writing about our journey home. It also means being able to forgive those who did things to them.

Both the girls and I have experienced incredible losses that have affected us tremendously and turned our lives upside down. I can see this in them, in the confused and contradictory attempts they make trying to connect with me on the one hand, and trying to avoid me on the other. And as any father who's intimately involved with his children knows, we sense when there's something wrong with our children; we know when they're hurting.

But I don't see this hurt subsiding or being dealt with. Instead I see them being taught to cope with my loss by putting me out of the picture, pretending I never existed, and hiding from me so they don't have to see me. And none of this is healthy and only increases the chances they'll end up dealing with similar situations the same way. Never understanding what caused the destruction of our relationship, nor using it as an opportunity to learn how to resolve future conflicts, only teaches them that ignorance is preferable to truth and avoidance is preferable to facing this truth. And that concerns me.

But I'm even more concerned that they'll think the reason they no longer have a father in their life is because of something they did wrong — that it was their fault. "He left me because I'm no good," is a common sentiment of children who have been abandoned by a parent early in life. If losing a father is half as hard for them as losing them has been for me, then this experience is affecting them more than anyone imagines.

.     .     .

Losing a parent is an extremely difficult thing for a child to experience, no matter what the cause. But when someone purposely orchestrates this loss by separating a child from her father and telling her that her father doesn't love her any more  the loss is much, much worse. And when this forced separation continues with lies — and increasing lies — in attempts to convince her that she should hate her father, the emotional toll on her rises to the level of maltreatment. And this is why parental alienation is considered abuse.

And knowing this, I'm not only moved to do something to stop this, but I'm bound to do something, otherwise I'm no less guilty of perpetuating maltreatment.

The fact that parental alienation is abuse — is emotional abuse — has been established by a number of experts in the field of psychology and the social sciences, most notably in the work done by Amy Baker in her book Adult Children of Parental Alienation. Through interviews with children who were alienated from their parents when they were young, like my children are, she's put together a list of problems these children experience later in their lives. The worst of these are low-self esteem, depression, drug and alcohol problems, low academic and career achievement, lack of trust, divorce problems, and being alienated from their own children later in life.

It's not news to anyone that children face enough challenges just fitting into a world that's constantly changing. And we all know that during the adolescent years finding their footing in the world of adulthood usually makes this stage the most difficult for everyone. And when you add the stress of living in a divorced family to their world, their lives can quickly become overwhelming.

But to intentionally introduce even more problems into their lives -- severe ones such as separating them from a primary caregiver -- kids can quickly reach a tipping point as the cruel violence of parental alienation begins to inflict unimaginable havoc into their world. After enough pain and humiliation a part of them dies.

Like every parent, I want my children to be spared problems like these. I want them to grow up to be healthy, happy, and "emotionally literate" children, as Christine Carter calls this in her book Raising Happiness. According to her, emotionally literate children are children who are healthier; more confident in their explorations of the world; more achievement-oriented, independent, and persistent problems solvers; more willing to ask for help and seek comfort when frustrated, less likely to be bullied or be bullies themselves; and better behaved and less impulsive at school.

And the way children become emotionally literate is by having secure attachments to parents which establishes the foundation for their future relationships, they school performance, and their career success.

I want these things for my girls.

Emotional Rescue

I'm not saying my children are necessarily going to experience all  the problems associated with emotional maltreatment or that they'll lack emotional literacy. But considering what's happened to them, the chances are high that they might.

And considering that they've been forced to choose one parent over the other, have had to listen to their father being belittled in front of them,  have been made to feel guilty about wanting to have a positive relationship with their father, and have been told that their father doesn't love them any more, the chances are extremely high that they will suffer some degree of emotional trauma. And that concerns me.

I've seen what emotional trauma can do to people. I've worked with emotionally abused children and adults as a social worker, an at-risk child counselor, and a behavioral analyst. And I've seen intelligent adults crippled by emotional problems they don't understand, stuck at emotional stages and who now cope by living through facades, denial, and dangerous habits.

And I've seen children, now grown, who were alienated from their parents when they were young, who are emotionally numb and lost in a constant struggle of acceptance by others and even themselves.

And I've known women who grew up without fathers, who were exposed to the narcissistic-type behaviors found in alienating families. I've seen how this has affected them and is presently affecting their children.

I don't these things for my girls.

.    .    .

I can't know for certain how my loss has affected my daughters, because I barely see them any more. And I'm not an expert on emotional abuse. But I've known my girls their entire lives and I can tell when they're hurting, even if I've only seem them during our brief accidental encounters around town.

I also know enough about parenting to know it's more than just raising children. It's being present with them, being honest with them, putting their needs before ours, and seeing the world through their eyes as much as possible. And I know good parenting isn't expecting children to hate someone because we do and expecting them carry this hatred around with them the rest of their lives.

Our family doesn't need anymore hate. We've had enough of that and it's time we tried something else. And even though I don't think we should dwell on the past or live our lives in the shadow of a past filled with hate, I don't think we should deny we ever had a past either and lose touch with our roots. And I think the road home means finding those roots and I think this can be a positive experience for us.

If home is where the heart is, then remembering where our hearts once were is our destination along this road — a place I still have in my heart for them and I believe they still have in their hearts for me. And this is the challenge we have ahead of us and the journey we have to take together. And that's a story I'd like to write.


MJ Stern for said...

Hi John,

I love your post and parental alienation is something I wish was more public 30 years ago. I help the owner at Itsitville.com and would like to use this paragraph for a quote on Facebook. Of course I will reference your name and blog too:

Losing a parent is an extremely difficult thing for a child to experience, no matter what the cause. But when someone purposely orchestrates this loss by separating a child from her father and telling her that her father doesn't love her any more the loss is much, much worse. And when this forced separation continues with lies — and increasing lies — in attempts to convince her that she should hate her father, the emotional toll on her rises to the level of maltreatment. And this is why parental alienation is considered abuse.

You can contact me through the website if you don't want us to use it. Thanks so much and have a great day.

John Brosnan said...

By all means you can certainly use the paragraph on Facebook. I'm glad you liked it. That's a nice compliment. - John

Anonymous said...

I have dealt with MN family court... nothing but judicial neglect.

John Brosnan said...

Or like one of my lawyers calls it "lawlessness."

Anonymous said...

I've been struggling with something. "Normal people" say don't worry, one day truth will prevail, after all you are his mother. And so I think: To make a child obliterate his entire past and replace it with borrowed scenarios, means totally breaking a child's mind. The child of course is alone and he has no choice but to trust and believe the only parent who is present at that moment. It becomes a matter of survival. Now suppose that one day the miracle I prayed for actually does happen and my adult PAS son starts to remember, starts to get his real memories back, what's going to happen to his mind? I mean, once broken already, any change will cause a new major trauma. This is how PAS children are formed, going from trauma to trauma till they feel nothing anymore. Self-preservation. Plus, PAS children are indoctrinated to believe that one parent is God and the other parent is Evil, period. There is no both parents can love me in their minds. The concept is totally nonexistent.
Anyway, like I said suppose that one day this miracle happens and he'll start to remember. I don't believe this moment will be as joyful to him as it'll be to me. I believe instead that his entire universe would shatter into million of pieces. In his mind his world would just collapse. He would not know what's real or what's not anymore. Yes, I do dream too that one day... But honestly I am afraid of that day. In the best of hypothesis he'll just switch parents in his mind, so that the good one becomes bad and the bad becomes the good one. So what does that will do to us all? How is the truth going to help any?
I get very angry when ignorant people tell me not to worry, that everything will be okay. It will not be okay. It will just be the beginning of a new tragedy.

Luciana Rossi (Solchenberger)

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