How to tell if you are an alienated parent

Had the good fortune to experience my final court hearing in my divorce yesterday. Apparently the steps from here are all paperwork and the divorce will be finalized within 2 weeks per our normal county system.  

During this final appearance, there were several lawyer to lawyer conversations finalizing the last details.  At one point the two attorneys and my ex and I ended up in a hallway “discussing” the parenting situation.  I say discussing, so it ended up as it always has, with my ex angry about me “forcing the kids” to have a relationship with me and how there is no way she is doing this.  

My lawyer tried to explain that there is a huge difference between telling the kids that they are being forced (by the court or by their dad) to go to counseling and helping them understand that whenever we face huge adversity in our life, it’s very wise to seek independent, neutral advice.  

My lawyer then got an earful from my ex about how she will not be told how to parent by someone who hasn’t even met her kids.  She then went back into all the old talking points she has leveraged for years about how horrible a father I am and how could she make her kids reconcile with someone who has created so much damage?  

It seems to be the most successful tact in these situations to just let the Volcano blow its top and wait until the lava cools.  I have gotten pretty good at not letting lies sit out there unanswered, however.  When a lie comes up in her rant, I calmly disagree and explain that this is not true.  Once.  She will always retort with a “you know it is true.” or something like that.  My reply is usually a simple, “No, it is not.” and I leave it at that.  I think maybe erecting pillars of truth will allow her or maybe the kids to find their way back over the lava flows at some point, no?  

Now we get to the crux of the question — how did all of this help me know for sure that I’m in an alienation situation?  My lawyer took me aside after this blast of venom in the court hallway and said that in her experience, any person who is wiling to explode like this in the court hallway has a problem turning this off when they get back with their kids.  “There’s no way the kids are NOT picking up on her anger and derision toward you at home.”

 

So, if you’re constantly dealing with a very angry ex, there’s a good chance that is spilling over on your kids.  If your ex cannot control their anger in a public courtroom or hallway or in front of attorneys, there’s a pretty likely chance that they cannot control it in front of the kids.   

 

 

Dealing with the insults

In the span of a week, the ex said she hated me and both of the kids expressed their own riff on that theme as well.  How do you handle it when your 17 year old calls you a “creeper” and your 15 year old tells you to “suck it” and actually goes into more detail than that…  With the ex, I have grown to expect such insults, but it is always so discouraging when you hear that from your kids.  I’ve written here before about how I always return such insults with love.  Unconditional love seems to be the only “weapon” I may have in my severely depleted arsenal.  

That said, with my 15 year old, I actually did come back with some Fatherly concern.  “This type of language is ungodly and crude.  You know better.  You ARE better.”  Didn’t seem to help much.  I got more of the same, though a bit tamed down.  I did email the ex and screenshot the text so she could see what had happened and she said “I think it will stop.”  I seriously cannot imagine a reverse situation where the kid doesn’t lose his phone for a week.  But discipline was never useful for the ex.  Discipline may make the kids not like her as much as she needs to be liked by her kids.  Besides, it suits her purposes to encourage the hatred of their father.  They bond together even tighter with a common enemy.  It’s been like that for 5 years or more.  

Needless to say, there is a wave of hopelessness that washes over you after hearing stuff like this from your progeny.  These kids are part of me.  I raised them as best I could with my ex for more than 16 years.  To hear those whom you love most in the world attack you like this is disheartening, discouraging, depressing, dispiriting, and just about every other D-word you can find…  It strikes you right at the core of your soul and robs you of any confidence and peace.  Which I think is the main idea the kids have in doing this.  They are in pain and they want me to feel the pain as miserably as they do.  

Combined with a difficult work week and some other relationship and dating issues, it made for a pretty difficult weekend.  

So now in retrospect, what could I have done differently?  How could I have handled it better?  Not trying to pat myself on the back, but I don’t know that I could have done much different in the situation.  I think the despondency that comes after these episodes is also part of the healing process.  I have to allow myself to feel the pain and the wound.  I can’t shorten it much; I can’t act like it doesn’t happen; I can’t wish it away; I can’t cover it with activity.  None of those coping mechanisms work very well.  Of course I can do all of those things, and literally have over the last few months, but at the end of the day, it usually works better just to feel it.  To marinate in it for a while.  To sit and think it through.  Then get up, dust myself off, rub some dirt on it and keep on.  Nothing earth-shattering here.  Nothing to see here.  

I wish there was a much better answer for you guys struggling through this stuff out there.  I wish there was a three point formula that worked into a nice acronym that I could preach to you.  There’s not.  It’s hard.  Hang in there guys.  — Jim

Setting Goals

I’m learning as I go through this time alone that it is so very important to have goals and milestones to look forward to that are under my control.  If I try to set goals like “by November I will have regular visits with my kids,” I’m most likely setting myself up for failure — I don’t really have any control over whether or not that occurs.  I can set goals like — “by November I will be in the habit of writing letters to them 2x per week and leaving 1 voicemail per week”– then I can control that.  But I can’t control their reaction to those letters and calls.

November
November (Photo credit: kurafire)

So I think specific, actionable goals for MY actions toward the kids are very positive.  I’ve been working toward just such a goal of late and seem to be pretty successful with the letter part.  Just stepped up to voicemails again this week.

 

But I think there are other things that are within your control that you can also set as goals and that will help a) take your mind off of the pain of the separation and b) channel your energy into something useful.  I’m at the early stages this week of beginning to investigate a long-term dream of mine that would mean a change of career at some point (probably far into the future).  But there are a lot of steps to take prior to ever making that final career step.  I’m taking it slow, doing tons of due diligence,saving money and getting all of my ducks in a row instead of taking a wild leap into the future.  I have alimony and child support to consider and I cannot risk a dip in income, even for a dream career.

 

I put all of those caveats in there because you certainly DON’T want to make any serious life-changing decisions during at least the initial year or so of the alienation period.  You want to make sure you’ve adapted to your new life without your kids as best you can and then see about potential life-changing decisions.  But, that doesn’t mean you can’t explore future options.  As an example, I’m looking at going back for my MBA, helping with my church’s Christmas musical, working with the kids in my church’s children’s ministry and other things.

 

While I may not do all of them or even most of them, they give me the opportunity to get out and do something, they enable me to channel my parenting energies into something useful and they also have the potential to help me make new friends.

 

So I encourage you — begin dreaming again — not just about when your kids come back to you — but about what your life is supposed to be in the interim without them.  Let’s face it — you were going to have to deal with this when they went to college anyway, so why not be ready in advance….

 

Timing

Had a great talk with an old friend today. I think the thing that I heard clearest from her was that timing is critical. She talked about how both of her kids asked on their own to reach out and find their dad at a point in their teen years. She hadn’t been discouraging a relationship with him ( which is clearly different from my situation ), but their father had chosen to be apart from them. Even so, both kids had the need to reach out to their dad to reconcile somewhat.

She talked about how gods timing is always the right timing and that we need to be faithful and pray and surround ourselves with others who are praying for our situation as well. Then I got to hear a wealth of examples of the ways god intervened to help her and her kids.

I believe that god can do all of that and that his timing is so perfect. I think the difficulty for me is the meantime. It’s being faithful and praying and depending on god to meet those needs while I wait for the someday eventual reconciliation.

“Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans”. Said John Lennon. I think I am so invested in the future reconciliation and the hope and prayer for that, and I am afraid I will miss the lessons and the joys of right now if I am so focused on the future. Did I say joys? I think yes, I did, because I need to be content and find that joy even in the pain and frustration of my current alienation.

It’s kinda the “one day at a time” philosophy. Rather than the “everything will be alright when _______ happens.

Sobering thought.