Talked with a friend in my divorced dads group yesterday and he made an off-handed comment that struck me as pretty accurate: “Everyone always judges me when I tell them my kids don’t talk to me.”
Thankfully, I’m in a church where there is tons of grace and people aren’t looking down their noses at me because of divorce, and that really helps. But I hear what my friend is saying. I’ve felt that repeatedly. Actually, I told him that I always get a bit nervous when I hit that conversation in a new relationship. Now, granted, my charm and sexiness do keep most of these dates interested, but I get a bit concerned about the reaction to that as well. There’s no doubt that many people (and I would have put myself in this category 5 years ago) assume there must be something wrong with you if your kids aren’t talking to you. It’s very difficult for people to understand Parental Alienation if they have not seen it or experienced it. It’s probably even more difficult than it is for married people (who haven’t been divorced) to understand the difficulties of divorce. There’s no frame of reference, but everyone knows someone who’s divorced. With Alienation, most people find it to be utterly bizarre and ridiculous and don’t believe it really exists until they see the tremendous impact it has on kids lives.
So how do you handle it when you get judged by outsiders regarding your Alienation situation? Thinking this through overnight, I realized that those conversations can go either way depending on how I manage it. So here’s a few quick suggestions for broaching the topic:
- Be real, but don’t be angry. If you go into this conversation with anger, you’re sending a message to the person that you’re sharing this with that you are angry with your kids as well and they then are led to consider that this might be the reason they don’t talk to you.
- Pause frequently when you share this. Think through your words. This is the single biggest difficulty you are managing in your life right now. It weighs on you constantly. Don’t try to blurt it all out and share it all in one breath. Breathe. Think through what you want to say. Your friend will see how heavy this is weighing on you through your hesitance and your pauses and your thoughtfulness. If they are a friend, they will give you time to share.
- Share in bits and pieces. Most of my friends know that there’s some kind of estrangedness between my kids and I and that they don’t live with me and they don’t see my often. And that I hurt at times because of this. Very few of them know the whole story. Even less have seen this blog. I think my family and maybe 3-5 close friends even know I have a blog. When I do open up to a new person, I don’t share all of this at once. It’s too much, it makes for a very one-sided conversation and it looks like I’m dumping all my problems on someone. Share a story here, or an incident there as they come up in daily conversations or when you get together. If they ask more questions, just say something like, “someday when you have time, I’ll share more…”
- Reveal deepest hurts/issues reciprocally. This means that you wait until your friend shares something deep that affected their lives tremendously before you share yours, or after you share a part of yours, you hear a part of theirs. You don’t want to be the friend that’s always unloading and never taking on baggage, right? Plus, this also helps you identify who you can trust. If someone knows all your pains and hurts and you know none of theirs, that can be a signal of a poorly balanced friendship anyway.
- Thoughtfully answer questions. Like my friend in a previous post that asked why I didn’t just grow a pair… Honest question, that someone who hasn’t been through what I have would be completely entitled to think. Required a thoughtful answer, which I think I gave. Don’t be offended by questions. I could easily have been offended by hers — and that was my first inclination, but again, pause, breathe, and think through what you want to communicate. We have a tendency in our deepest pains and fears to let our hurt direct our response quickly. That’s a mistake. Keep in mind that this is the first time many people may have even heard about Alienation. They’ve got lots of questions. “Why does the court allow this,” “Can’t she get put in jail?” “Why didn’t you fight for them?” “What did you do?” etc. All are valid and legitimate and you will get every one of them. Be ready to not take it personally but respond thoughtfully
Finally — some people won’t get it. They won’t understand and they will judge you. You can be acquaintances with these people, but they will never be your friend. This is okay as well. Don’t judge them back. Some people are not in a place to understand.