Some Canadians have visited a Texas facility to “deprogram” children who have been “alienated” from one parent by the other. – News item
Sometimes when I'm referring back to a book that I haven't read in a while, I find one of a number of bookmarks that were once made for me.
The man who is now my ex-husband was bothered by the fact that instead of using a bookmark, I'd grab whatever was handy – a page ripped from his current TV Guide, a phone bill, a leaf from a tree, a thinner book – or a thicker book, which, if half-opened, works just as well, if you sort of spoon the two books together.
Also good are a tube of lip balm, a credit card or a piece of toast. Along with the bookmarks kindly printed for me, I still find these other items inside of books too.
In fact, there's a black Lanvin ballet flat stuck inside the book I'm reading right now, beside me, and like most pieces of low-heeled footwear it's doing the trick just fine.
Anyway, my husband-at-the time printed the bookmarks for me shortly after we bought our first laser printer. He printed these words over and over on a page and then cut it into strips: “Bookmark. Instructions for use: Place in the book. Close the book.”
On the back, it said, “D–- Loves Tabatha.” And now, whenever I stumble across one of these bookmarks (as I did this week) while looking through some half-forgotten book, standing alone in my office – I feel absolutely nothing.
The bookmarks are a reminder, but they're a reminder like a Miami hotel wakeup call – entirely unemotional. I'm not happy or unhappy. I'm just reminded. Because that's what the end of a relationship comes to, for both parties, much of the time.
I've shown these bookmarks to my children and we've laughed about their cuteness and I've tried to make my voice soft but not sad and told them how sweet it was of their dad to do that for me.
My eldest child – who has never forgiven me for using a World of Warcraft CD in one of the longer books that I started reading early last year but picked up again only this year – says, “Dad kinda had a point about the bookmarks.”
And I've agreed and added earnestly that Dad had many a good point, and that he loves them, even though we're divorced. And they roll their eyes. I'm not sure at whom.
I show the children these bookmarks because I want them to know that they were conceived in love and born of good, romantic stock, but the truth is that I feel fake when I do it. Even though it's true. I know what I'm doing is offering them another piece of their largely absent father and that I'm doing it partly because that's what I've been told I must do.
There's no harm in this, I guess, although one strives to be genuine. But sometimes I wonder where my responsibility to ensure affection ends. At what point am I giving them this information naturally and honestly, and when am I only labouring to not be “one of those mothers?”
There has been a lot written lately about a few cases in which one parent has proved to be alienating a child from his or her other parent. This does happen and it's very sad – another parent, a stepparent and stepgrandparents are all just more people to love your children. But we do have some well-crafted, child-centred laws around custody and access that can, with patience and common sense, right many of these wrongs.
These particular alienation cases were extreme. Mostly I think that these things, like most things, are best solved without anyone being forced to go to Texas. What these cases may do, though, is leave hovering over some sole-custodial parents something approaching libel chill – a fear that might cow some fathers or mothers out of acting in the best interests of their children.
Some parents also wonder if, as well as providing food and clothing, meeting with teachers and overseeing medical care (all of which are a joy compared with driving them to those birthday parties routinely hosted in strip malls, during rush hour), they'll now be expected not merely to facilitate contact with the other parent, which generally benefits everyone, but to ensure the quality of that relationship. All the while documenting their efforts.
People resist having their emotions managed. And ultimately, that – people – is what children are.
This conversation is closed
- tiffany poledancer from the beach, Thailand writes: Thanks for the article...it is interesting as a non-custodial parent to see glimpses of the 'other world' Couple of points... 1. the use of the term 'largely absent' without qualifier is exactly what non-custodial parents cringe at. A lot of us are 'largely absent' because we are working to pay large child support settlements in a wacky global economy. Some of us are largely absent because the other parent has chosen to hit the road to continue their personal life with trailer and shared children in tow. Other parent with job location paying support BE DAMNED. But heck, 'largely absent' is a great way to explain it to friends, family and others in the 'in' circle. It garners sympathy. At someone's expense...the children's and the other parent's. 2. Sharing with your children a glimpse of a real but finished love nutures in them that their existence is and was a fruit of a good coupling based in loving care. If you feel fake fostering this idea in your children then perhaps you should be re-visiting the reasons you had children. Perhaps they were fake and illegitimate also. Maybe it is time to call Mr. Largely Absent Bookmarker and tell him he is better able to rear the kids.
- L G-W from Ottawa, Canada writes: While I enjoyed reading this article, I found that some of the questions raised by the author disturbing. Her concern with 'fake' or 'fabricated' emotions about her ex-husband and how this is somehow emotionally manipulating their shared children seems to almost be presented as a justification for simply not making the effort to make sure the children are not alienated from their father. Now we don't know the details of the divorce from this article but I have first hand experience with my brother who is battling with his ex to have visitations with his daughter that doesn't involve the harrassement of the mother or the maternal grandmother. There are some very heartbreaking cases out there where one parent's unrelenting vitriol and bitterness has damaged the child's relationship with the other parent to such an extent that 'deprogramming' is perhaps the only option. The Family court system cannot always be depended upon to see that such cases do not happen (as with my brother). His ex simply ignores the recommendations of the court as well as the Children's advocate and since she receives legal aid, her recourse is to go through the court system for everything and anything, thus ensuring that any contact between father and child is postponed for months/years. When he had visitation rights, she would call the police and accuse him of trespassing on her property when he went to pick up his daughter at the appointed time! There was even a time where she accused him of harming his daughter because she had a scratch on her hand (she was three years old). I think that in the face of cases such as these, the author's ongoing (if albeit disingenuine) attempts to assure that her kids do not feel alienated from their father (from her side) are highly recommendable.
- Yvonne Wackernagel from Woodville, Canada writes: I am glad she was not my mother and I pity her children. Women should think a hundred times before they jump and go into debt to buy a white dress (after having sex for ages) and pretend to be a beautiful bride for a day. And then produce children who do not ask to be born, but have to put up with mothers who find them a burden after their own vision of how good life should be for THEM; well, you get the point. It all started with Feminism. When women married for love and allowed the men to be the breadwinners, things were better because children were nurtured by their mothers who were always there for them. SOME women cannot balance life between work, home, children AND LOVE FOR THEIR HUSBANDS; which means that in today's world, a lot of women should not get married or have children. LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT. YOU! Now, let me be prepared to receive the abuse!
- rethink it from Canada writes: Interesting Yvonne on my wedding night i had a forget the condom christian wedding night request which produced a twin pregnancy. Uncomfortable with the prospect from the start I was convinced everything would be ok by the husband and mother in law?something along your lines of recommended traditional non-feminist thought. I bought in only to discover during the pregnancy it was a regime of control freakish alcoholism tempered by unless you are a christian you are ignorant mentality. When I questioned how prepared we were for the pregnancy the response was - you spread em baby!! I was so abusive I left while pregnant to a different city to deliver. He later followed I had a good delivery thanks to great doctors and nurses. In my room I remember the woman across with her flowers and gifts and her husband and the baby-it was warm and loving. On my side I was learning to breastfeed 2 babies and my husband was out having something to eat but did return with an extra slice of pizza. After leaving the hospital he wanted to take one of the babies to his mother 3000km's away- that would be the boy baby. I wouldn't seperate them that afternoon and was physically abused for it. Eventually I had to call the rcmp to get him away. Seperated,I provided access to the twins and the boy baby had 3rd degree burns in his care -got a supervised access order, he refused to take parenting class but offered his mother and wife of his ex-business partner as an alternative caregiver now that they were living together. My point is? when i see his emails or his name comes up i feel the same as the author looking at the bookmarks -nothing -complete indifference-blank. I don't feel like a victim I made my decisions the whole way through. I also made the best one of my life- don't raise the kids with a controlling alcoholic partner. I also made another decision become a breadwinner get an excellent job so you can support your kids and who cares if the house is dirty. The story ends well.
- cyan blue from Canada writes: You say.. "There has been a lot written lately about a few cases in which one parent has proved to be alienating a child from his or her other parent." You seem to infer this is rare, but unfortunately is prevalent, and particularly when unequal time is spent with each parent. I have a five-year old distant relative for whom time with his father was awarded only each Wednesday and every other weekend, and among other things he states with complete certainty that "my Daddy has no brains." The Family Court system has split his time unevenly, mostly with the mother and in her anger the dominant carer has brainwashed this young boy and removed any sense of male self-esteem or male identity. In my opinion this kid is now a train wreck waiting to happen. I see in him absolutely no interest in reading, I see no empathy, I only see anger and violence. Family Courts 1. Society 0.
- the catholic church from Canada writes: There are two main points in Tabatha's article, neither of which has any relevance to anyone other than her: - she has disastrous organizational skills (toast as a bookmark? seriously? that's a great example to set for you children, that food is a convenience for anything other than eating) - she doesn't love her ex (so? who cares? lots of relationships end, but MOST people move on instead of documenting their indifference)
- A C from Paris, France writes: Hmmm. Alcoholic and abusive. Seems a few things are missing from your story. As written you don't pass for anyone who deserves any king of sympathy. So, you left for another city to give birth. And you're complaining about you husband bringing you a piece of pizza? Maybe your kids roll their eyes for a reason? Perhaps you aren't alienating your children from their father but I wouldn't be surprised if you were. The perpetrators always justify their behaviour, when they don't deny it outright...
- rethink it from Canada writes: AC from Paris, Im not looking for sympathy like I said I made the decision to marry an alcoholic and have children. All I said was Im no different than the author in that thoughts of dad make me feel numb. As for my being a perpetrator- thats interesting? Courts do a fair job of awarding supervised access usually its based on child safety, 3rd party reports and other evidence- its not something I ever hoped to or caused like you suggest but after a month in a hospital holding a child in burn trauma you can call me a perpetrator if you want . I'll call myself a mom with kids who made it out with no further damage and my kids are thankful and good kids and they only roll their eyes when they hear a bad joke. Thanks for the judgement.
- Murray Thom from Silver Star Canada, writes: From Largely Absent Grandparent That Canada has "well-crafted, child-centred laws around custody and access" may be a view held by many Canadians. In reality this is not true, particularly where one parent chooses to continue past marital conflicts using the children as the spoils of war. The terms "largely absent father", or worse "deadbeat dad" are frequently tossed off with impunity. Little effort is made to examine what has forced these men to remove themselves temporarily, or in some cases to give up altogether. One comment today mentions the mother who has access to legal aid and resorts to the courts to settle issues. A parent who lacks legal support soon finds himself financially unable to participate. Without the financial resources to represent himself, a father has no choice but to walk away. Even when divorced parents have court registered agreements in place for custody and access, these agreements can be challenged in court by a "material change of circumstances". A material change of circumstance can include altering access times to suit one parent's change in priorities, or moving children out of the country to suit one parent's change in personal goals. These are hardly child-centred reasons for opening court registered agreements. Family Law may be in place ostensibly to ensure that the best interests of children are served, but in reality it does not work that way. Thankfully, parental alienation is coming into the public conscience and articles and comments such as these are raising public awareness.
- Shane MacLaughlin from Wollongong, NSW, writes: The legal case in question doesn't justify the conclusion that you seem to have drawn, that is to take action to engender affection for the other parent with the children. It does however require that you stop taking action that will alienate the children from the other parent. Incidentally, if a parent does act to create alienation, isn't this essentially depending on the children for emotional support; who is the adult in the relationship?
- Joe Canada from toronto, Canada writes: i would quietly suggest that the 'writer' in question not air her personal 'beliefs' in public. i will also gladly add that i'm glad she's not my ex-wife. nor the parent of any of my kids. (4) salut
- m a from Toronto, Canada writes: I think that when Ms. Southey speaks from personal experience, it's fine. Her feelings are her feelings, whether people understand or agree with them or not. However, when she makes generalizations about the state of Canada's child custody laws or what is or is not rare behaviour, she shows her intense ignorance and/or prejudice. There is only one thing I know for sure about Family Law in Canada, and that is that you can't generalize or judge unless you are in it. Cases are individual and one solution does not fit all. The tragedy of our system is that this is apparently too difficult a task.
- Warren Coughlin from toronto, Canada writes: Tabitha's concern that Parental Alienation will somehow cause a "chill" or pressure to inauthentically promote a postive relationship with the absent parent is unwarranted. The line between requiring one to avoid harming a child and being the catalyst of another relationship is huge. Moreover, the courts should ideally be concerned with the best interests of the children, not the burden that responsibility imposes on the parents. In these discussions, one detects a breakdown in the rights of the custodial or non-custodial parents. I suggest that these "rights" are wholly irrelevant. What is poorly appreciated is the incredibly destructive nature of parental alienation. And by this, I do not mean destructive to the relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent, but on the ability of the child to sustain healthy relationships throughout their life. This is thus ultimately destructive to the child's ability to achieve happiness and satisfaction in their lives. If one cannot bury one's disdain for one's ex to act in the best interests of the child, then that parent is not deserving of the title. If you have accepted the responsibility of raising a child and fought for custody because you feel you are the "better" parent, then suck it up and fulfill that responsibility. (By "you" I don't mean Tabitha, but any parent who engages in criticism of the other parent or otherwise interferes in the development of a healthy relationship between the other parent and the child)
- Chris McIntyre from St. John's, Canada writes: It's simple (though not necessarily easy)... always speak honestly of your ex to your kids - whether positive or negative. and never 'fight' for custody of the children...ever (assuming the children are not being abused). Always leave the choice up to the kids. And if that means they don't want to see you for a while...tough. You have children for their benefit, not for your entertainment. If they don't want to spend time with you (even if you are convinced it's because your ex has mistakenly convinced them you suck) then you are out of luck and just be patient and ready for the day that they do want to spend time with you. Any parent that needs to go to court to decide about child custody (again assuming no abuse is involved) is a very selfish parent is thinking far more about themselves then their children and is, imo, a failure (at least temporarily) as a parent.