I offered to write this piece as I wanted to share a view of parental alienation that I suspect is often missed. That of the child caught in the middle.
My parents divorced when I was about nine. As divorces go, I imagine it was fairly amicable. When we (my younger brother, sister and I) returned home from our summer trip to our Grandmother’s it just so happened that Dad was living in his own home. Something we had been told was going to happen while we were away. They had been in separate rooms for a while so we weren’t surprised.
I remember spending half a week with each parent, agreed from the start with no court order. Our Dad started questioning what our Mum was doing almost immediately, would call her names, would tell us it was her fault that they divorced, that he regretted they had split up and wanted to have her back but she was stopping him. He would say “you know I care most for you” or “you would be better living with me.” This went on for about a year, week in, week out. My reluctance to go home to my Mum’s increased with each visit. During all of this, our Mum said nothing.
After some time she got a partner. My Dad accused him of being gay, going so far as to accuse him of touching children, implying my brother was at risk. He’d tell us he wanted to keep us safe, that he loved us more than anyone else in the world and that’s why he was warning us.
I was still at primary school, not far off moving up to secondary school, when I reached the point of hating my Mum. After all, she didn’t love us as much as my Dad, it was her fault that the divorce had happened and that we weren’t a family anymore, we would have a better life at Dad’s. So I left one night and walked there, leaving a note saying I never wanted to see her again. To give him his credit he did immediately drive me home.
“I remember being so confused, suddenly everything that I had believed was a lie.”
Only at this point our Mum opened up. She had felt we were too young to understand so hadn’t wanted to speak to us. She gave me the facts about what had happened; that it was my Dad who had cheated, causing the divorce. I remember being so confused, suddenly everything that I had believed was a lie. My Mum was honest, she was unemotional and did not get involved in any of the name calling.
I came to dislike our time with our Dad more and more. Weekly we would hear “you are old enough to choose to live with me” and every time I would feel upset. I didn’t want to hurt him by saying no but couldn’t be disloyal to my Mum. He continued to tell us that she wasn’t a good Mum. The difference was that now I was onto him.
Our time continued to be split between a warm, loving and positive home, where no bad word was spoken about anyone and a home filled with hatred, disregarding the children that it was harming.
As a teenager I went off the rails a little. I was eaten up by guilt for the feelings that I had had towards my Mum when I was younger. We were closer than ever at that point but it was so hard remembering that at one time I had detested her. It was hard living with the knowledge that one of the people I had loved most in the world had manipulated and lied to my siblings and I.
I started seeing a Life Coach who helped put things back together. She was the only adult who was completely removed from the situation and acknowledged the difficulties I had faced. Not long after my 18th birthday I saw my Dad for the last time, though didn’t know it then. Able to see the harm he had caused and more confident in trusting my decisions, it was my choice not to make contact again.
“Parental alienation is something we should all be more aware of.”
As an adult, I continue struggle at times with guilt around how I treated my Mum still. I realise I didn’t treat my Mum badly, that wasn’t my choice, I didn’t know. I also have difficulty trusting what people say at times, after being lied to for several years I think that’s to be expected.
Parental alienation is something we should all be more aware of. It can happen silently, without courts, without parents having to fight to see their children, it can happen in any family.
In the future, I hope professionals are quick to put help in place for affected families and children. I also want to give hope to parents who are having limited contact, or know that their partner is trying to turn their very own children against them. Those relationships can be rebuilt and now our little family unit is incredibly close, perhaps because of our shared experience of someone trying to pull us apart.