(I blogged the following post on the Parsippany Patch: http://parsippany.patch.com/users/anna-tivade-a2ef92cf/blog_posts)
The month of April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, with April 25th proclaimed as Parental Alienation Awareness Day on many different continents; including many towns and cities and even a few entire states rights here in the U.S. Parental Alienation is a form of child abuse. Committees and individuals have been working diligently to get Parental Alienation Syndrome included in the upcoming DSM-5, because as of now it is not listed (more on that issue coming in the next blog). The most severe opponents of Parental Alienation say that it is “junk science” and a “dangerous and cleverly marketed legal strategy”, and that “this accusation is made by abusive ex-husbands”. (National Organization for Women) This is a story of Parental Alienation: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
I have a personal reason for advocating for children’s and parents’ rights; I am adult child of Parental Alienation. Eleven years was taken away from me and my dad. The effects of Parental Alienation created a massive gap that could not be fully repaired. I lived Parental Alienation, I suffered from Parental Alienation, and I overcame Parental Alienation. I still need to overcome Parental Alienation; I am married to a man who has a child from a previous marriage, and together, with the entire side of his family we experienced Parental Alienation for many years. The past three years were taken away from their relationship due to this phenomenon. Three months ago a slow reunification process began, and with joy we look to the future with hope, as we know the outcome could have and still could prevent us having the type of relationship that we used to enjoy.
That being said, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. This is exactly what I am currently doing. I now focus my energy on creating awareness for Parental Alienation through writing, organizing educational events, advocating family law reform, and helping parents (especially mothers) who are in despair by organizing mutual support groups where these parents can grieve, vent, console and encourage each other. These are parents who are usually going through a bitter divorce, or have just recently divorced and are experiencing extremely raw emotions as they meander through the confusing and draining family court process over and over again, only to be met with less and less time with their child, despite whatever the Order may actually state.
The Good? What could be good about Parental Alienation? Frankly, nothing. However, the goodness comes out of each individual supporting another individual in need. Here in New Jersey, women and men are finding avenues that allow them to come together to support each other during the most difficult times of their lives when they are most vulnerable, when they are at the brink of losing everything, and when the carpet has been pulled from beneath them and they have already lost everything dear to them. Monthly support groups are popping up all over the state because women and men have been connecting with each other through outreach programs. It is because of articles like these that catch the attention of a parent or family member who previously had nowhere to turn, and suddenly they can have a new sense of hope.
Even Greater? Dr. Amy Baker, a leading expert in Parental Alienation research, led a workshop entitled “Psychological Maltreatment and Parental Alienation” at the Moorestown Library in Moorestown, NJ on April 26, 2012. A phenomenal woman, Diane Carolli, who works there as a reference librarian, and is also an alienated mom, put this event together in record time. A mere three weeks is all it took to plan and give notice to the PAS community, who helped spread the word resulting with seventy-five (75!) individuals flooding the room to hear what Dr. Amy Baker had to say. Countless numbers alienated families had to be turned away when they attempted to register as the room was filled to capacity (plus some). Women and men alike filled the seats, lined the walls, covered the floors, and were overflowing out of the doors to catch a glimpse of understanding, to validate what they are experiencing, and to gain knowledge on the best way to deal with their situation. Hours after the event ended late at night, people stayed around to purchase Dr. Baker’s books, “Adult Children of Parental Alienation: Breaking the Ties That Bind” and “I Don’t Want to Choose: How Middle School Kids Can Avoid Choosing One Parent Over the Other”. Alienated parents congregated in the foyer of the library and introduced ourselves to each other, compared our real life stories, and agreed to continue forming meetings all across New Jersey. The men said goodbye with handshakes and hugs, and the women said goodbye embracing each other with hugs, already having found new friends.
The Bad? Plenty of it. Although these parents can meet to lift each other up, and attend educational and empowerment programs, most of these families will likely have their child alienated from them regardless of what they do to prevent it. I met with a woman the other day who had just recently installed security cameras all over her home because of the false allegations her daughter was making, at the encouragement of her father. Another woman I met leaves work early every Thursday to be able to sit in the back of a field just to watch her alienated son practice with his sports team; the only time she is “allowed” to see him. Another woman lost her home, her boat, and her life savings to the lawyers on her case, and yet she still lost her son. She is now forced to rent a room in a small house, yet she has not given up hope; she is now working on her case Pro Se.
The Ugly? Oh yes. Lots of it. If you Google “Parental Alienation”, or “Parental Alienation Syndrome”, you’ll find information all over the spectrum. This information will either lead you to believe that the “creator” of Parental Alienation, Dr. Richard Gardner, is the devil-incarnate, a pedophile, and a man who ended his life in disgrace (yet he is not the first to document it and it has been extensively studied since he coined the term). Some information may lead you to believe that Parental Alienation is pseudo-science that helps abusive ex-husbands rip their children from their poor protective mothers’ arms only to continue the abuse (yet Parental Alienation is, in fact, gender neutral and many women are losing their children as well because of it). Some information may lead you to believe that Parental Alienation has absolutely no empirical data, and puts the courts and families in danger. Even when I read through the websites that criticize Parental Alienation I start to believe their statements!
However, I am a feminist, an equalitist, a member of the National Organization for Woman, a woman who has worked closely with domestic violence victims, a performer in the Vagina Monologues, a mother, a step-mother, an adult child of Parental Alienation, a step-mom who has watched my entire family (including my children) suffer because of Parental Alienation, and an advocate who comforts women who call me up crying in despair. I can tell you with certainty from my own experience that Parental Alienation, and Parental Alienation Syndrome is REAL. Whatever names that may be attached to the behaviors; it is real. There is a group of women who prefer to call this Domestic Violence by Proxy. Dr. Warshak calls it Divorce Poison. Some call it Hostile Aggressive Parenting. I don’t care if it is called Peefer-Piffer-Golly. Just spend an hour in a room with these parents, extended family members, and adult children of divorce who have been affected by it and you’ll agree.
The fact of the matter still stands that children are being abused. There are some fathers and mothers, and family members out there that will still control their ex-spouse through the child, there will still be cases in which the courts allow abuse to the child to occur despite the cries from the other parent, there are an abundance of situations where very bad things happen to children every day. This much we know is true. However, simply by denying the existence of Parental Alienation won’t make it go away.
Welcome to my world.