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Who Moved My Freakin’ Cheese?

If have you have read the book, “Who Moved My Cheese?” you understand what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t read the book go out and get a copy NOW and read it…please.  (You can purchase it for a little as $.01 (plus shipping) from Amazon.)  As alienated parents we are all like these little mice that are running through this maze of the family court system, lawyers, psychologists, reunification therapists, mediators, etc. etc., etc., and still we are without our cheese (our children OR our peace).  A few of us have broken out of the cycle and found our cheese (our children OR our peace), but most of us continue to wait, and wait, and wait for our cheese to magically reappear.  Well, how is that working for you?

Look, I don’t have the answers.  I don’t know the answers.  Show me one person who has a solid plan laid out and I will probably laugh.  Why?  So many of the “plans” that I’ve heard people advocating for are simply ridiculous.  Yes, that may be harsh, but the truth does not take into account our feelings.  Why are these plans ridiculous? Because they are so often one-sided, or at least not multi-faceted.  We need a holistic plan that takes into account the plethora of differences and angles that real life requires. We are not cartoon figures; we cannot create one rule and say “This rule of law will fit everyone!”  We need to come together and figure out a way to pull us (humanity) out of this quagmire that we have gotten OURSELVES into.

Wait, what?  You may be saying, but “I AM THE VICTIM HERE!”  Why should I have to take responsibility for what my ex-spouse (or whoever the alienator is) did to me? Well, for starters because the longer you remain a “victim” the longer you will sit and wait for your cheese to reappear.  However, if you say, “I refuse to be a victim of the system, I am going to get something done about this lack of cheese” then you will find yourself working to create a tangible plan.

Many of us are finding support for what has happened to us, and that is perfectly fine.  In fact, it is necessary because for those severely alienated parents, or even slightly alienated parents, you have to grieve over the loss of the way your child use to be, or maybe the presence of your child in your life.  Grieving is a necessary step.  (Check out the 5 states of grief.)  However, where to go when that process has taken you as far as it can take you?  That’s where many of us get stuck, and we turn our frustration, our hurt, our anger on other alienated parents to relieve us of the icky feelings that have come to stay with us, sort of like an uninvited visitor who sleeps on your couch and makes a mess of your house.

There has been research done on rats that shows the pain-aggression relation that we as alienated parents also experience.  Basically, the rat in the study is given a painful electric shock and in turn that rat bites an inanimate object that is placed in their cage, whether it is wood, rubber, or a metal target.  Nearly every shock that was delivered to the rats caused the rats to bit the inanimate object, and when the shocks ceased, the biting ceased as well.  So, in context of this article, who do you think the rats are?  Yep, you guessed it. Us.  When we experience pain, we turn around and bite, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about check out many of the online discussion groups that alienated parents go to for support, such as those found on Facebook.  These are filled with rats biting other rats (or alienated parents biting alienated parents).

Is this the best place to focus your energy on?  What if we took that energy and focused it on positive change?  But, how can we do that if our pain comes out as aggression?  We need a way to filter out the pain in our behaviors otherwise it will most probably be counterproductive.  By the way, those of you who saw the Dr. Phil episode on November 1, 2013, “Parental Alienation: Who’s To Blame?” will understand what I’m talking about.  In fact, instead of filtering out or pain before we act, it would be much better to change our thinking so that we don’t experience the pain in the first place, or rather to start we can work on quickly recognizing pain and changing tracks so we don’t continue to travel down the rails of a crazy train…  (Check out cognitive restructuring)

For those of you who are advocates, what are you advocating for? Change of laws? Maybe punishing the parent who refuses the other parent their agreed upon parenting time? Maybe forcing reunification therapy onto the alienated children? Maybe forcing the alienated parent into therapy? Maybe this, maybe that?  How is that working for you?  Look, like I said before, I do not have the answers.  I simply know that whatever we are doing is not working. I’ve heard that in other countries there may be laws in place that are strict on the alienating parent, such as the criminalization of Parental Alienation in Brazil.  However, has that law actually improved the lives of divorcing couples in Brazil?  If someone has the stats on that please do enlighten me.

Here is the problem with the system, in my most humble and completely unprofessional opinion: laws require lawyers, judges, money and time.  How do you feel about that?  Personally, I feel like it is an unjust system because those with the means have ample opportunity to seek proactive justice (or injustice is many cases) whereas those without the means are at a clear disadvantage. How is that fair?  In addition, I’ve heard some folks suggest that if the power was given to the police to enforce parenting time that we wouldn’t be in this predicament (as when one parent is denied parenting time they immediately call the police and expect them to enforce the parenting plan).  How are the police-enforced laws working out for us? (Example, the prominent case of the shooting of Amadou Diallo, among the devastating number of other victims of police violence.)  Just take a moment to think about the laws that we are requesting the government to enforce upon families? Oh my goodness, we are inviting a police state to rule over families. Holy moly!

So, let me get back to the root of the problem: the separation of families. As couples divorce they want the same rights afforded to them as they had in marriage, and many want even more rights than they had in marriage! Let’s take another look at that. Merriam-Webster defines divorce as “a complete separation between two things”.  When a child is in an intact family they are basically under one rule, they only have to “serve one master”; the two parents are one whole unit who the child has to submit to. Now, I really don’t want to bring biblical talk into this, as it can be interpreted in so many ways, but humor me for a moment: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” Matthew 6:24.  In this context it is referring to money; however this is a reoccurring that runs throughout the bible.  But, let’s just use that and put it in the context of a dissolved union.  A union that was two parents, but now those two parents have separated for whatever reason, and now the child(ren) have to “serve two masters”. You can see where I’m going with this, right? Okay, so if the “masters” are on the same page and are similar in their parenting styles and have a well-oiled relationship with open communication and freedom of love then the child will find it much easier to serve those two masters.  However, in a high conflict situation where those two “masters” despise each other and have taken entirely different roads that lead create a polar opposition in their relationship (whether it is a physical or emotional opposition), how can the child possibly be expected to “serve those two masters” with peace of mind?  How is that possible?  In addition, many of us who are experiencing parental alienation are aware of the imbalance of power that exists among the parties. Take the imbalance of power and add it to the equation that one cannot serve to masters, and realize the cause of Parental Alienation.

So, how do we get off this this wild, spinning merry-go-round?  Or shall I say, how do we get off of this exercise wheel and get there to find our cheese rather than wait for the cheese to come to us?  Good question.  I don’t know.  However, I do know that we do have the power to change ourselves while we are looking for the cheese.  We can choose to go around biting other rats when we experience pain, or we can choose to seek ways to stop accepting the painful shocks.  We ALWAYS have a choice. We can CHOOSE to be victims, which leaves us powerless to the threat of the abuse (check out the story of the fox and the lion: http://www.uncommonhelp.me/articles/overcome-victim-mentality/ ) or we can CHOOSE to refuse to be a victim and refuse to allow others to control how we feel. Or, alternatively, we can CHOOSE not to make a CHOICE.  Either way, we are choosing our outcome.

How do you remain proactive against abuse? Have you found the perfect lawyer who has agreed to fight your case for your and force your ex-spouse to agree to reunification therapy in order to change your child’s view of you? Have you found that expert who will get up on the stand to state that undeniably “this child has been affected with Parental Alienation Syndrome”? Have you found that the reunification therapy or the expert testimony has not worked as though you had hoped because despite Order after Order the other parent still has an emotional hold over the child? What do you do then? Do you go back to the lawyer and insist on going back to court to enforce the Order or to impose sanctions on the offending parent?  What if sanctions are imposed? Let’s say that the other parent is Ordered to pay a fine for every day they are preventing you from parenting your child? How will those fines be enforced?  Will they be taken out of the account, or out of the paycheck as the way child support is currently? Let’s say that for every day of parenting time that is denied to you, the other parents is denied the same amount of parenting time and you are rewarded your lost time. Does that punish the other parent?  Yes?  Does that also punish the child?  How does that affect the child’s schedule?

Let’s look at it like this.  Did the child choose to live two separate lives with two masters? Are the rules that govern your home different from the rules that govern the other home? How about the comfort of the beds? The routines of the day? The schedule or schedules that the child is expected to follow? What about the half siblings that the child may have to leave and have a “half” of a relationship with? What about step siblings or half siblings that the child now has to “compete” with for time and affection as they travel between two homes.  What about the extended family that the child has to have a half of a relationship with? What about the friends that the child has to have a half of a relationship with.  What about the expectation of the holidays and the mere thought of having to wonder where will I wake up next Christmas morning, or who will I celebrate with next Hanukkah, or next Eid, or next Diwali, or next Kwanza, etc…

Even in the most amicable of divorces, or “complete separation of two things”, I’ve never heard of children becoming famous authors who have rewritten fairy tales that start off with “Once upon a time there was a girl who lived in two houses…”.  Have we come to a point in humanity in which we are comfortable with the saying “There’s no place like two homes”.  I can’t say for sure.  I don’t have the answers.  It may be like having more than one child, for example.  When I was pregnant with my second child I had an intense fear that I couldn’t possibly love my second son as much as I loved my first son, because that love that I experienced was so great, so intense, I just didn’t think it could be replicated.  I went off to the hospital in (late stage) labor in tears of sadness with the idea that it was going to be necessary to split my love.  Needless to say, I left the hospital with the realization that my these two children need not share the love that was presently contained in my heart, but rather my heart grew in size to contain all that much more love for my second child (and so forth, for my third, fourth, and fifth child). Yes, that is my experience with my own step-parents (for that story you can read An Adult Child’s Story; The Effects of Parental Alienation), I didn’t have to split my love for them, I just had that much more love to give, and in return I received double the love.

Look, if divorce is absolutely necessary, there are ways to go about doing it the right way and doing it the wrong way. (Too often divorce comes about because many people hold a false idea of what marriage actually is, and are not aware that they can work together to improve their marriage.-I’m not referring to cases in which abuse and other major issues are the underlying cause.)  However the divorce proceeds, sacrifice needs to be made on the parents’ behalf, not the children.  That is where I think we have it wrong.  I’m not sure how many divorcing couples realize just how much they will have to sacrifice.  In many situations couples, or at least one half of the couple, refuses to sacrifice anything.  Now, when something that was once whole, which is now completely separated in two, how can the receiving end of that split (the child) that once had the whole and now only has two halves be expected to treat those two halves as a whole?  In addition, it is the children who are usually forced to sacrifice their way of life and peace after a divorce (how many couples split their time in the family home to allow the child to have the same lifestyle as before the AND how feasible is that)?

In conclusion, are we expecting that the children change to fit our new needs?  Are we seeing Parental Alienation as a result of the natural competition for resources, as humanity struggles to survive on less, which if you think about it is why human traveled in clans to begin with (many hand make for light work). Are we expecting children to serve two masters? How can WE change and sacrifice to benefit our children, if they are our priority as so many of us claim.  Does that mean we have to suck it up and deal with a difficult person to parent with in whichever manner we have to?  Does that mean that we have to find a way to “Disarm the Narcissist”, as Wendy Behary suggests? Does that mean that we have to empower ourselves and look for answers within ourselves instead of searching for lawyers, judges, doctors and experts to tell us how to behave?  Does it mean we have to let go of all our bitterness, frustration, anger, and any negative emotion that we harbor inside of ourselves towards the other parent?

Like I said, I don’t know.  Only you are the author of your life.  Personally, I am grateful for the people who I have come across on my journey that have helped me to come to a greater understanding of myself and the world that surrounds me.  Maybe all we need is appreciation.  Maybe we need to be in the Here and Now at all times.  Maybe we need gratitude for not only the blessings we receive in life, but also for the tribulations we are forced to overcome.

My journey has led me to be thankful for so many people.  So, if you don’t mind, I’ll include my little gratitude letter here for all to read:

Thank you to my mom, who alienated me from my father, who showed me love and dysfunction- you have taught me to love unconditionally and to put into place healthy boundaries.  Thank you to my father, who at the age of 51 finally had a child and then suffered silently without that child from the time I was 7 until I was 18, yet who never uttered one bad word about my mother to me. Thank you to my three half-sisters who were forced and chose to care for me, especially during the first year of my life when my own mother was in a drunken black out for nearly the entire year. Thank you to my step-father, who treated me as an equal to his own children, and who was as close to a dad as any child could ask for.  Thank you to my step-mom, who treated me with the utmost respect and showered me with kindness, and as she had no children of her own I was honored to be as close to a daughter to you as I could. Thank you to my aunts, who cared for me and pampered me during the first 7 years of my life-only in your care did I receive that type of treatment and I am forever grateful I could be a carefree girl in your care. Thank you to one of my first loves, who showered me with love and abuse- I would not be an advocate of domestic violence had I not experienced it myself AND you made me understand that there is both good and bad in every person, and that is just the way it is. Thank you to my friends, both who have walked with me into danger and dumb situations and to those who called me dumb for the situations I put myself into. Thank you to my Jean, who was my pastor, and is a lovely feminist who taught me that it was okay to fully love Jesus and His teachings, and who really broke down the bible to me. Thank you to my professors who inspired me to search for answers, and taught me that knowledge is sexy. Thank you to my favorite boss who taught me the importance of working together in a small group setting in entire equality. Thank you to the feminists that I have come across who have taught me about women’s rights and equality, and the lack thereof, and thank you to the few feminists who have thrown me for a loop and made me question feminism.  Thank you to those of you who tirelessly advocate for alienated parents, who spend years of research to educate the public about Parental Alienation, who sincerely want to help alienated families.  Thank you to so many women who have inspired me and challenged and motivated me. Thank you to so many men who have inspired me and challenged and motivated me.  Thank you to my adversaries who have inspired and motivated me and taught me that I don’t have to allow them to control how I feel about myself, or about them. A huge thank you to my husband who is willing and eager to travel along this path with me-sometimes we joyfully skip together, and sometimes we need to drag each other.  Thank you to my beautiful children who have made me realize my potential, my limits, my gifts, my shortcomings, and make life so challenging and beautiful.  Thank you to God my Father, who created me and walks with me as I fulfill my purpose. Thank you to Mother Earth for sustaining me and nourishing me.

Thank you to whoever reads this – for being fully human and imperfect.  Thank you for suffering through this as I refuse to proofread my own work. Thank you.