April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and April 25 is Parental Alienation and Hostile Aggressive Parenting Awareness Day.
I touched briefly on both of these topics in this post on my Instagram account, however, I’m going to go a little deeper into the topic here.
A few weeks ago I woke up to the reality that my ex is trying to turn my children – or at least one of them – against me. Recently my relationship with my youngest daughter, Diva Daughter 2 (DD2), had become antagonistic beyond what could be described as normal teen daughter and mom friction, especially considering we’d previously had a very good relationship. She’d suddenly become dismissive towards me and often, downright belligerent. Attempts to engage her in conversation were met with monosyllabic responses as she turned her back and walked away from me. She’d come home from her father’s house and barely say “hello” before squirreling away in her room for hours.
It wasn’t PMS. Did she have a fight with one of her friends? Did she bomb an assignment? And if it was one of those things, which had all happened in the past, why was I being punished for it this time? We hadn’t had any disagreement – at least not yet. However, when I confronted her and asked her what was going on, it all hit the fan.
I should mention that DD2 and I had had a few arguments in the previous months, as I said, there had been a major change in her demeanor. That being said, even those disagreements didn’t feel like much more than your typical stuff parents and hormonal teens go through, and this most recent disagreement felt different.
Maybe because the subtle pushing away that had been happening for weeks suddenly wasn’t so subtle. It was very blatant. Or maybe because she said she hated me so vehemently. I know I’d been nagging a lot, but it honestly didn’t warrant this level of hysterics.
While she couldn’t physically shut me out as I refused to leave her room until she talked to me, she mentally shut me out while she tearfully called her father. Despite the cryptic one-sided conversation during which she begged him to come and get her it was painfully clear that they had commiserated about whatever I had allegedly done that was causing her so much distress.
Listening to that bit of the phone conversation, my ex-husband’s manipulative handprint was evident; combined with his email to me a little while later where he feigned magnanimity, not wanting to “intervene in your relationship” and disliking “being put in the position of being the “savior” or the “good” parent because, it’s simply not true”, I was certain that he was at the root of it. The email – in fact, the situation itself – smacked of triangulation and isolation, favorite tools of narcissists and toxic people everywhere.
Soon after our blowout, DD2 left for an extended time with her father (his normal custody time plus her school break) and I didn’t hear from her for nearly 3 weeks. No calls, no tests, no responses to my texts. Nothing.
No communication with my daughter for 3 weeks while her manipulative father had unfettered access to her was troubling, to say the least. I began praying and digging for answers, then, Ding! Ding! Ding! Jackpot!
There was the answer for everything that had happened with DD2 in the preceding weeks down to specific actions and things she said – I’m talking phrases she used word for word – in black and white.
WHAT IS PARENTAL ALIENATION
Parental alienation is when one parent actively manipulates their children to foster negative feelings toward that other parent. Parental alienation, though the most commonly used term, is surrounded by controversy, which you can read about here, I feel it’s best to remain from using it. Other phrases used to describe the scenario are custodial interference, hostile aggressive parenting, pathological interference, domestic abuse by proxy, and parental interference.
Because I believe in calling a thing a thing I want to use domestic abuse by proxy because no matter how you slice it, this is ABUSE.
However, because I know that people will get hung up on that phrasing and miss the message, I’ll use parental interference from this point forward.
The most extreme examples of parental interference see one parent attempt to physically prevent the child from seeing the other parent by taking the child without permission or refusing to return the child. Indirect interference may look like a parent interfering with communication between parent and child, preventing a parent from participating in a child’s school or extracurricular activities, disparaging or badmouthing the other parent, or asking the child to spy on the other parent.
WHERE WE ARE
For me currently, parental interference looks like DD2 living most of the time with me (our custody agreement is 60/40 in my favor), but with very little interaction between us. When she first came back after the extended time away that I previously mentioned, she would literally only say “hello”, “goodbye”, “yes” or “no”. Also, she bought and prepared her own meals. She often told me how much she loved my food, so I immediately honed in on this and documented it. In Divorce Poison by Dr. Richard A. Warshak, the preeminent guide to dealing with parental interference, I later read that this is actually quite common.
While I have the majority custody, DD2 is constantly with my ex-husband who regularly picks her up and takes her places (she routinely rejects my offers to take her), meets her for coffee, and is no doubt in constant communication with her via text when she’s locked in her room.
There were a couple of days around her birthday a few weeks ago when the heaviness lifted. I honestly believe that my ex-husband gave his blessing for her to enjoy herself a bit with me. I also think it was a test to see what I would do for her birthday considering she’d basically ignored me for weeks. I passed the test. I gave DD2 the gift I’d purchased months before, flowers, balloons, a special birthday dinner, and sweets. She was elated.
This lighter mood where I got to see glimpses of my girl lasted for a couple of weeks. Then one day after returning from her dad’s house, I could see that the heaviness was back. The monosyllabic replies. The buying and preparing her own meals. The isolation in her room.
This isn’t a “look what I’ve overcome!” situation. This is happening now. This is real-time. I am crying out to God and just crying daily, trying to figure out what to do. Dr. Warshak and the other experts in the field offer sound advice which is echoed in the Bible:
- Don’t lose your cool. (Peace be still. Mark 4:39)
- Don’t counter-reject the child. (Parable of the prodigal son Luke 15:11-32)
- Don’t bad mouth the other parent or dismiss the child’s feelings. (Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf. 2 Chron 20:17)
- Engage in pleasant interactions. (But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness… – Galatians 5:22)
Prayers and hugs, Sis, and your prayers are requested as well.
Have you ever experienced parental interference? If so, how did you handle it? Please share in the comments.