Story #1 ½
From Divorce Poison, revised edition, by Dr Richard A Warshak
At such a vulnerable time in their lives, children especially need and deserve as much love as they can get. Those who close off avenues of love and support detour children from their pursuit of emotional security.
Grandma Baker, Sam’s mom, was asked if any particular stories stand out to her regarding Missy’s behavior and Zack’s developing alienation. When Sam and Missy were newly separated and meetings with attorneys were frequent, Zack would sometimes stay with his Grandma Baker. Toddler Zack said to his grandma, “Daddy didn’t want me.” She was mortified and said, “Who told you that?” His reply, “My mommy.”
…[A]lienated children not only experience the trauma of divorce and the threat of losing a parent, they also readily see the needs of the alienating parent and strive to accommodate them.
Missy has not and does not believe Sam when he tells her Zack is fine and happy when he is at his dad’s house. Her disbelief stems from Zack’s tone of voice when he answers her phone calls and from Zack’s own reports of discontent. During Zack’s childhood, Missy called him nearly every day when he was at his dad’s. Though Zack sometimes expressed reluctance to talk to her, Sam would hand Zack the phone. (See reference to the Golden Rule in “Beach Vacations.”) Zack’s tone of voice would immediately change to a babyish whine, and Missy would ask what was wrong. Zack would answer with same pitiful voice, “Nothing.” There were times when Zack was in a fit of giggles and the phone ringing would stop him cold. Zack behaved as his mother would expect him to, sounding miserable while at his dad’s. Another example of Zack’s need to “love the one he’s with,” rather than have his own genuine feelings, involves books and reading. At Missy’s, Zack watches TV and plays video games. He does these things at his dad’s, too, but with attempts at clearly defined boundaries. Zack sometimes enjoys reading at his dad’s house, and sometimes balks at the reminders to complete his school-required reading time. Sam, Zack, and Zack’s stepmom, Melanie, often visit libraries and bookstores because Sam and Melanie are educators. A common activity at Sam’s is trying out a new book to see if it would be an effective classroom read-aloud. Although Zack appears to enjoy these short books with Sam and Melanie, he has, according to Missy, reported to her that he is constantly forced to read at his dad’s house. Missy expressed to Sam that she believes a cause of Zack’s difficulties with reading is because Sam has dictated too much reading and Zack is sick of it. Missy said Zack was commanded “to read an hour a night when he was six.” This is blatantly untrue, but must have been relayed to or understood by Missy by something Zack reported to her. THIS behavior is one example of the insidiousness of parental alienation and why it is emotional abuse. Zack is continually pressured to take sides, or lie, and struggles to express his own opinions.
…[M]any alienated children make negative comments about the targeted parent because they are often encouraged or rewarded by the alienating parent. Some children feel such a strong sense of obligation to the alienating parent that they make disparaging comments about the targeted parent, even when they do not agree. Making these disclosures creates a sense of cognitive dissonance for alienated children and results in strong feelings of anxiety and confusion…
Top actions of an alienating parent:
Teaches the child adult things to tell you, such as “I don’t feel comfortable about the duration of our summer visitation, Dad.”
12 year old Zack has maintained that he does not want to spend time with his dad this summer because he is “not comfortable,” and he does not want to spend multiple days away from “home,” his mother’s house. To further entrench the contact denial, Missy invited Zack’s cousin to come back with them from the beach vacation. This out-of-state cousin, Jack, has never before left his parents to stay with his Aunt Missy. Zack did not communicate with Sam once during his vacation with the Smith family, but Zack texted on the day of their return that Jack came home with them and he wants to spend time with Jack, not his dad. (See “Beach Vacations” regarding an alienator’s involvement of extended family in her campaign.)
The characteristics of an obsessed alienator are:
They are obsessed with destroying the children’s relationship with the targeted parent.
They having succeeded in enmeshing the children’s personalities and beliefs about the other parent with their own.
The children will parrot the obsessed alienator rather than express their own feelings from personal experience with the other parent.
The targeted parent and often the children cannot tell you the reasons for their feelings.
Their beliefs sometimes becoming delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince obsessed alienators that they are wrong. Anyone who tries is the enemy.
They will often seek support from family members, quasi-political groups or friends that will share in their beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent and the system. The battle becomes “us against them.” The obsessed alienator’s supporters are often seen at the court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.
The Smith grandparents always take their grown children and grandchildren on a summer vacation for two weeks. Until a court order equalized summer parenting time, Missy had no intention to allow Sam to have a two week stretch with Zack citing that a mother cannot be expected to spend that much time without her child. When Zack was younger, Missy would refuse to give Sam contact information for the beach houses. After additional court action required Missy to share school, medical, and other essential information with Sam, she began to offer the address but no land line phone number. When Sam has tried contacting Zack during these vacations via cell phone, no one answers or responds. One excuse she used in the past was that the location was remote and a cell signal was elusive. The other repeated reason for contact denial is that Zack doesn’t want to speak with Sam while on his Smith family vacation. When Zack has had time with his dad, his mother’s frequent calls are answered without question. Missy would say this is because of course Zack wants to talk with her. Another view might be that 1) Zack knows she would be hurt if he didn’t answer and he doesn’t want to upset the favored parent and 2) Zack’s communicating with his mom has always been supported by Sam. He has held on to a belief that treating others the way you would like to be treated is the right thing to do.
After almost a month of contact denial at “his choice,” approved by his mom, Zack agreed to go golfing on June 21 with his dad, Sam, only if Sam agreed to take Zack to his mom’s house immediately after. Sam informed both 12 year old Zack and Missy that he intended to follow the parenting schedule which has Zack with Sam for the entire week of June 19-23. Sam said if Zack wanted to leave his dad’s house against the schedule, Missy would have to pick him up. Zack countered he would not golf with his dad if Sam would not agree to take him to Missy’s. Missy said she WOULD come get Zack, but she thought Sam would “use it against her.”
Story #6 In the No
An Alienating Parent makes demands on the target parent that are contrary to court orders. Allows the child to make choices about parental visits with the target parent contra to existing court orders causing the child to resent the target parent when the change request cannot or should not happen.
Preteen Zack has accused Sam of “always saying no,” and has cited this as one of the reasons for not wanting to be with his dad. Missy is a master of creating these no-win situations for Sam. She and her family, the Smiths, will make plans during Sam’s parenting time. They will tell Zack all about the Smith family parties, the parades, the festivals, etc. that Zack will miss, and they will compel Zack to ask his dad if he can go. If Sam says yes, he misses his time with Zack. If he says no, Zack is mad at his dad for saying no “all the time.”
As with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is a parent-specific holiday, so if schedules allow, children should spend the day with the fathers in their life (Dads, Grandpas, Uncles, etc). If Dad’s parenting time already falls on Father’s Day, there won’t be much to coordinate in terms of custody; if custody time does not fall conveniently on this day, try to make it happen, if possible. Be specific when communicating about tentative plans, and do not muddle the discussion among other issues or requests. Father’s Day is more than just Dad’s holiday, as kids value having special time with Dad.
After weeks of contact denial, Zack agreed to be with Sam for Father’s Day. Missy continues to empower 12 year old Zack to do all the communicating and decision-making. Plans include seeing Grandpa Baker for lunch (Sam’s dad) and having dinner with Grandma Baker to celebrate the day for Sam. When Sam asked Zack about coming back to his dad’s house for a movie after dinner, Zack said he needed to return to his mom’s to celebrate with his stepfather. On the Missy-created summer custody schedule, Sam’s parenting time includes Friday, June 16 (Father’s Day weekend) through Thursday, June 22. Zack returning to her house is a violation of the schedule and a shameful shot at Sam. Zack has always spent Father’s Day with Sam, just as he has always spent Mother’s Day with Missy. Based on her pattern of behavior, Missy would never allow Zack to spend time with his stepmom or his paternal grandmother on HER day.
…[A] parent’s nonverbal communications can play a significant role in soothing a young child. Parents should be aware that hostile or tense physical communications and facial expressions used during transitions can heighten anxiousness in a young child.
Zack has always been anxious during transitions. Based on divorced-parents guidebooks and advice from other families, Sam prepared Zack for a switch calmly and matter-of-factly. Sam said yes when Zack asked if he could take a toy or other item to his mom’s, even though she historically did not allow it when she saw Zack carrying something toward her house. Sam and Missy had numerous conversations about Zack’s behavior during house-switches. Missy consistently reported that Zack would sob and say he didn’t want to go when he knew it was time to go to Sam’s. Sam told Missy that Zack was always fine as soon as they left her house. Often before they even turned off her street, Zack would be singing or laughing or asking if they were going to go to a park or going to see Grandma. Missy did not believe Sam and told him it was clear by Zack’s behavior that he did not want to go to his dad’s house. Sam explained to Missy his approach to Zack’s transitions, stressing that he tried to get Zack to understand that he has two equally important and loving homes. Missy told Sam, “I know you like to think that.”
Although there may be times that your child would rather not visit the other parent, if this visitation is ordered by the court, it is not optional. A shared parenting plan is a legal agreement and must be complied with.
If you are the custodial parent, you are responsible for seeing that your child visits the other parent. If you don’t, you may have to answer the court. Courts tend not to look favorably on parents who limit their child’s time with the other parent, even if it is something that the child themselves has requested.
12 year old Zack, with Missy’s approval, continues to choose not to be with Sam. Sam will continue to show up on the dates he is scheduled to be with Zack.
Symptom of PAS #3. Refusing to acknowledge that children have property and may want to transport their possessions between residences.
Zack was not allowed to bring his favorite blankets or other clothes and toys to Sam’s house. If Zack brought a toy from Sam’s house to Missy’s, she told Zack to leave it in the car. When Zack was very young, 3 or 4, he would change into new clothes from his dresser at his dad’s as soon as he got to the apartment.
Around this same time, Missy forbade Sam to wash Zack’s clothes. She wanted them sent back to her house in a bag with Zack when he switched houses. Zack was ordered by Missy just last month to return specific clothes to her house from Sam’s.