So recently I was led to a series of Old Testament readings with a common theme: people who didn’t want to fight, who were asked to fight, then found they had all they needed from God to win (and win quite conclusively, actually). Not all the fights were actual battles or swords – like Daniel. Some of them were, like Joshua (be strong and courageous! said to poor Joshua at least three times; clearly Joshua wasn’t looking very strong or courageous to warrant that much encouragement). Some had to do all the prep work, but then didn’t actually have to do the fighting (Jehosephat).
As we are approaching round 6 (or is it 7) custody battle for my oldest child, this time her father has trotted out alienation as his reason to open a new case. Alienation is a much-disputed “syndrome” where the custodial parent intentionally manipulates a child, so that the child will not like or bond with the non-custodial parent. Interestingly, it is very common in families with a history of abuse.
Given this is what I was accused of doing – and given that I had absolutely not mounted a campaign of nefarious anti-father PR – I started researching.
Alienation is almost always described as a syndrome in the CHILD but all the symptoms are listed for the PARENT. It reminded me of Munchausen’s (the one where the mother is so anxious about the child, she makes him sick on purpose to get to the doctor frequently). The parent shows paranoia, for example. I found only one symptom list about the child, and even that had mostly references to the parent (look for symptoms in PARENTS and you will find hundreds, maybe thousands of lists).
What was that all about? Well, it turns out that the author and perpetuator of Alienation does not believe in domestic violence. Just like that, Santa, Tooth Fairy and Abusive Spouses – all in the same category.
So play this forward: mother turns up to court accused of alienation. She is likely a victim of previous spouse abuse. She is nervous, paranoid, probably exhibits all kinds of fearful reactions to the questions she gets about how she is parenting her child.
Like most abusers, the father is manipulative and charming (how else did he convince her to stick around as long as she did), and he seems totally calm.
See, she must be an alienator, because, look, this father has nothing to worry about or hide – he’s so calm. She’s a wreck!
Let’s think this through: of course, not all alienators were abused and I’m sure there are parents who do that to their children as part of nasty custody battles. But I do not think it is typical and an awful lot of psychologists agree with me. Just not with Gardner.
So the mother has escaped and gotten custody of her child – she has to send said child to visit the abuser periodically, so she naturally worries, what if he does the same thing to this precious child? She tells the child just enough – this is not okay, yelling is not your fault, tell me if you are ever hurt in any way…not to frighten the child, but to arm him.
Maybe the abuser is basically a pretty nice guy unless you marry him. But maybe not. In the case of my first husband, he is the nicest friend you could ask for, but he really doesn’t like kids and he neglects my daughter shamefully. She is a trophy, and a stone to fling at me. Custody visits are more about depriving me of her company than enjoying time with her, which is why I suppose he likes to leave her in hotel rooms and flee to the bar during their visits.
We tread a fine line: my daughter knows what abuse looks like but she also knows I’m prayerful and hopeful that it won’t be her experience. We say nice things, we encourage, we follow our custody order to the letter. He does not.
Interestingly in our case – he manifests an awful lot of the symptoms of alienators. I’m not expecting his lawyer to point that out.
And yet – this Gardner is widely read, accepted and studied in contested custody cases. There are mothers out there in a panic every day because a father who needs to improve decided it’s easier to blame her for relationship issues with the kids than to actually work on the relationships with the kids. Isn’t this typical of abusers generally? Wasn’t it always her fault for provoking him? So now, of course, it’s also her fault the kids have been provoked into not liking him.
I’m a little disgusted, frankly, at our courts if this is really the case universally – and our judges haven’t made this connection. I’m disgusted at the court psychology profession that leaps onto a very liberal pro-dad bandwagon (and we are SO about dads in our house) without noticing the pile of poop when they land.
The facts of THIS case, and I am sure many others are that the father of my oldest child needs to focus a lot more on bonding and relating, and a lot less on attacking and ego. There are piles of evidence, there are credible witnesses, there is a mountain of research and lots of testimony to be heard about exactly who and what he is. Thank God for our family, our friends, our God. We have all the weapons we need in this battle.
And so we will fight, again. Once again, I am confident in the knowledge that no weapon formed against me is ever going to prosper, and that those who slander me will be disgraced themselves. It’s a promise. I know I have to do the preparation, show willing, pick up my weapons and go to the fight. I might have to figuratively march around this formidable city seven times. I might have to toot a very loud horn. But the city will fall, and the enemy will be vanquished. Just like the Levites had to pick up the Ark and march into the waters to get the sea to part – I have to pick up the battle standard and start stepping. The waters will part. The enemy will fall. Selah.
I’m hopeful that stepping on my enemy’s high places will give me a vantage point where I can see others who need help with the same kinds of foes, and where I can be seen by them. That, and the future security and safety of my daughter, are things worth fighting for.