My Trip to a Co-Parenting Workshop

For those of you new to this blog, I am an alienated parent (a definition of parental alienation can be found here). With the exception of one hour with my youngest child at a Contact Centre, my ex-partner has successfully prevented me from having contact with my three children for just over 7 and a half months. Between my ex-partner and I we have spent in excess of £9,000 over the last seven and a half months. I have also overcome unfounded safeguarding concerns against me. My ex-partner’s intention is to keep my children away from and my intention is to co-parent. As part of a Court Order (which she has already breached on numerous occasions) my ex-partner and I were ordered to separately attend a co-parenting workshop. The following is my account of my recent attendance at said course.

I entered the building, carried out the obligatory signing in and was then shown into a kitchen area where other attendees were making themselves hot drinks. I said hello as I entered and in return I received a few subtle nods, a couple of smiles and a couple of friendly ‘hellos’. I was then instructed by staff to write my name on a sticky label and place it on my shirt; necessary but somewhat cringe-worthy.

We were then shown through to the training room. The course facilitators introduced themselves with a mix of well-placed intention, a poor attempt at humour and a hint of naivety with regards to the magnitude of the issues being faced by each of the attendees.

The facilitators then proceeded to give a monologue of how everyone present was here due to all our respective Court Orders. “Thanks for reminding me of the sense of powerlessness I currently feel” I thought to myself. They then went on to say how the Court should only be used as a last resort and that the Court did not have the time or the resources to understand the complex dynamics of each of our situations. They also reminded us that the legal system was lengthy and expensive, “no shit Sherlock” a little voice said in my head. This introductory speech was given with no sense of irony or sarcasm. I immediately thought to myself “there’s nothing quite like a subtle reminder of how utterly ridiculous the legal system currently treats alienated parents, prior to commencing a co-parenting workshop for parents that are currently being prevented from seeing their own children!” Thanks guys, well done!

As a whole, the course attempted to inform us that the way forward was to co-operate with your ex-partner and to work together in the interests of your children. We were given hints and tips on how to be good parents and how we should all strive to co-parent successfully with our ex-partners.

Later on in the day we were encouraged to have open discussions about our own experiences. One attendee informed the group how his ex-partner had been allowed to breach in excess of 20 Court Orders over the last 11 years with little to no consequence. At present he had not seen his daughter for almost 12 months. Another attendee explained how his ex-partner had handed over his child with a soft-toy that he subsequently found a hidden camera inside. Throughout these discussions we were discouraged from using the term ‘parental alienation’. “We must be careful when using the term parental alienation” we were told by one of the course facilitators.

One section of the course highlighted to us the turmoil children go through when parents are unable to separate successfully. Terms such as mistrust, turmoil, estrangement, anxiety, anger issues, distress and depression were used to further emphasis the point. Another well intentioned, but naïve point on the part of the course facilitators. For me (and other attendees I’m sure) a poignant reminder of what our children are currently going through, and an additional reminder of how powerless we are to do anything about it at the present time.

The course was concluded by discussing the various support groups that are currently available to parents that need advice about separating successfully. At this point I felt the need to highlight the fact that I was not yet at the stage of being able to co-parent. I stated that my ex-partner was refusing to communicate with me and that furthermore she was continuing to state via her solicitor that she had no intention of co-parenting. I asked the staff, in light of this entrenched and unhelpful approach on the part of my ex-partner, how they felt I should engage in these co-parenting initiatives they had so enthusiastically advocated throughout the whole day. Their reply was that “we must hope that people learn to co-operate in the best interests of their children”. After this lacklustre and somewhat insensitive attempt to reassure me I returned the conversation to that of support groups; I asked if there were any support groups for alienated parents. I was informed that they provide a ‘successful-separation’ drop-in session. Mindful of the earlier reminder to be ‘careful’ of using the term ‘parental alienation’ I asked yet again if there were any support groups for those parents that are currently finding it difficult to cope with the fact that they have not seen their own children for months sometimes years on end. This time their reply was that there was a ‘well-being service’ provided by the local Mental Health Trust. At this point I gave up, feeling that my argument was futile and pointless.

At the end of the course we were each handed a certificate to take home.

As someone that believes in the lifelong process of nurturing, shaping and improving various knowledge and skills in further understanding the world around me, I reflected on what I had learnt from the course:

  • Not all sticky labels stick
  • Overhead projectors are unreliable
  • During afternoons I prefer coffee with two sugars instead of one
  • Far too many people that claim to be ‘experts’ talk utter rubbish
  • My understanding of co-parenting is correct in the context of current evidence based approaches
  • With regards to tackling parental alienation, the current legal system is even more ineffective, insensitive, biased and misinformed than I had initially believed
  • I miss my children now more than ever

My Trip to the Local Contact Centre, Part 2

And so my second trip to the local Contact Centre recently took place. Following on from the circumstances of the first visit (see My Trip to the Local Contact Centre, Part 1) I now entered the Contact Centre with the belief that my daughter and her mother would not be turning up. Any readers of my previous article will recall that the first visit was successful for my daughter and I. We had spent an amazing hour together and my daughter expressed a clear wish to see me again “next time”. This first visit somehow managed to go ahead despite her mother’s attempt to sabotage it prior to it starting. Her mother then even demanded my daughter be removed from the visit when she was powerless to stop the visit from starting.

And so I return to the second visit. I arrived and the volunteer staff made me incredibly welcome as they had done the previous visit and showed me to an empty table for me to wait for my ‘visitor’.

In the visiting room there were four fathers already playing  with their children. I sat near the hatch to the kitchen where various drinks and sweets were available for sale. Sitting near the hatch was a young girl of around 12 years old. I could hear her engaging in small-talk with a member of staff, however she appeared visibly upset. It appeared that she was here to visit her father, however she was refusing to speak to him. Her father was spending time with what  appeared to be her younger sister on the other side of the room. On at least three or four occasions her father would approach her and softly ask if she would like to come over and play. On each occasion the 12 year old girl would rebuke her father. Each of his replies consisted of a statement of love, a soft insistence that he would try again in a little while and a reassurance that he would never give up trying. I got the impression that his words were more of a statement of his long term intentions in connection to whatever struggle he was currently going through in attempting to  reacquaint with his daughter.

I also observed the father I had briefly spoken to last time. His words from last time “it doesn’t get any easier” resonated with me as I surreptitiously observed him sitting alone, appearing perplexed, anxious and regularly checking his watch.

At some point a member of staff entered the visiting room and began to walk towards me. ‘The Contact Centre Walk of Shame’ as I call it involves a member of staff approaching a waiting father in this crowded room, others fathers observe it and the waiting father invariably has an awareness of imminent bad news. The bad news, the staff member informed me was that the visit with my daughter would not be going ahead. She informed me that my daughter had been brought to the main entrance by her mother however they both refused to come in and go ahead with the visit. The staff that were present witnessed my daughter in a state of high distress, visibly upset and crying. I was informed that my daughter’s mother ‘was not prepared to go ahead with the visit’ due to my daughter’s current distress. Staff also informed me that my daughter’s mother informed them that she would be informing her solicitor that she had ‘tried’.

I did not get a chance to see my daughter. An alienating parent does not care about the welfare of their children. As I mentioned above I was acutely aware that this visit would not go ahead. An alienating parent needs to maintain a false sense of reality and belief around their children and their ‘captive audience’. They  tell different people different stories to maintain their status of alienation, in essence they are master manipulators. Therefore my mother’s daughter could not have afforded for this visit to take place.

I thanked the staff member for her help and support and left the building.

To conclude, I have a lot to be grateful for. So called ‘friends’ have come and gone. I have the love and support of some amazing people. People that make me a better person, people that I know will always be there for me, as I will always be there for them. I love them dearly, thank you.

My Trip to the Local Contact Centre, Part 1

After 6 and half months of no contact with my three children due to extreme parental alienation, after overcoming unfounded safeguarding concerns against me and after spending in excess of £5,000 in legal fees, a couple of weeks ago I had a planned visit to a Contact Centre, with the plan to see my youngest child, my daughter for one hour. As stated above, at that point I had not seen any of my children for 6 and a half months. I am continuously led to believe via their mother’s solicitor that none of my children want to see me ever again.

During the week or so building up to the visit, it was with a huge amount of guilt that I tried to put the visit at the back of mind and attempted to distract myself with work and spending time with loved ones.

This coping strategy worked to some degree until the day before the visit, when a volunteer member of staff from the Contact Centre telephoned me and informed me that the planned visit the next day could not go ahead due to certain points ‘not being clear enough‘ in the Court Order. Despite my polite protest to his claim, he would  not allow the visit to go ahead. I was then at a point where I had seek input from my solicitor. My solicitor intervened at my request and informed the member of staff at the Contact Centre that there were no concerns with the arrangements in the Court Order and that we should proceed with the planned visit the following day.

In addition to this there were also attempts by my children’s mother to sabotage the planned visit. Details of which I cannot go into. Suffice to say this also required input and ‘advice‘ from my solicitor.

Now, lets put these ‘obstacles‘ into context without going into too much detail. My solicitor charges me more that £180 per hour. I am a mental health nurse working for the NHS earning approximately £12 per hour. Just consider that for a moment…

…So the day arrived and I drove into the car park of my local community centre. I observed numerous cars with men sitting alone in each car. I sat there reflecting on the past days obstacles and the attempt by my children’s mother to sabotage this planned visit. With this in mind I drove out of the car park and ‘hid’ the car around the corner and then walked back.

I entered the community centre and was greeted by some incredibly friendly staff members. I signed in and was shown into the main area where I observed five other fathers. Each man had a table and several chairs and there were a selection of toys and games available. Three of the fathers already had their children with them, and the warmth with which each of these fathers engaged with their respective children was both beautiful and saddening at the same time. Some more children turned up, leaving one father sitting alone with no children arriving. I overheard a staff member inform him that staff had contacted the mother of his children, but that she had “forgotten the visit was today and she would be a bit late”. He was advised by staff to wait. His children never turned up.

A short while later my daughter arrived. Within ten minutes into the visit my daughter and I were emotionally attached to one another, hugging, kissing and giggling to each other. Being unable to go into any further detail, the visit was a complete success. On reflection, and particularly after 6 and a half months of no contact it was one of the most surreal, amazing times of my life. Words cannot describe what it means to be a parent and to cherish every moment you have with your children. That one hour appeared to be the quickest one hour of my life.

At the end of the visit my daughter and I kissed and hugged each other. I helped her put her coat on and she told me she wanted to see me again. She was then escorted out of the room by a member of staff.

After each child is taken away, fathers are required to stay in the room for fifteen minutes before being permitted to leave.

During this time a father who had just waved goodbye to his son approached me. “Is this your first time mate?” He asked me. From his overall demeanour, he appeared to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. “Yes it is, how about you?” I replied. “It’s my third, and before you ask, it doesn’t get any easier.” He did not say this with any malice, but simply in a sad and resigned tone. “Why is it only dads here?” I asked him. “Dunno mate, you tell me” he said as he shrugged his shoulders and looked to the floor. “You take care mate” he said as he walked off to sit at his table for the required fifteen minutes.

While I sat at my table for the required fifteen minutes, a member of staff approached me and asked how I felt the visit had gone. I informed him that I had had an amazing time with my daughter and couldn’t wait to see her again and that it had made me incredibly happy that she wanted to see me again ‘next time’. He informed me that all the staff had noted how much she had enjoyed spending time with me. Interestingly enough he then informed me that my daughter’s mother had clearly not been happy with me being present when she arrived (despite this being normal procedure that fathers arrive first). He then went on to tell me that she had requested from staff that the visit be stopped immediately and that our daughter be removed from me and returned to her immediately. I expressed to the staff member my sincerest gratitude and thanks in declining her request.

The staff member and I engaged in small talk until the end of my fifteen minutes, and with my mind filled with worry and trepidation around not only the overall welfare of my three children but the next planned visit, I thanked the staff and left the building.

New Years Resolutions and Coping with Parental Alienation

As we enter another year and are once again confronted with the somewhat culture expectation to make New Years resolutions, some of us will see  this annual cycle for what it is. A way of invoking a ‘new beginning’, an attempt to implement some positive changes in our lives.

It could be argued that this is a parallel for how some of us approach life. Worrying about the unimportant things in life, being allowed to be consumed by what others think of us. This does little for our general well-being and even less for the impact we leave behind in this world.

So what the bloody hell has this got to do with coping with parental alienation? This is how I see it… I have now not seen my three beautiful children for over six months and their mother continues to work very hard to prevent me and my side of the family from seeing them. I cannot control her alienating behaviours. I cannot at this stage change the unfair and overly biased legal system that does very little in challenging her illegal and emotionally abusive behaviours towards our children. I cannot make up for the time so far that I have missed out with my children. I cannot take away the pain that my family and I feel due to the children being taken and alienated against us by their mother. Simply put, there are far too many elements that are out of the control of an alienated parent.

However in terms of coping strategies it is incredibly important to value and appreciate the elements that are, in such circumstances, in one’s control.

The Dalai Lama says ‘true happiness comes from cultivating compassion and by eliminating anger’.

Lets first look at anger, which alienated parents will invariably experience. To keep from being overwhelmed by such a negative emotion, many parents detach from the situation. It is important to remind oneself that this is an act of self-preservation, not an act of selfishness. In many cases guilt invariably follows, as the parent feels uncomfortable in engaging or re-engaging in hobbies or pastimes. It is important to remind oneself that this is simply a distraction technique, not a substitute for or preference over the children.

Now onto compassion, which is defined in the Oxford English dictionary, as ‘sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others’. The Middle English word is thought to have originated from Anglo-French and in turn from the Late Latin word compassio, meaning to sympathize, to bear, suffer. In numerous philosophies and almost all of the major religions, compassion is ranked as one of the greatest virtues. Furthermore the ability to be able to identify with another individual is a key component of what makes us human. Mirrored behaviours start in early infancy, with the mimicking of facial expressions and body movements of parents and carers. Such behaviours are highly related to the concept of compassion.

However the idea that a parent can alienate their own children against the other parent is difficult to understand and comprehend. To engage in such behaviours requires a complete lack of compassion on the part of the alienating parent. Divorce and separation is all too often painful and emotionally difficult and children invariably suffer to some degree. However as much as some parents are antagonistic towards one another, most if not all attempt to shield, to some degree, their children from the emotional and psychological fallout from the breakdown of a relationship. This is not the case for parents that alienate, narcissistic traits are what drive alienating behaviours, along with a nonsensical need for revenge and/or control.

Such circumstances allow you to find who your real friends are. These scenarios can bring the alienated members of the family closer together, and an outpouring of compassion to one another occurs. Extraordinarily, it is with compassion that the victims of parental alienation at times examine the emotional make-up of the alienator, looking for answers, trying to understand why someone would behave in such an uncompassionate manner, with such devastating effects on all those around them.

In my humble opinion, I feel that it is virtues such as compassion that drive us to continue in the most difficult of situations. It is compassion that allows us to persevere in the face of adversity.

And so I return to the subject of New Years resolutions. For the alienated parent, a new year could be used to invoke a new way of coping, a renewed vigour. Perhaps a new found appreciation and love for those that matter the most. Although the alienated parent at times will have feelings of despair, sadness and grief, compassion in its simplicity counts for a lot.

As the Dalai Lama says “if you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

The True Cost of Pursuing Child Contact Through the Courts

All too often, in the breakdown of a relationship, one person may have reached that decision before the other and may have delayed dealing with any considered change in the interests of the children. When it is finally communicated to the other partner, it is often seen as a ‘bolt out of the blue’. Fear, mistrust, grief and anger follow very quickly. This in turn sets the scene for a potential ‘high-conflict’ separation and subsequent custody battle.

The existence of parental alienation is all too often present in such battles, and the conflicts that begin to  unfold both in and out of the court room are an overwhelming and life altering event for all concerned.

At court a ‘best interests of the children’ standard will be applied, that at best, is incredibly vague and indeterminate. ‘Alienating behaviours’ may be quoted in social services reports however within the legal system, both in and out of the court room there is a distinct lack of understanding and appreciation of the damage done by an alienating parent. Professionals will all too often mistake alienation for estrangement. This leads to numerous misconceptions that in turn result in errors in professional decision-making. Many professionals will attribute some level of blame on to the alienated parent for having contributed to his or her rejection.

For the alienated parent the feeling of loss for children that are no longer in their lives is at times overwhelming. Some alienated parents describe the feeling being similar to that of grief when a close friend or family member dies.

The alienated parent becomes an immediate stranger to the life he or she once had and quickly realises that they need for better or worse, to get to grips with their new reality.

Even for the more resilient of alienated parents, trying to find the financial, emotional and supportive resources needed to manage each arising obstacle in the best interests of the children is incredibly challenging, both physically and emotionally.

The guilt in engaging in other activities and hobbies that provide a healthy distraction for the alienated parent is difficult to bear and even more difficult to articulate.

International research shows us that children do not suffer long term damage when parents separate. However research does show us that children suffer short and long term difficulties when their parents remain in prolonged conflict with one another.

There are numerous arguments for co-parenting (E. Kruk, 2012):

  • Co-parenting preserves children’s relationships with both parents
  • Co-parenting preserves parents’ relationships with their children
  • Co-parenting decreases parental conflict
  • Co-parenting reflects children’s preferences and views regarding their own best interests
  • Co-parenting decreases the ‘mathematising’ of time spent with each parent
  • Co-parenting reduces the risk and incidence of parental alienation

In my particular case, the individual who is continuing to alienate my children against me does not believe in co-parenting. Between us, my ex-partner and I have paid in excess of £8000 in legal fees. My ex-partner’s intention is to keep my children away from me (I have not seen them for almost 6 months). My intention is to co-parent, nothing more, nothing less. We have several more court hearings in front of us.

To conclude, the emotional and financial costs  of pursuing child contact through the courts are incredibly high. This is the harsh reality of parental alienation and a biased and ineffective legal system.

The Season of Goodwill ‘versus’ Parental Alienation

The ‘season of goodwill’ is one of many ubiquitous terms seen at this time of year, such terms conjure up memories and feelings of warmth that are synonymous with the coming Christmas period and in most induces a feeling of hope, a spirit of generosity and a kindly approach towards others.

In this day and age when people rightly allow themselves to enjoy Chistmas in their own way, be it religious, secular, commercial or all, we are all arguably dragged into this impending ‘season of goodwill’. Whichever way we choose to celebrate Christmas, the result is the same. If you are lucky enough to have a loving family around you, it will normally result in some time off work and time spent with loved ones. The giving and receiving of presents, cards and good wishes is common place for most at Christmas. It’s the time of year that people are smiling more, saying ‘merry Christmas’ to numerous shop assistants and relative strangers.

Charities receive more money over Christmas time than any other time in the year. Whatever Christmas means to you whether you are spurred on by commercialism, religious symbolism and phrases, Dickensian quotes or just nostalgic Christmas movies that are shown on television year after year; whether we like it or not, most of us will be encouraged to think of others more. This season induces in most, whether we admit to it or not, a spirit of generosity and kindness towards others, however small it may be.

However this is not the case for the alienating parent. The parent that chooses to prevent his or her children from seeing the other parent does clearly not ‘buy in’ to this ‘season of goodwill’. In fact the opposite is true, for the alienating parent this is a time of opportunity, but not in the context of ‘Christmas spirit’.

As is all too often the case in parental alienation cases, the resident parent, will make false accusations that the alienated parent harmed the children in the past . This in turn ‘kicks off’ a safeguarding referral and subsequent assessment and results in four to five months (in some cases more) of the targeted parent being prevented by the courts of any unsupervised contact with the children. This window of opportunity is key for the alienating parent. If they have not already done so at this point, this is where the alienating parent will all too often build a ‘psychological cage’ around the children, whereby the absence of the alienated parent is presented to the children as the alienated parent actively rejecting the children. The children will be told that the alienated parent has abandoned and rejected the children for a ‘new life’, when in fact the opposite is true. The children will be shielded from the outside truth. An additional key tell-tale sign of Parental Alienation is when the alienating parent prevents the children from having any relationship with the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of the alienated parents side of family, this tactic is used to reinforce and secure the ‘false reality’ of what is the psychological hold the alienating parent has over the children.

So we return back to the subject of Christmas… One can only imagine the multitude of emotions the effected children must be going through as they approach Christmas with their unfounded, but potentially entrenched belief that they have been ‘abandoned’ by their absent parent. The absence of the targeted parent at such a crucial time of the year will be taken advantage of by the alienating parent. The ‘psychological cage’ provided by the alienating parent will enable them to continue with this denigration and hatred of not only the absent and alienated parent but also the alienated parent’s side of the family.  Statistically speaking, personality disorders are at the core of parental alienation. As such there is no guilt or shame on the part of the alienator. There is only fear of the truth being found out. Unfortunately it is this fear of being found out that often drives such extreme behaviours.

So how do we as those effected by parental alienation compete with such damaging and abhorrent behaviours? In terms of coping and dealing with such alienating behaviours, the advice is that we do not compete or engage in conflict, but remain compassionate and kind. In essence a dignified approach in the face of overwhelming adversity. In the spirit of Christmas, it could be argued that we should simply allow ourselves to actively engage in the ‘season of goodwill’ with all its positive effects on ourselves and others. To conclude, we can be grateful for those around us and the love and support we provide for one another in such difficult and testing times.

When Charles Dickens’ character Scrooge, wakes up on Christmas morning, he realises he can make amends for his past cruelties:

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” 

– Merry Christmas. Peace, love and hope to all –

Parental Alienation and Parenting Stereotypes

Below is a difficult to watch but powerful lecture by Dr Jennifer Hardman on parenting stereotypes within the context of parental alienation.

Dr. Harman is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Colorado State University and is the Program Coordinator for the Applied Social & Health Psychology Program.

Poignant points were:

  • How easy parental alienation can occur
  • How parenting stereotypes ‘buy in’ to the unknowing ‘sympathisers’ of the alienating parent
  • Parental alienation being addressed as a form of child abuse

 

Can there ever be any excuse for parental alienation?

Until I had personally experienced parental alienation at first hand, I was not really aware of its existence, neither was I aware of how often it happens. Furthermore I was certainly not aware of its devastating effect on all those involved, in particular the children.

I can recall a news story from several years ago of a dad dressing up as batman and staging a protest on the Buckingham palace balcony. This was in fact an incident that was one of several high profile stunts from 2004, all instigated by the Fathers for Justice campaign group. Reflecting back on the news coverage, such security breaches were called ‘unacceptable’ by the media. Fathers for justice would be called such things as ‘notorious’ and little encouragement from the media was given to the public to look further into this phenomena that we now call parental alienation.

I now see the world of parental alienation laid out in front me. A sea of helpless and powerless parents, who have been alienated from and denied contact with their children. They are faced with an incredibly costly, biased and complex legal system that does not work efficiently or quickly enough to battle parental alienation. According to many authors on the subject of PAS such as Lowenstein (2007), both social services and the courts lack sufficient knowledge of PAS and underestimate both the short and long term negative effects it will have on children.

Parental alienation normally involves allegations of emotional, physical and sexual abuse being made by the alienating parent against the alienated parent. This is done to justify the prevention of contact between the alienated parent and the children. It is worth noting that such allegations are virtually always disproved (Baker, 2005). The result of such allegations will involve police and/or social worker input. And this all too often leads to the alienated parent giving up the fight for contact with their children (Lowenstein, 2007).

In an age of increasing awareness around mental health, and an increasing number of campaigns bringing the discussion of mental health into the public domain, it is alarming that parental alienation is so mismanaged and underestimated by the various government agencies that are supposed to be working for the welfare and safeguarding of our nations children.

Numerous authors on the subject of PAS agree on both the short and long term effects of parental alienation on children. Such alienating behaviours is ‘likely to endanger the child’s mental health and seriously compromise its emotional and psychological well-being’ (Van Rooyen & Mahendra, 2007). The authors also state that continuing to deprive a child of a healthy relationship with a parent is psychologically harmful to children.

Parental alienation is normally perpetrated by particular personality types. During a series of interviews for her book, Breaking the Ties that Bind: Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome, psychological researcher Amy J. L. Baker found that narcissistic mothers comprised a significant portion of alienating parents. She argues that this is important because it implies the presence of a personality disorder in the alienating parent.

So with the above points in mind, I would like to pose a question: With the unethical nature of accusing your ex-partner of a crime against their child they have not commited; with the short and long term detrimental effects on a childs mental health, can there ever be any excuse for parental alienation as a way to either ‘get back at’ or ‘take control’ from an ex-partner?