Archive for the ‘Parental Alienation’ Category

Another transition we have been moving through is children leaving the house.  This is a normal rite of passage for any family, but as you might expect a blended family brings with it some potential nuances and perspectives that might not exist.

The most impactful is not having control over the culture of the household for the children because they have multiple households in a blended family.  In an optimal situation the households would be similar and therefore no tension would exist.  Out situation is not optimal.  Both Bert’s and Nan’s households are vastly different in rules, expectations, belief systems and operational flow.  If you listen to our kid’s our household is the worst of the bunch because we have rules, we have expectations, we believe in Jesus Christ and the parents define and execute the operational flow.   They would prefer to have no rules, no expectations, believe in whatever makes you feel good at the time and they would get to determine how things operate, and they get all or most of that at Bert’s or Nan’s so, surprise, we are a terrible place to be and they cannot wait to get out of here.

As I’ve talked about in earlier posts that Marcia moved out about three years ago to go live with Nan just a few months before she turned eighteen.  There were conversations with her and Nan and she moved out around Thanksgiving and it was disappointing to see her go but not something I was going to fight.  To hear a recent conversation with Greg, it is amazing what the human brain can create.  Greg’s view of events, while he was yelling at me about how he wants to spend as little time in our house as possible, was that I threw Marcia out of the house and was yelling at her as she left.  Just like the difference in households being almost mirror opposites, this recollection of events was very opposite what I recall happening.  Marcia felt her lifestyle choices were not being supported and so felt she had to leave.  As an adult who could fledge the nest whenever she wanted, I let her make her choice and go without much ado.  This is where I think it is hard to understand the pressures and the realities if your perspective is from an unbroken household where you and your spouse are the sole family unit for your kids.  Speaking to friends, my parents and others who have not had to live in the dynamic I get a lot of judgment,lack of sympathy and at times even anger that I am doing something wrong.  I’ve been told I should have made Marcia stay.  I’ve been told I should have guilted her into staying.  I respond with questions about how do I make an adult do something against their will, and more importantly WHY would I want to do that? Our household was a constant ball of emotions and feelings of resentment and just a lot of angst.  That went away when Marcia decided to leave.  It was a relief and many times I felt bad about the fact that I was happy Marcia was gone.  As I have had more time to absorb things, I have changed my perspective to understand that this is part of the process of a blended household where the other choices are different.

You see, it is much safer to know you have an environment with a parent to go to if the one you are in is not to your liking.  In a typical family the adulting children do not have that alternative.  Their choices are live with my family who will likely put up with my foibles and warts and love me anyway, or go out into the big, scary world and make my own way with strangers, or at best some friends who might agree to room with me.  When you have another parent on the other side reinforcing their feelings that I. my wife, or both are nuts or mean or whatever adjective you want to label us with, things are so much easier.  It is an echo chamber of the strongest confirmation bias they will ever have; their own flesh and blood is aligning with them and telling them they are right.  It is hard,from the outside, to see how hard it is to compete with that.  As we have let time pass and tried to learn and grow and get counsel from others we have determined we are not going to compete with it, and that transition has been one of the most soul wrenching yet liberating aspects we’ve been through recently.

Whenever we look for guidance we return to the owner’s manual for life, the Bible, and it was in these interactions that we have been shown the meaning of Matthew 10:34-36, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35“For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; 36 and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.”  In most of our disagreements with our children, it comes down to our identity as Christian’sand the living out of that reality that cause the divide.  Marcia is not happy that Christ condemns homosexuality as sinful.  Nan has argued with me that I should be able to walk away from my church for the sake of my child.  A sword cuts things asunder, it is not made to join, it is made to split.  Our blended dilemma is certainly exacerbated by the fact that of the three households involved in out blended family, we are the only Christian one.  Living in the world is tempting.  Living as Christ demands of us, is hard and not glamorous, and many times not fun, at least not until you get to the point of Christian maturity when you understand the peace you are given by the Holy Spirit in these times when your own children want to walk away, but you know that the path you have chosen is the only one, and that the issue is that the children need to accept salvation and not that we are driving them away.  They are running from God, and as consequence from us.

Next, we had Jan decide Bert was easier to stomach than our mantra of personal responsibility and consequences after she got into a couple car accidents quickly and was going down the path of blaming the other parties and accepting no responsibility for herself. Her departure, along with Bobbi at the time, was like a thief in the night, having Bert come collect them and their belongings when my wife and I were out.  Again, Jan is over eighteen,so no longer in any way under a court ordered set of visitation and therefore was free to make her choice not only from us but from any other authority.  Fighting her was not something we did, as we understood they need to want to be present with us on our terms, which echo God’s terms.  If that does not sit well, then they are free to do something else. Bobbi was forced to come back because of the court order and her age, but her raging against he machine has never truly ceased and it came to a head recently, but I jump ahead.

Jan returned to the nest for a brief respite in the fall for about three months.  Bert had stolen over$7,000 for her by promising a car that was never really delivered.  When he asked for thousands more, something clicked, and Jan asked to move back here. My wife agreed, but only after making clear that there were rules,expectations and a method of operations. Calling it a negotiation makes it seem more complex and heartless than it was, but it was an adult conversation about what each side was willing to live with.  In the last few weeks Jan has moved into an apartment with a couple people. She continues to get advice from Bert on things and if he provides poor advice Jan will bear the consequences.  We’ve let her know we are available to help if she wants, but she clearly has the pull of the opposing households as she still wants validation from Bert, though I personally feel she is still to naïve to see through his manipulations and is likely to get burned.

While the custody situation for Peter is still in flux,Bobbi has decided to push living with Bert even though she is still a bit over a year away from hitting eighteen, but as with the two older kids, it seems we have arrived at the heart wrenching decision to let her go rather than fight them on something they clearly do not want to do.

Cindy is off at college away from home so she is out of the next for nine months of the year, but is probably the only child who has not stirred up issues on this particular front.  She’s struggling in other areas and we help again, when she asks, because she’s passed the magic age of eighteen when our relationship naturally transitions from one of telling or dictating to a parent/adult child relationship where you simply offer your opinion and they can tell you buzz off or ask for more. 

That is then where we sit on this transition, having made the tough choice to stop fighting the kids, regardless of their age.  So Greg has been vocal about how horrendous he thinks our house is, so I gave him the option to spend more time at Nan’s over the summer, but now he’s back tracking. At this point Peter’s situation is more dependent on the court proceedings and so no discussions are happening with him.  He has made enough noise to third parties that my wife has also confronted him on if be wants to be at Bert’s more and he also seems to back track and say no, he likes things the way they are, but that may change.  The dynamic is not one I’d wish on anyone because the stress of it is high and at times overwhelming (my wife and I have both used that word to explain how we are feeling over the last two months). 

So we basically have four of the kids gone for large periods of time, two permanently, one just being away at school and one actively choosing to be defiant and using the fact that Bert will support her choice to be there even though no changes in custody have been made.  We’ve transitioned, certainly during the school year to being a household with one or two boys here with us depending on which day it is.  The move towards the empty nest has begun and we are several years into the journey, with likely a little under four years to go until we’re fully there, but could be sooner ifGod chooses to make it that way.  As with any transition there are some good things and some bad.  We are both more at peace with the situation as we have turned towards God’s Word to help us navigate this difficult time,but we are also human and therefore sometimes gnash our teeth and think we can make people do what we’d prefer they do when it is really not up to us.  I think the biggest challenge we will continue to face is determining that fine line between when tough love means we refuse to let them make the choice of where they spend their time and deal with the unpleasant dynamics that may cause or when we say we’ve done our best, they have not chosen us, and to let them go and deal with the potential consequences they will have of what we feel are poor environments for them.  Three have officially passed the age of responsibility and the others are one, two and a half and three and a half years away.  Is our house half empty or half full?  The answer depends on when you ask.  We’ll keep trying to see it as half full more often then not, but I’d be lying if I said after years of fighting the good fight that we don’t  look at each other and say it’s time to stop fighting.

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“just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” – 2 Peter 2:1b-3 (NASB)

We have recently been talking about this section of the Bible in our Sunday school class.  Our sermon this week was about Psalm 73, that most scholars describe as contrasting the end of the wicked and the righteous.  As we left church one of the pastors commented “You guys live this every day”, and he was right, though we are certainly not alone.  For those who question my Christian faith and how I can feel so strongly about it, it is times in my life like these where what is weighing on our hearts aligns with outside support that those without faith would simply label “coincidence”.  Our current season of life is one of those times, for not only did a sermon and a Sunday school lesson align, but so did the timing of a move “Paul: Apostle of Christ” happen to hit me with questions and lessons that fit the problem at hand.  You see, what the pastor was referring to and that we continue to wrestle with in our children’s lives, are the influence of our exes from a position of authority similar to what Peter was speaking of within the church.  Parents who secretly introduce destructive heresies into the lives of our children, who lead them down a path of wickedness with seemingly little conflict (Psalm 73) and inspire in them fascination with flawed gods gone by (similar to Maritius’s unrewarded belief in “Paul”) that goes beyond just being interested in mythology.

A brief comment by my wife after the comment from the pastor kindled in me the seed for this post, for in blended families we have the added challenge of being exposed to attacks from within, from the other parent.  For some people trying to blend, those attacks also can come in their new household with disagreements between each other as they try to meld different upbringings, food choices and lifestyles.  I have heard recollections from multiple people about how things that really are not normally a part of life for an intact family because everyone in the household grew up with the same rules, traditions and experiences, can become a litany of challenges for a blended family.  This is another one of that endless stream of things that are just difficult to grasp and fully appreciate unless you have lived it or walked very closely with those who do.  It is important to formulate how you will navigate those obstacles early and often within a new blended family and I feel we’ve done a great job in that area.  I also feel in other but the worst circumstances that these are not really attacks, because in a loving couple there is not poor intent.  That’s why I will focus exclusively on the other parent.  It helps hearing from outsiders from time to time about how well all our kids appear to get along, because as with anyone, the self-doubt constantly creeps in and outside affirmation helps, especially when it comes with godly counsel.

So while we have done well to work with our helpmate within our own four walls to craft a new family dynamic, let me return to the other possible source of attack from within a blended family, that of the other parents involved.  I have mentioned before of Bert’s total lack of God in his life as well as Nan’s at best luke warm, convenient and superficial belief.  Bert tends to replace God with other mythology which created a high fascination with Greek and Roman gods, in Jan in particular, and open the door to other things like witchcraft and other pagan idolatry.  It is hard enough to guard our children’s souls against this in normal circumstances but when a parent, who is in their lives with positional authority simply from being a parent, shares what can be seductive and intriguing information, it is exponentially more difficult to combat, most often to the point where we find ourselves having to turn it over to God and trust that He can hopefully establish enough of a foothold to turn them away from falsehood.

These attacks occur on many fronts and conspire to erode our ability to influence and at times leads us to situations where it seems, and likely often is, best to withdrawal and allow the children to make up their own minds, for shortly they will all be aged out of the mandatory presence in our sphere of influence and able to decide for themselves what is right or wrong, what is fact and what is fiction.  I have this argument often with my parents where they get upset that I am not “making” Marcia, or Greg or another do the “right” thing.  I calmly (OK, many times not so calmly) repeat what it feels like I have covered dozens of times, that making someone do something is not a sustainable goal as someone who is coerced or bullied into a behavior will simply drop that behavior the moment they are free from the means of coercion or pain, a point all our children are fast approaching.  It is this ongoing onslaught of the world coupled with the exes that has led us to lay the problems at God’s feet and pray while still trying to ascertain when to get involved.

It is on this front that we find ourselves with Peter and Bobbi and that my wife has been wrestling with for months.  Peter fought so hard to embrace the false teaching of Bert that his diabetes is not really that big of a deal and therefore he could play with it and manipulate it to get what he wants in life that he endangered his health and his life by overdosing on insulin to make himself ill perhaps because he did not want to attend school and certainly because he wanted to spend more time with Bert after visitation was curtailed due to Bert’s lack of responsibility in Peter’s care.  Basic parenting skills are missing, such as actually knowing what kids are doing within his house or if they are taking medications needed, so that Peter created a poor outcome.  Further false teaching about how things were not important, doctors are all dumb and therefore their input can be ignored at will and other such drivel also contribute to Peter’s belief that our household stance of following your medication regimen and believing doctors in major medical systems is important to good health, especially with a chronic medical issue.  Fighting this never-ending battle has caused my lovely wife to have to vacillate between fighting against the noise or just letting it go and trusting God.

A similar path has been embarked on by Bobbi, where my wife finds herself as being the only adult that Bobbi might want to listen to (she has zero desire to listen to me over Bert) that is advocating for Bobbi to finally get her drivers license.  The paradigm my wife and I operate in is one similar to parents our age that assumes that children will not be able to wait until they are sixteen to get that document and be able to move about the world less dependent on someone else to get them places.  As we have been finding out for a few years now, since Bobbi is driver number four in our brood, this paradigm has shifted, as kids have less desire to take on the responsibility and see much less benefit in driving than we did.  So Bobbi is supported by a general peer group paradigm shift, a counselor who has expressed Bobbi’s input on being “terrified” and other such alarming (at least to the counselor who does not understand the Bert led teaching of exaggeration of negative feelings to alarm adults) words of driving and Bert’s support of her not driving because it lets him control her more by being the only driver she has reasonable access to (where he uses another false teaching to reinforce the fact that working at a normal job the way my wife and I do that does not allow you to be available throughout the work day to drive kids around is showing a lack of love and caring for your kids).  This led my wife to once again feel she needs to concede, as she is the only one “forcing” Bobbi to get her license and now Bobbi is alienating my wife because she feels uncared for.  Bobbi has amplified childhood feelings about being worried about others not wearing seatbelts in cars to the point she would burst into tears for fear of their safety, to now perhaps creating psychosomatic symptoms of legs that go numb when she drives because she is too terrified.  Never mind that she recently drove a total of about three hours round trip for the Easter holiday without any indication or complaint of this paralyzing numbness that she mentioned to the counselor.  We feel this again is her taking the teaching of Bert to use those people in her sphere (counselors) to get results she wants rather than having real conversations with her mom about how she feels and how to get past it like most people do.  After all, even in the new paradigm of her generation, kids are not foregoing getting their license because of numb legs that did not impact prior generations but suddenly are because of the secret design changes in car seats that only impact teenage drivers lower body blood flow but leave older drivers unimpacted.  Trying to have any sort of discussion with any of Bert’s kids that borders on the rational, preparing-them-for-responsible-adulthood kind is nearly impossible (Jan with accident and liability responsibility, Bobbi with a driver’s license or real concerns of a food allergy and Peter with his diabetes) and places us in a very unhappy situation.  We feel forced to approach these conversations with kid gloves or alienate the kids to the point of having them run head long to Bert because he supports, coddles and encourages them to be irresponsible and crafty.  Both of these approaches are less than optimal, we are forced to be half-way parents.  They have a parent, a false teacher, who models poor living and social responsibility (not conning people to live versus getting a job and making money as is socially acceptable).  He not only teaches them poorly, he lives poorly and so they see this as a normal situation.  Bert’s way appears easier to an uninformed child who cannot rationalize all the unseen impacts yet (and may never be able to if not free of Bert’s orbit long enough to learn there are better ways) and so it is easy to ridicule our “stupid” ways.  It is this type of way that basic teaching in the Bible aligns with clear lessons in everyday life to support my faith that if in doubt on how to address a topic, the Bible is the owner’s manual for life.

I do not want to imply that Nan comes off scot free in false teaching, i.e. difficult to combat, influence; she simply is not as egregious as Bert.  Nan certainly does not encourage living within a budget, thinking things through clearly to avoid unintended consequences, or teaching responsibility.  She brushes off the importance of missing lessons for Greg, of giving solid financial advice to Cindy, or helping Marcia figure out how not to live in a perpetual financial hole.  Some of this is a result of Nan just not understanding how the world works (during our divorce she once called me in a panic from the cellular carrier store on New Year’s Eve because she was convinced all cellular contracts renewed on January 1st and wanted to make sure she had her own phone for the coming year, when we would be divorced, and felt if she missed this window she’d be stuck until January 1st the next year).  Nan also does not seem to argue too vehemently against my input, as Bert does against my wife’s, but that viewpoint may just be wishful thinking on my part.  Nan is also usually aligned to, at least to what might be considered a normal degree of difference between adults, most critical issues like health care, need to get a job in life and other things that we are at odds with Bert on.

The further challenge that my wife struggles with in relation to Bert is what is the pain of the writer of Psalm 73.  How does Bert continue to live wickedly with seemingly no consequences and yet winning the hearts of his children?  Bert could not do this without the benefit of false teaching, for if he did align with society or the teachings of Jesus, then his teaching would also by definition align.  By presenting a more enticing worldview, Bert seduces his children just as the snake hypnotized Eve, but just as we learned about hypnotism, one cannot be hypnotized without at some level wanting to be hypnotized, to be convinced.  The unfair position Bert takes here is that he has the love of his children, so they are therefore already open to his influence far more than say, to mine, and then he offers a tempting and seemingly rewarding option.  After all, why take responsibly for anything when you can apologize for the impacts to others, blame other things or people, or claim ignorance?  The danger is that the kids do not understand that as one gets older the consequences get larger and they are not able to see the path they are being led down as one with a large cliff at the end labeled failure that does not have a trampoline at the end to bounce them back up on the road.  The danger now is that the kids are old enough to get a bit of Bert’s manipulation of others and not see any real consequences, so it seems like Bert might have pulled a fast one on the world.  We are not sure what to do with this.  Our advisers in our pastors, our parents, our sibling and friends have assured us that eventually Bert’s ways would catch up with him.  After all how long can it go on?  This is our Psalm 73 moment (a moment which for my wife is stretching into decades) and why our pastor said we live this every day, because we do.  But it does not make us feel better.  Because while the end of Psalm 73 says that in the end God will give Bert his, that’s all well and good for Bert.  Our concern is that he may drag his kids along with him into the fiery pit of doom and therein lies the real anguish for a divorced parent facing an attacker from the inside.

As I mentioned last August, it has been a while and I wanted to really have the “pull” of something to say rather than just sticking to a regular posting schedule with nothing going on.  I’ve come to the point when I feel some topics have arisen that can either be revisited with new episodes in my life or be addressed anew.  Not sure the best way to determine which is which for some, but in those cases I’ll just write and let you decide as you read if you feel it’s a new spin on a topic I’ve covered, something new or a blend.

We’ve had a major situation going on since early September last year (Labor Day for those familiar with the US holidays).  The kid in question is Peter but it spilled over in various way to all my wife’s kids, Jan and Bobbi, as Bert ratcheted up the crazy, to phrase it as my wife often does.    I’m going to provide the high level points you need for this post here and may go back in later posts to more details from the past.  If I tried to cover it all in one post you’d be here for hours to get through it all.

In case you had forgotten, Peter has diabetes and this comes with all sort of things that need to be monitored, administered and dealt with.  Peter’s situation has been a constant state of tension regarding Bert and my wife and Bert has been terrible at any sort of consistency, regularly choosing to disobey doctor’s recommendations and in general not doing what he should.  We speculate about the reasons why over the years but we really have no idea as we’re not in Bert’s head.  In this case the why is less important than the fact the results of those actions created the situation we are in the midst of.

Peter was sick around Labor Day with various symptoms and eventually things led to a couple hospitalizations in mid-October.  In the first visit they did a ton of GI (gastro-intestinal) testing and decided to place him on several medications to try to get things stabilized.  After going home for a little over a week and counting on the visitation schedule between our home and Bert’s, Peter’s condition deteriorated to the point where the doctor’s admitted him again.  It was during this visit that the current stream of events began.

In speaking with the social worker at the hospital my wife determined that while at Bert’s very few to none of his meds had been given.  She called me up at work distraught and asked if I could join her at the hospital for moral support and to figure out what to do.  She was extremely upset and as we talked through the details of what we had before us we decided to file an emergency motion because of the impact on Peter’s health.  We felt Peter needed to be with us until he was stable and also that Bert should have any medical decision-making authority revoked.  Our attorney recommended that Jan and Bobbi be included in the changed visitation being asked for, as he felt the court normally likes to keep all the kids together.  The ruling given to us very quickly was to have Peter with us full time until further notice, all medical decision making for all three kids to my wife, but the judge did not alter the visitation of Jan and Bobbi.  Jan is now over 18, so she’s not really under any court visitation any more and while Bobbi is not that old, the judge felt the situation was really about protecting Peter (which it was) and not the others.  Bert was first notified when he came to pick all the kids of for his normal visitation for a weekend and I just told him at the door that Peter was not going and handed him the executed court order.

Needless to say, Bert was not happy.  He loves to have control and this unexpected situation shattered that in an area he likes to portray himself as expert in.  Bert thinks he’s expert in everything, so perhaps trying to single this out from any other area is pointless.  He stood on the porch and read the order for a while and then asked me if this was our only attorney.  I shot back telling him yes and asking if he felt we needed an army of them.  His retort was that we likely would before he was done with us.  At this point all the kids were out so I shut the door and he went on his way after looking over the order for a few more seconds.  My wife and I laughed a bit about Bert’s comments but also realized the crazy train had left the station and that we were in for an interesting ride.

So with these initial points explained, I want to divert and explain the topic of parental alienation.  In brief, parental alienation is when one parent tries to impact how the children view the other parent in a negative way with the goal of driving the children to want to be hostile and/or to cease contact with the other parent.  Bert has always had this on his agenda but when pushed into a corner as we had just done, his attempts moved into overdrive.  You can find a much older post talking about some resources to help deal with parental alienation here.

Within a week, Bert began driving in some of the wedges to increase parental alienation.  When my wife went to pick up the kids after five days, Bert met her and handed her a motion of his own that indicated that the girls were staying by him because they feared for their safety at our house.  The motion was filed but the court had not ruled, so my wife asked to speak to the girls but Bert refused.  She called the police who arrived and demanded to speak to the girls who verbally shared various items that would be typical for any parent, that they would at times get yelled at etc.  In our state the police will not make a determination and send the kids with one parent or the other, they just note the call and let you deal with things in court, so the girls stayed as Peter went with my wife.  My wife at some point in the next few days checked the girl’s room and found all their drawers empty as they had taken most of their clothes to Bert.  There was a pre-trial session rather quickly and the court demanded that Bert abide by the order and that his motion was discarded and my wife went and got Bobbi but Jan insisted she wanted to remain with Bert.

This was when some decisions were made that are always hard in these situations.  For us it was very difficult and this situation is unique to blending.  I tried my best to be a supportive spouse, but I also understood that I needed to let my wife take the lead on where her heart and mind were leading her.  This is where I think a lot of tension can me introduced and I have no idea what is really the “right” way, I can only share my way.  My desire was to have my wife not let her heart override her mind where it did not make sense, and by sense I meant both financial and emotional sense.  In divorce the only people who win at these times are the lawyers and other professionals who get to bill us when emotions drive the process.  As the days went by, my wife did an excellent job of removing more and more of her emotions from the drivers of the decisions and settled on pursuing the process in a way that protected our blended family as well as doing what made general financial and emotional sense in regards to Peter’s situation.  I’m not sure if I’m explaining it in a way that is clear for the reader who was not in the middle of it, and putting it into words is hard, but one example might make some sense in that my wife indicated at one point that we were not going to jeopardize our overall long term savings or kids college funds to fight this battle with Bert.

Once Jan decided to remain with Bert my wife made it clear that certain privileges that come with being a part of our household then are no longer hers such as access to a car or a cell phone paid for by us.  Jan needed to return the car key and her cell phone.  Jan still has minimal contact and sends jumbled messages such as the reason she is away is she need to figure things out on her own, yet she does spend some time at Bert’s so even though she is claiming she is not involved with either parent, she seems to be exhibiting behavior that shows Bert is favored and my wife is the rejected parent from a parental alienation standpoint.

The situation escalated in January when Peter was again hospitalized.  It was determined that he had been self dosing and giving himself extra insulin and after getting him involved with a psychologist it was determined this was driven by his desire to see Bert and not have visitation withheld, so he acted out in this way and with lying and so we have been slowly working with the psychologist to have Peter understand he can spend more time with Bert but that comes with the responsibility of maintaining his health properly, which means taking all the meds the doctors want him to, logging what is happening and handling his insulin properly.  Initially we were told to lock things up for his safety until it was determined why he was doing these things, but at this point we are back to the situation prior to December and after another day in court the judge set visitation for everyone back to normal (which really only impacted Peter, but he was already doing that for the last two weeks as part of the process with the doctor) but my wife still maintains medical authority.
As we have navigated this situation there is no clear path.  When a parent is twisting everything and also not cooperating in any way it makes an already stressful situation worse.  While Bert bad mouths our household to everyone he can which at times is parroted through all the kids it is difficult.  It is very hard to know which way is the right way.  We do know certain behaviors we will not engage in even though Bert does, such as name calling, fabrication of events, and encouraging the kids to fight against things in an inappropriate way.  It is one thing to state what you want, but another to engage in manipulation and tactics to try to force something.  Guiding them in a way that we believe is right is the only thing we know to do though that may mean they buy into the propaganda and falsification of Bert.  This is the difficult situation my wife finds herself in at this time.  Having to balance that with the possibility of losing the desire of her children to maintain a relationship with her largely based on Bert’s web of lies.  I do the best I can to be supportive.  If I knew the path to take I would say it, but for everyone facing this you have to take it one step at a time and do what aligns with your beliefs, ethics and stances.  My brother is walking through a custody challenge that also have parental alienation involved.  It is another unique situation that is a fruit of divorce and the dynamics it places us in.

Sometimes I feel like being in a blended family makes you feel like you are living a bipolar existence.  This is more so when some of the other parties, namely Bert, try to turn things into something they are not.  It is this I believe that is the source of our most recent saga.

First, sorry I’ve been away for a while.  As we approached the holidays life was just crazy busy and no topics hit me with that “you can share something useful”  kick in the pants that makes me feel like what I have to say might be worthy to inspire, educate or get someone else to think differently about their situation.

So now on to what kicked me out of my writer’s block.  It relates back to the ongoing counseling of some of the kids from challenges we had this summer (“Expected Chaos” and “Dangers of Ineptness“).  In the interest of open disclosure I will say I am like a lot of men in that I feel that counseling is a tool not an ongoing service.  Like a man, I approach things in the world with “identify the problem, find some solutions, implement the solutions, move on”.  As I’ve talked with my friends it seems this is a universal guy view of counselors and over the last few months the overriding question I get from them is “when are they going to give you guys something to use so you guys can move forward normally?”

Sadly we are still trying to get there and a step in that process is what pushed me to get out what I feel and understand in this post.  Peter was initially working with a counselor for about three to four months who ultimately did very little if anything for him.  God has blessed us with a solution that makes the counseling of Peter and his sisters free of charge due mainly to the fact that Bert is on assistance and so fees are picked up.  If we were paying per session, my “man view” of counseling would have been pushing for a resolution much sooner.  In any event this woman eventually decided she was not equipped to help Peter (glad she wasted three months to get there, but herein lies a pet peeve of mine with counseling in that when they can have no goal, than means the counseling can go on forever providing said counselor with a steady stream of income) and she referred him to a place we wanted to go initially but had instead deferred to Bert’s desire to try this other counseling center.  It worked out because Bert went along without grumbling because it was not his ex who had suggested it but a third party.  Peter has basically had a handful of sessions with his new counselor but he seems to be opening up to this one where he would not really talk to the other one.  I get it, it happens.  Just wish the other bozo had not taken so long to understand that if your client is not talking and you’ve got no plan to get them to talk that’s not really a recipe for good counseling.

So feedback to my dear wife this week is what took what was pretty good holiday season with a good cheer and such as you can have with a house full of teenagers and in the course of 24 hours took her to state of frustration and worry.  At this point Greg and Peter’s counselors have not spoken to each other even after we asked them to.  This is the source of my wife’s frustration.  Completely warranted and it frustrates me to, because perhaps if they had talked a month ago like we asked she would not have gotten the comment she did that seems to have sent her into a tailspin.  There are two issues here, but let me stick with the one here which was actually the second issue.  Hope to not confuse you.

Since they had not talked and Peter’s counselor has no information on Greg and the assessment of the other counselor when asked what she recommended what we do to monitor the boys she made the ludicrous statement that we should never have the two of them together unless they are in “eyeshot”.  My friend said it best when he said that along with all the door monitors etc. is really a Fascist state and that this counselor should use her head and realize how unrealistic and stupid that recommendation is.  I understand she is just taking the ultra conservative route and not wanting to have something occur because she said we could use a more relaxed approach since she has no input on Greg.  My frustration on this is I feel what the counselor did was very unprofessional and borders on misconduct.  It is along the line of asking a movie reviewer, “Did you like Movie A or Movie B more?”

“I liked Movie A.”

“Why?”

“Because I didn’t see Movie B.”

What?  If you do not have enough information to make a recommendation then the responsible thing to do is to say that, not make some asinine statement that has no professional basis.  A more appropriate response would have been to say “I can answer that after I speak with Greg’s counselor which I will make every effort to do as quickly as possible.”  Instead what she did was launch a domino effect that sent my wife into a tailspin that was not necessary at all.  Pisses me off to no end.  I have to go in and meet with this counselor in a couple weeks in another one of her ill advised brainstorms, and I just hope I am past her incompetence enough to handle the circus appropriately.

My assessment, and I can’t read anyone’s mind last I checked, so it’s just what I have put together in my head, is that because of my wife’s fear or worry about Bert turning everything into a made up fallacy she has placed more power on this counselor that is really there.  We are not in some court mandated assessment.  This is personal counseling entered into voluntarily and therefore protected by all that is HIPAA.  At this point the counselor has Peter working through understanding that the first steps to inappropriate action by someone is usually talking about it.  This does not mean that if someone talks about it they will do it.  It’s the old version of I saw a bird.  I saw the bird fly.  Therefore all birds fly.  Yet we all know an ostrich does not fly but is a bird.  His action does not automatically cause the event.  The counselor explained that Peter is having a hard time making that distinction and that is making him hypersensitive to comments by others.  First thing this counselor has said that I agree with.  However I believe because of this worry about Bert taking the fact that natural youngster and teenage banter about sexuality and such occurs in a household somehow makes the household a problem.  Think back to when you were a kid.  Did you talk about inappropriate things?  How often?  As often as possible, right?  That’s the nature of childhood.  When I discuss with dispassionate folks they all agree.  It is when adults create meaning that is not there that it creates the crazy train.  Greg’s counselor has pointed this out to us, and for some reason it seems my wife feels that this counselor has jumped the fence and is somehow calling something what it is not.  I’m only seeing a overprotective counselor who spoke out of turn ad should have waited to say ANYTHING until she had enough info to speak with a grain of intelligence.  Instead she created propaganda that has taken on a life of its own in my wife’s head.

You see one of the other issues that has now expanded beyond reason is that because this counselor might be worried about Greg, what would in most cases be passed off as normal behavior is viewed with a lens of adult added angst.  From time to time when Greg and Bobbi watch TV they will share a seat and hang over each other.  They will toss legs over each other or Greg will lean on Bobbi’s arm.  When I discuss this with my friend he says his son and daughter so this stuff all the time.  My brother did it with me.  I think Greg likes the fact that he has a sister, even a stepsister, who’s first reaction to him sitting within five feet of her is not “get away from me, I hate you” which is what Greg has gotten from his two sisters his whole life.  Bobbi does not get upset when Greg leans on her in fact they are usually giggling and talking.  It’s just normal human interaction.  Yet because this counselor has raised the specter of not knowing Greg because she spoke out of turn this has turned a knob in my wife’s head that what if Greg is overly affectionate?  As long as he’s not groping people etc. what parent would not be happy to have their pre-teens not be happy in each other’s presence rather than loathsome?   Yet this is what our over-sensitized counselor-fueled existence has become, and all I can think is “STOP THE MADNESS!!!!”

I certainly do not want to stick my head in the sand, so I have sought other opinions.  As I said, friends are saying their kids do this all the time and we are being ridiculous and are being driven to this stupid view by all these counselors.  Again, I have a lot of guy friends so their solution is simple.  Tell the counselor we need to get to a point where we can go forward as normal because we have crossed the line into the territory of counseling doing more harm than good.  Given the tailspin this is moving us into I find it hard to argue.  Do we want to be dumb and unobservant no, but do we want to react to everything with the result that we eventually have every child in the house walking around in an inflated bubble and my wife and I never sleep or go anywhere because we have to watch everyone?  Hell no!  Peter is already expressing his frustration with the fact that his life is not as he would like because he is basically under house arrest and constant surveillance, yet if we listen to crazy counselor we are not being Gestapo enough!   How is that going to raise a healthy child?  You see Peter and Greg were upset because on New Year’s Eve while all their siblings got to party all night they had to go to their rooms behind their door alarms because the adult’s were going to bed and they could not be watched.  Think about that statement for a bit.  In hindsight it was perhaps ill advised for me to voice it out loud as the reason for their having to go to bed while the other’s did not, but it was the reality of our existence.  It was at this moment that I realized this has gone on long enough and something needed to change and then all hell broke loose with mouthy counselor not using her supposedly educated head.

You see we are in a never ending stream of counseling on this event.  Why? Because the counselors have no set goal.  Is that our fault?  Perhaps, but because of my regular lack of relying on others to handle my problems for me I have not had to deal with counselors a lot until I started marriage counseling before my divorce.  I went to a marriage counselor, who I felt was very good.  What was the result?  I got divorced.  Now I have this situation.  Excuse me for not being too upbeat on the success of counseling.  I think we need to get the counselors to set a goal for the two remaining kids in counseling and that goal is simple.  We want them both to understand how to interact with others appropriately and to live a normal life.  The counselors should then be able to articulate a plan on how we will get there.  Peter’s counselor at least has a semblance of that, but Bobbi’s counselor is continuing her clueless trek down “let me talk with Bobbi and bill the state” land.  I have been content to just leave it be because it was not costing anything but now there is a cost.   Our family’s sanity.  Am I going to demand a change?  No not right away.  I realize I’m really upset and venting, but I do think we are being stupid ad doing our whole family a disservice by not demanding some professional responsibility from the counselors.  After all if I went to anyone else for a service would I just tell them, “Hey I’ll just pay you every week without any end in sight and you just take my money and do whatever you want, OK?” you’d call me an idiot.  And you’d be right.  I want to have a discussion with my wife on what our family’s goal with this is and get off the incorrect assumption that we must just let it go on forever because of the source.  Sure the events of the summer need to be dealt with and they have been, are and will be.  If your kids used drugs would we send them to rehab forever?  No.  Would they perhaps do something again that made the go back?  Perhaps, but all we can do is give the tools to make a good decision and the guidance to know what that is and then let them get back to life.  Yet in this case we are not.  My wife and I have discussed the imposition of the door alarms and so have the rest of the kids so we acknowledge the problem, yet we have taken no action to solve it.  Who’s fault is that?  We need two big fingers pointing right back at us.  Will the door alarms ever be off, honestly because of Bert’s meddling, probably not, but we did tone them back from shrieking sirens to simply loud obnoxious ear splitting beeps a while back.  This is making all of us edgy and so is it a wonder that when we get a little shove from a stupid counselor who speaks out of turn that one of us falls off the edge?  No!

This leads me to the counselor’s first recommendation and what started the discussion that led to her dumb second recommendation that I have just beat like a dead horse.  They have been pushing for about a month to get the adults from the households with the three boys involved with this summer’s activities into a room together.  When I told my friend about this his first response was “I hope you said no way in hell!”  His reasoning?  Bert is totally incapable and unwilling to be anything but productive in that meeting.  He will monopolize that meeting.  My reaction.  He is 100% accurate.  With what just happened with my wife because of the other comment this week I am frankly terrified about how she will handle this session.  I understand the counselors are doing what people in that field try to do.  They think they are being helpful, yet this is the same counselor who when my wife said she did not want to be interviewed with Bert in the same room insisted that “this was the process” and then my wife went through it, Bert used his manipulation over her to make her feel hideous and she had to talk it over with her counselor over multiple sessions and was not her wonderful self for weeks.  Yet here we go into this again.  Are we stupid?  I’m beginning to think so.  Yet I do not know another option, because I am also willing to give it a shot but the only way we succeed in there is if Bert talks we all shut up and let him go.  He will lie, say things that are untrue, but we cannot react.  If we do he wins.  My concern is I will blow up in there and call the counselor the bumbling fool she is for calling this meeting in the first place.  She witnessed what happened with Bert and my wife, and she knows the other mom has similar issues with Bert.  The only one who can deal with Bert’s shit is me.  But what I can’t deal with and I am having a real time sucking up is some “professional” placing my wife into a situation that she is not at all comfortable with and demanding she do it with a smile.  God made it clear that a man is supposed to protect his wife.  I am prepared to do that to the death someday if needed.  My wife is the most important person in the world to me and the fact that she deals with this shit on a regular basis tears me up.  Even though I know it is un-Christian I pray for God to remove Bert from this world often and vehemently.  I then pray for forgiveness that I did that.  I do not understand God’s point in these trials and testing, but I worry that I am not doing what I should.  Should I be saying “hell no!” to this meeting?  If you were to ask me today, the answer I would shout from the mountain tops would be a resounding yes.  I need to pray on it and see.  I have almost no confidence; no I do have zero confidence, that this meeting will do anything of value.  My wife had basically said the same thing.  It would seem that then we are not very smart for proceeding.  Maybe we talk with the other mom and decide that way.

Because Bert takes wicked advantage of everything with his sociopathy I believe my wife has added a lot of weight to this that is not there.  We recently read some excerpts from a book where the author said stop worrying about the worst that can happen because the worst rarely does, yet that is basically what is happening here.  I feel that we are letting some fear of what Bert could spin things into drive us into not demanding more from the counselors and instead taking a very passive attitude and into walking into situations that are set up for bad outcomes.

At this point however we sit at a point that my wife feels “there is a counselor with power for the county” which I feel is utterly false but she is so worried from this woman’s inappropriate statement without any of the facts she needed to make it that she will not move from that.  If we continue this way for the next few days I know my resolve will grow much stronger to say we are not participating in that joint waste of time.  The counselors have this hope that the changes they want Bert to make will be made through these types of meetings.  That is what is driving my wife and this other mom to agree though every ounce of their being does not want to do this.  They are being driven for their kids just as I am being driven for my wife.  Should I be the voice of reason?   The most dispassionate one in the bunch?  Should I stand up and say this has no chance of success?  The counselors will be disappointed but the carnage that I anticipate Bert wreaking in that room will not have a chance to take place.  If I felt one iota of possibility that he could be reasoned with and the counselors could get him to listen I would feel some hope.  As my friend said, “This better be the best fucking counselor the world has ever seen, or you are just headed into a nightmare.”  I think I’ve already established on a much smaller point that we are not dealing with that type of counselor here.  I’d really like some thoughtful comments on this one.  We’ve got a couple weeks before this meeting is to take place.  I understand that everything I’ve written says stop the madness.  Sadly that’s not always so easy.

As I start to wrap up the posts about our most recent family drama, I come to another one of those things that as a Christian I look at and see as the hand of God working for our good, but that a non-believer would call luck or coincidence.

So around mid-June (June 19th to be exact as I looked at my Amazon order) we were made aware of an excellent book called “Divorce Poison” by Dr. Richard Warshak by the mom of the kids half-brother involved in the incident most recently.  She had heard about it from a friend, was going to look it up, and recommended it to my wife given how Bert functions.  This was the same reason it was recommended to her.

I had quickly read through the book in about three days and found it excellent and very indicative of what we had seen Bert doing through the children.  Were it not for having read this book just weeks before the ordeal that began in early July I would have had a much more difficult time not only understanding but not quickly building resentment and anger towards the kids for their false accusations.  After all I knew Bert was likely to accuse me of doing something inappropriate to the kids at some point, but I felt confident that there was no way one of the kids, when questioned by other adults, would stick with their lies.  I was certainly upset when this occurred, but was able to deal with it because I had read the book.  Had God not orchestrated these events to prepare us, this trial would have been even more difficult to bear.

The premise of the work is that either accidentally or deliberately (we know Bert proceeds with this deliberately because he did the same things to my wife when she was married to him and abused by him) a parent (termed the favored parent) will attempt to turn the kids against the other parent (the rejected parent).  There have been several studies about this phenomenon and Dr. Warshak talks about this a bit.  There are levels of this process and bad-mouthing and bashing of the other parent are the tools used most often.  This can lead to alienation, where a child wants nothing to do with the rejected parent and is hostile, contemptuous and totally negative to them.

In our case, we do not feel we are at that point yet, as the kids come over and have no problem showing affection to their mom when here, but in the presence of Bert they will not even come over to my wife and hug her or even acknowledge her presence in anything but the most cursory manner.  Dr. Warshak likens this to programming or brainwashing, and it can occur just because a divorced parent is upset and talks too much in front of the kids or where they can hear to other people, or makes it clear they do not want to talk about the other parent.  Many people do this by accident, and this book tries to open parent’s eyes to the fact that this is unfair to the children.  Again, with Bert we know this is not random but deliberate as he denigrates everyone he can to further his goals of being in control and important.

The real lynchpin of this entire book is that the conventional wisdom from many counselors, attorneys and others when this type of behavior is occurring is to just wait it out and things will work out.  The kids will see for themselves.  Just ignore it as you do not want to bad mouth in reverse.  Dr. Warshak says this wisdom is dangerously wrong and by the time you realize it, you can have a real mess on your hands, possibly with children who have nothing to do with you at all as you react inappropriately and tell them to stay with the other parent until they want to see you, a tactic we were contemplating earlier this spring with Marcia when she wanted to move to Nan’s for a time.  Luckily out gut told us to do what we have now learned was the right thing and not allow contact to be restricted because it would only feed into the path to alienation rather than “show” them how their decision was wrong.   Dr, Warshak teaches you how you can speak up with facts and not bad mouth, but teach them what is really going on.  As an example when the kids say, “you never did anything fun with us” you can respond “You are mistaken” and show them videos or pictures of events.  The problem in our case is Bert kept all those, perhaps in an attempt to make this type of factual sharing more difficult, but we pray we continue to not get to full blown alienation and that the kids will remain open to clarification.

There is also a video to watch with your kids on this called “Welcome Back Pluto” that is available from Dr. Warshak’s website where you can also find a bunch of other resources on this problem.  Since we have had our family back together this is part of what we are doing to raise some awareness amongst the children about what they should be aware of and not have to deal with.  They provide an excellent guide on how to introduce the video to the kids, even if they are fully alienated and have no interest in not hating you.  They have you run through it as something that the company needs feedback on from kids on how they can improve and that has seemed to work for our group, though again, we do not feel the kids are to the point of alienation yet but we worry about the danger and as Dr. Warshak explains in the book, it is much better to stop it before it gets to that point than trying to recover from alienation or full blown estrangement where you have no contact with the kids at all.

Based on what we have learned we have definitely modified our approach to not simply sit by while we hear the kids parrot the bad-mouthing from Bert but to set the record straight and give them good examples.  Dr. Warshak explains how to subtly teach your kids how they can be manipulated by using advertising as a teaching tool about how you an be made to believe something that might not be entirely true with careful placement of messages.  We have spoken with the counselors about this and they all think it is an excellent idea and method and to use the tools we have from Dr. Warshak to try to keep the situation for getting any worse and hopefully to reverse it.

If you suspect any of this type of behavior in your divorce, intentional or accidental, I would highly recommend looking into the resources at www.warshak.com.