Although I started this blog in response to the PAS suffered by my two youngest stepchildren, I have often mentioned the older three stepchildren that I have from my husband’s first marriage. It was funny, but as the younger kids were moving further out of our lives, the older children were moving back in, after being estranged in their own way(s) from their father, by their own mother as well as his second wife and the effects of divorce, remarriage, and everything in between.
My husband has often told me stories of the Alienation inflicted on his older children when they were young, which I feel pales in comparison to the more recent scenarios we have undergone since then, but any alienation, no matter how extreme, is abusive, manipulative, wrong and damaging. It has long-term effects that resonate with children as well as parents for the rest of their lives. I still suffer from trauma even though I haven’t had to deal with the principal Alienator in our case in over three years.
One of my older stepchildren was over at our house the other day for dinner, and was hanging out with her father in the kitchen afterwards. I was in the other room, but later on, my husband told me how she broke down crying, and confessed to being conflicted about her feelings for him. The older three children have often had difficulty expressing their love for their father, and their mother still plays a very influential and significant role in their lives and I’m sure they are not completely spared from alienating conversations and influence. My oldest stepdaughter even told me once how their mother sat them all down and lectured them at length about their father’s failure to pay support over the years, complete with spreadsheets, elaborate calculations and (I like to imagine) pie charts and bar graphs. If that’s not Alienation 101 then please tell me what is.
On the one hand, I am deeply saddened by this most recent display of emotion, as it is such a blatant reminder of the emotional and psychological damage that Alientation causes, and how it continues to manifest itself long after the kids are grown up and (relatively) living their own lives. I’m not exactly sure of the specific concerns that my stepdaughter is having, or what she is currently struggling with, but obviously there is significant distress between her heart – which loves her father – and her head, which has been repeatedly told that her father is no good, that he is a deadbeat, etc. etc. etc. I will be the first to admit that the man I love has his flaws – we all do – but he is also extremely compassionate, loving, well-intentioned, and loves his kids more than anything else in the whole world.
The flip side of this is that I am hopeful and encouraged about her ability to open up to her father like this and confess her feelings to him. It is hard for any children to speak honestly and freely with their parents sometimes – even those that have amazingly solid, loving relationships – and the fact that she could enter this line of discussion with him so directly made me very proud and grateful. Out of all of my stepchildren, she is definitely the most mature and has made a very strong and concerted effort to let her father back into her life.
I remember a few years ago, when she was still in high school, and not long after the kids received the extended “Child Support Lecture” from their mother, she called her father and let loose a long tirade of anger and vitriol at him for all of his failures and shortcomings. The amazing thing about family is that, no matter how large the disagreements or intense the fights, you always (usually) return to a place of love, despite everything. And even children that have been subjected to so much pain, so much trauma, are still desperate to return to that place.
One of the most amazing things about my husband is that he is a trained chaplain and counsellor, and his ability to deal with people in intense states of emotional distress or grief is second to none, and his demeanour is always calm and compassionate. He is a great listener and allows people speak freely, without judgment. He was able to tell her that he loves her, that he wants nothing else in the world other than to be able to help her in her life, no matter what form that may take. We definitely let the children determine their boundaries with us and the amount of time and contact that they want to have, but I always struggle with that, desperately wanting to reach out and encourage more contact and visits, while also trying to take a back seat and let their father take the reins – after all, they are his children, not mine.
Despite having children that are “grown up”, family relationships can still be difficult to navigate and I don’t think they will necessarily get any less complicated as time goes on. This most recent event has made me a little bit fearful for what is to come down the road with my youngest stepchildren, and how painful that reunification (or final rejection) may be. I can only hope and pray that my stepchildren (all of them) are able to process their feelings about their father and family history relatively early on in their (adult) life, in order to allow them to grow and mature, and develop into psychologically healthy people who are able to nuture their own healthy relationships with others. As some famous Psychiatrist once said (was it Freud?), “The past is the present”.