He wanted me to fail.
For the entirety of our marriage, he made it his mission to see that I failed at everything so that he could prove, to himself, his family…and me, that I was a “useless waste of space” that nobody else would ever want.
The parental alienation had subtle beginnings, just after our daughter was born. He felt threatened by the bond we would establish through breastfeeding and sabotaged my efforts to do so by repeatedly telling me that I couldn’t produce enough milk to feed her. He then insisted on giving her supplemental formula until my supply dried up, all the while making me feel like the most inadequate mother in the world. His constant reminders and criticism weighed me down and he would smugly smile as he fed our daughter her bottles of formula.
That smugness continued, as she got old enough to walk. He would hold eye contact with me, as our daughter toddled over to hold his hand or sit in his lap, and say, “Hmmmmmm, I wonder why she always wants to hold my hand over yours…” before the smug smile appeared. He took her boundaries away; I didn’t. He appeased her, when she cried, with the promise of a treat. He didn’t have her best interests at heart; he just wanted to prevent us from bonding. Abusers don’t promote unity; they divide and conquer to manipulate and control.
When she was older, he undermined my authority by telling her she didn’t have to listen to me. He told her that he was the boss and that I could “sod off”. It worsened after I filed for divorce and moved myself and the kids out. When the visitation started, she developed behavioral issues as a result of his permissiveness. At his house, he allowed her to do whatever she wished, gave her whatever she wanted. At my house, her defiance grew. When she didn’t get her way, she called him and demanded that he come get her. And he did, without any consequence to her. He watched her disrespect me, without stepping in to support me and it wasn’t long before I heard HIS words spewing from HER mouth. She started repeating everything he had ever told me, with such hateful venom. Soon after that, she decided to move in with him. And why not? She got everything she asked for and did whatever she wanted.
During several phone conversations, I warned him that, if he didn’t enforce structure and boundaries, he was going to have serious problems later on. He responded by laughing and insisting that she would never treat him the way she treated me. Even then, his smugness was evident because he thought he’d won. His mission, as far as he was concerned, was accomplished. He’d succeeded in driving a wedge between her and me. She chose him over me and that was all he cared about. My daughter and I reached a point where I couldn’t even give her my opinion on anything, if it differed from hers. If I didn’t agree with her, she would “play back” everything her father told her about me and hang up on me.
When my daughter opted to live with her father, I felt heartbroken. When I heard his words in her voice, I didn’t know how I was ever going to repair our relationship. I reminded her, every time we spoke, how much I loved her and that I would always be there for her, no matter what. All I could do was exercise patience and hope that she would have greater insight into the dynamics of what was going on, as she got older. Parental alienation always, always backfires on the guilty parent and I had to accept that I had a long wait ahead of me and vow to be there, ready and willing to repair the damage when she finally reached that awareness.
A year after she moved in with her father, he admitted to me that he lost control. He told me that she wasn’t going to school, she defied him at every turn, smoke, drank, shop-lifted, treated him horribly when he tried to put his foot down. Even then, I resisted the urge to tell him “I told you so”…because 1/ I don’t believe in saying that; 2/ my focus was on my daughter, and alienating him would not help her. I pledged my help, supplied him with titles of books to read, phone numbers for him to call for more help, not knowing that he was battling cancer (he never told anyone; we only found out when they performed the autopsy).
When he passed away a couple of months later, I knew that I had enormous challenges ahead of me, once we were reunited. My daughter and I had to readjust to living together again. Reestablishing boundaries and structure was not easy. Healing our relationship has been a lengthy process, which is a work in progress and will continue for years. She has abandonment anxiety, low self-worth, anger and self-harm issues. There are times when I still hear his words from her, but I have to keep telling myself that it’s just a script she’s replaying because she’s trying to wear me down.
There have been many times when my anger towards him has resurfaced; letting go of the resentment I feel is challenging, to say the least. When I see her self-harm scars, when I watch her go through periods of anxiety, when I see her put herself down (because of his verbal abuse and extreme criticism of her), when I remember that she was once a very confident child who had no fear of performing in front of a room full of people (and she tells me that she now can’t because of her anxiety), I can’t help but feel angry towards her father. He may not be here anymore, but we are still trying to clean up his mess.
How am I dealing with it?
1. Saying “I love you” and backing those words up with my actions.
2. Being consistent with consequences and not caving into pressure to be her best friend.
3. Asking for help/bringing in reinforcements, when necessary.
4. Picking my battles (and always winning at the ones I pick).
5. Remaining calm (when I can. It’s not easy when one is hormonal and grief-stricken. I lost my mom in March so it’s difficult to keep my emotions in check) and remembering to not yell when I’m trying to get my point across.
6. Keeping it real in counseling sessions. My daughter knows I’m going to be totally honest with her counselors about what happens so she can’t hide anything from them or say what she thinks they want to hear.
7. Standing firm when necessary, but also explaining why I say “No.”
8. Relying on family, friends to vent and getting counseling for ME.
9. Being factual, and not “badmouthy” during conversations about her father. I have explained to her that, based on my experiences with him, I have a different view of him as a person (which I am entitled to) but that I will always respect her feelings about him, too.
10. Helping my daughter to feel empowered enough to move on with her life in a positive way (big challenge at her age).
11. Reminding her that, if she steps out of line, she will have to face the consequences of her choices ~ without any interference from me. I will not bail her out or make excuses for her.
In closing, I would like to say that in the time she has been back living with me, we have made a lot of progress. It hasn’t been an easy ride and I have developed an expert level of patience that I never knew I had (and I have had to reach awfully deep to find it!). I am starting to see signs that the little girl I raised is still in there. She’s still very scared and hurt, but we are working on those issues as intensively as possible. Yes, we have a long way to go, still, but she:
1. goes to school, every day, without fail.
2. no longer smokes, drinks.
3. is far less defiant and more accepting of authority.
4. is more appreciative of the things I (and others) do for her.
5. says “I’m sorry” when necessary.
6. attends religious youth group meetings every week and does bible study.
7. has fewer instances of self-harm than even a few months ago.
8. is slowly realizing that being in total control of her life wasn’t working for her and learning the value of deferring to those who have her best interests at heart.
As a single mother (and father!) who has never dealt with any of this before, I am learning as I go, trying everything until I find something that works. I’ve made my share of mistakes and I have gotten overly emotional when I should have stayed calm. I have said things I shouldn’t have said but only because it’s all been so new to me. Although I have somewhat fumbled my way through the last 18 months (or 8 years, counting the escape/divorce), I have done so out of desire and determination to give myself and my children a better life. My intentions are pure and always originate from love and positivity. This is what I hope my children see when they look back on all of this one day.
As always, we’re here to help.