I am a step-mom to two children that have for over a decade been pawns in a venomous parental alienation schemes.
I have cultivated quite a bouquet of symptomatic fears. If I let my ‘alienation guard’ down, most morph into unruly phobias at the slight provocation. I try not to show it – we step-parents gotta keep our cool – but inside, it’s gremlins in a bathtub.
One of my biggest fears is being used to break our girls’ hearts, if their alienating mother succeeds in convincing them that I don’t actually love them.
This particular gremlin got ugly when we were considering having a baby. Will she, in her sly, untraceable ways suggest that they were never more than a stop-gap? That if I am ever tired, they shouldn’t be surprised: being their mother demands her all, why wouldn’t I rather give that to my own child?
Such subliminal messages would not only rewrite our four-plus years of history together, but could make our girls suspicious of other nurturing relationship, leading to all sorts of disorders with multi-syllable names.
While we are not having a baby just yet, that time led me to crystallize my fear, to pretty much break down and to take the first steps towards help.
Of course, I don’t particularly care what she thinks: I never chose her into my life. Where I care are the children. I care when they treat me the way I don’t deserve to be regardless of whether I fit into the pecking order of their parental landscape. I care when she continually frames events and flat-out rewrites history so that I am the only plausible cause of their distress. I care where they feel that distancing themselves from me is their best hope at self-preservation.
While she still hoped to sway me to her side, I was ‘all that’: she invited me to coffee, wrote to me as if I were her best girlfriend, and the kids claimed that my partner likes me because I am just like mommy.
But I wouldn’t budge. I wouldn’t join her army to destroy my partner. On the contrary, I had my attorney send her a ‘cease and desist’ letter because she admitted to cyber-stocking me. Via these choices, I inadvertently became the perfect weapon in cutting these children’s lives down to size she can control.
She attacks my reliability, my ability to keep the children safe, even my looks: she has told my partner that she was relieved to find out, via rumors, that it wasn’t me that required the medical attention we mention in regards to our financial priorities, because I hadn’t been looking well. She has even claimed that if not for me, co-parenting would go smoother. Today, she wrote that from what the kids tell her, I’m not somebody she could relate to.
Most people would react in rational dismay: why on earth would anybody remotely secure say this to their ex about their new partner?
But for better or worse, alienators aren’t burned by rationality.
However, this week I imbibed the connection that can carry me through weeks of their snapping, of calling me by name rather than by the term they affectionate mother-like invented for me, or even referring to me in third person.
We had only one of our two girls this time; the other was at a tournament.
While picking our daughter up, my partner had to contend with the first day of snow, the associated traffic calamities and car crashes. By the time they finally got home, the roast – our girl’s favorite – was beyond tender and she couldn’t wait to dig in. She acted happy and busy, chatting all through dinner.
“I will do math right away,” she explained her strategy for finishing quite a bit of homework. “I will read while I take a bath, and I will color while we watch an episode.” Agreed.
Unexpectedly given the tumultuous parenting times we had had recently, she hollered for me from the bathtub asking that I sit with her, so I plunked onto the floor and she read to me, carefree and present. Later, after we kissed her good night, she called from her bedroom: could I stay with her until she fell asleep? I got out of bed, grabbed a flashlight and read the delicious beginning of one of my favorite books until her fidgeting settled and her breath sank into a smooth rustle.
“I’ll miss you, you know,” I say playfully, nudging at her feet with a broom as I mopped on Sunday morning, the hand-over day.
“No, you won’t,” she nipped back; I could only pray she knew I would.
As we piled into the car to take her to her other house, she beat me to the front seat with a look of victory: whenever both my partner and I come, we have the front and the kids ride in the back.
“Go ahead!” I shocked her, and she shut the passenger door gleaming with delight. Barely five minutes in, she reached her hand behind her seat, searching for mine. I took it and held it all the way until our car came to a stop.
Once at the drop-off, she leant into the back seat and I grabbed her face, “I love you!”
“I love you, too!” My face got the best kind of smooched.
“I love you!” She shouted out to me from the outside, before she bolted across the sidewalk to her mother’s house.
“I love you too,” I respond, my voice diluted by the wind and outdated by her turning of the doorknob. More than you dare to believe.