(real names have been omitted or changed)
It had been another one of "those nights"… one where I had asked or "told" my son one too many times to go brush his teeth. Unfortunately by about the third or fourth time he'd had enough and stormed off to his bedroom. Moments later I heard the predictable bang! bang! bang! against his bedroom door. In the kitchen I stood at the counter gripping the edges with white fingers. Ugh… when does it ever stop?! I thought to myself. He'd had "fits" since he was about two and although when he was younger they initially appeared out of his control due to a lack of coping skills they had progressively changed to calculated, premeditated... purposeful.
For years I had prayed for change. I had cried for intervention, for help from above. For years I had spearheaded his advocacy and like a force to be reckoned with had determinedly sought help for him… therapies had abounded… tests had run the gamut, help had been had with speech, applied behavior analysis, sensory therapy, role-playing, educational aides, you name it… he'd done it. There had been medication after medication tried and yet nothing seemed to be the answer needed. There had been profound changes of improvement and reason to celebrate… and yet this issue of physical rage and defiance still remained… and not small issues at that. The issues had grown to monstrous proportions as he'd grown in strength and willpower and although his behavior had tamed at school for the most part thankfully… home still proved to be challenging.
Soon would come objects thrown against the door and walls. His die cast Thomas The Trains he'd clutched in his tiny hand at two and once upon a time happily carried in his pockets along with treasured rocks, Starburst and marbles were thrown against his door. Soon would come bigger objects like lamps, chairs and storage bins being hurled down the hallway toward the kitchen. You had two choices: ignore it or go confront it. Ignoring it meant having your home destroyed. Confronting it meant going into battle and physically trying to restrain him (or risk getting annihilated)… something that if you have lived this life yourself… you know it's not what you exactly pictured doing one day… it's the furthest thing you pictured dealing with when you had a mental picturesque snapshot of your family life.
Instead you're met with fists in your face, your son spitting at you, your arms being bitten, your foot stomped on, your stomach punched, your legs kicked and bruised... all because someone didn't want to comply with a simple task such as teeth brushing, taking a shower or going to bed at 8:30 p.m. You try to stay strong… you keep trying to push forward, you keep telling yourself "It will get better"… but for whatever reason it only appears to get worse. You wonder why God is allowing this to happen. You sometimes wonder why this is your life… having a temporary pity party for one. You wonder why he is behaving this way… what is needed to change it… to help it and to conquer it. You're left baffled and wondering why it had to happen to your child, to your family… because it affects each of you. You see your daughter running frightened to her room to hide. You have to have talks with her of "If he goes into fit mode run to your room and lock the door." You wonder why on earth it's right for her to have to grow up like this. She tells you "I don't know why he acts like this. I didn't want a brother like this." You nod and hug her… because who could scold her for being honest? It's affected her life and you worry who she will choose one day because of it… because this is what she has always known… and it's not normal, you tell her. This is not healthy. Healthy families don't have this… you stress… because you don't want her to believe for a minute this is okay or acceptable.
The doorbell rings… it's dark, night has arrived and against my better judgment I had called him, my ex to come help. He stands on the porch in running shorts, a black Northface jacket and I let him in. He's accosted by the twinkle lights on the Christmas tree in the otherwise black room and stands awkwardly by it.
"Where is he?" He asks me and I nod toward our son's bedroom. He makes his way in there and I follow close on his heels. I take a seat on the mini cream papasan chair across the room from our son's twin sized bed draped in a navy comforter. His father sits on the bed beside him and pulls him into a bear hug… something so out of character for him. He plants kisses atop his brown head and speaks to him a low soothing tone dripping with manipulation… it could have been a scene straight from the Godfather… and I watched as it eerily played out... wondering who this newest impostor was… because before when we were married he would have gone into an unhinged blind rage at our son's behavior.
"Now… You are so very, very lucky to have everything you could want at my house… but Mommy has rules at her house… and you need to follow them." as he spoke he planted more kisses on his brown haired head… "Now… do you think you can do that for me?" he asked softly.
I sat across from him perched on the papasan with crossed brows and an outraged expression.
"Excuse me? Can we talk?" I spoke… meaning it more of a statement versus a question.
"Sure!" He chirped at me cheerily rising from the bed… "I''ll be right back…" He promised our son.
Walking into the next room our inky silhouettes were framed against the dark gray painted wall from the Christmas tree lights beside us.
"What was that?" I hissed at him "Are you saying you don't have any rules at your house? Are you saying you don't make him brush his teeth?" I asked him.
"What? What did you want me to say to him?" He asked me expectantly, playing the innocent face.
I stood there staring at him in disbelief. Surely no one was that stupid. No one was that inept. This was like we were married again. It was happening all over again. Him gas lighting me… acting like he was in the right and I was just off my rocker imagining his behavior. But I knew now from enough therapy, enough insight into his manipulation, most importantly enough distance from him and enough coaching of how to handle him that this was not a time for me to doubt my instincts. I knew the truth. This was all calculated manipulation on his part to send a message to our son that I had zero authority, my rules were stupid and that yes, indeed his home was Disneyland and mine was comparable to living with Cruella De Ville.
I told him… "I want you to tell him that this behavior is not acceptable! I want you to tell him that you're not going to put up with him hitting me! Kicking me and destroying everything! That he can't behave this way! That's what I want!" I strongly told him. Inside though I seethed with exasperation. I knew it. I knew I shouldn't have called him. My therapist was right, of course. And yet this one time incident would show time and time again how he did not act like the father he needed to be but instead continually used our son as a pawn in his own agenda.
I would like to say things have improved since then… but unfortunately they haven't. I miss my son's laugh, silliness, and spirit of always wanting to help. Who he's become is someone nearly unrecognizable to me. The fact is, unless parental alienation is counteracted early on it's extremely difficult to turn around. Not impossible, just very challenging and the process takes time. The last day my son was in my home was March 30th and it's been extremely trying… ninety percent of my calls have gone unanswered, my texts have been ignored, my attempts rebuffed. Parental alienation can begin as benign but grow to monstrous proportions… especially if a parent is relentlessly using his (or her) children as pawns. I pray that with counseling and prayer that my son along with all the other children who have been successfully alienated from a warm, loving parent are helped to see the light… that they see what their parent has done in their own selfish agenda and hopefully reconciliation takes place with the other parent. Below I've listed five signs of parental alienation.
If you or someone you know is dealing with parental alienation don't give up! Keep praying for help, for change, for hearts to be transformed. Check into reunification therapy and look up Ryan Thomas Speaks who has a parent alienation reunification program available.
5 Signs of Parental Alienation or Dv (Domestic Violence) by Proxy
1. The child views the alienating parent as all good and the other parent as all bad. There is zero basis for the child's contempt and blatant hatred toward their targeted parent. The child doesn't have remorse, sadness, disappointment etc toward losing the relationship with their parent.
2. The child denies being coached or talked to privately by the alienating parent but in fact has. This damages the relationship the child has with the targeted parent because it takes away their role model; the better of the two parents.
3. The child's negative attitude toward the targeted parent extends to all of his or her extended family. This is very much black and white thinking… "I've decided he or she is bad so all of them must be as well".
4. The child doesn't have a concrete reason for the hatred toward the target parent… it's all unjustified and even spills over into their relationship with their siblings; they say hateful untrue statements to them about their parent.
5. Nearly all parents who have been alienated from their child report a relationship that at one time was very close, warm and loving… only to now be baffled why they are hated. This complete turn around is not normal… and has a source… the alienating parent.
Jennifer Gafford is a writer, speaker, coach on NPD abuse and recovery. She helps guide men and women exit a NPD relationship, gives emotional support, and gives guidance through the pain of trying to co-parent with their narcissistic ex.