This is the second of two special posts from the alienated parent’s perspective, following on from my interview with Dadvocate (Speaking Out about Parental Alienation – His Story).
As always, I stress that mothers can also fall victim to alienating behaviour – it’s not a father-only issue. If you have a story you wish to share, please contact me here or find me on social media.
We sit down with a glass of wine and a whisky (which was which? I’ll never tell) and I press the record button.
I was with my partner from the very beginning of the animosity kicking off, but whilst I know it all from my own point of view, it’s been a while since we last talked about it from his. In fact I’m not sure we ever have, really – this may be the first time.
Here I’ve summarised what we talked about, but the transcript of our conversation is available on request to anyone who wants to see it – just drop me a message.
NB: Names have been changed.
My partner and I got together a few months after each of us had come out of long term relationships. Neither of us had been married. Mine was a drawn-out but clean break, but he had a daughter, Bea, who was almost a year old.
As he always says, having children does one of two things; it either brings you together as a team, or it catapults you apart.
I’ve known my partner for most of my life, and I knew the backstory of his relationship. He and Holly had been together for years, but as with most relationships in your early twenties it had its ups and downs. Having a child together split the small cracks which had built up over time completely wide open.
At the time of the breakup they were both able to acknowledge this.
Having known each other for so long, our relationship never really went through the Trying It Out stage. We hadn’t been in touch for a little while, but one night we started talking.
And then, no more than three months in, all hell broke loose.
We were openly together and our friends all knew about our new relationship. We were trying our best to take it slow, however, and we knew that there needed to be some sensitivity around how we told Holly.
Entirely predictably, and as bad luck would have it, Holly found out that we were together through the grapevine before we had worked out how to tell her.
Oh my god, what the hell is this.
The venom that was thrown our way on hearing this “news” was really quite something. We received messages through all social media channels from my partner’s family, Holly’s friends and Holly herself, telling us that I was nothing more than a phase, a bit on the side, and that I was completely delusional and misguided “because you don’t know what it’s like to be a mother”.
My partner was immediately cut off from his family, wholly and completely. He was removed from group messaging chats, unfriended on social media, and his mother didn’t speak to him for two years.
And his daughter?
Initially he wasn’t allowed to see his daughter by himself. The stipulation was that he had to be accompanied by a family member. Aside from the sheer ridiculousness of this request, Holly knew that his family weren’t talking to him let alone willing to play chaperone.
Months went by. Both Holly and my partner hired lawyers, and letters were sent about maintenance and, in the case of my partner, his lack of access. The letters between the lawyers went nowhere, and after months of to-ing and fro-ing with no resolution they went to mediation.
All of this resulted in my partner being able to see his daughter a handful of times, under very strict time limits. You can tot up the number of hours he spent with her in those two years on two hands.
We couldn’t even touch the concept of me meeting Bea. I was in stepmother limbo, knowing all about this tiny girl and feeling as though I loved her by sheer extension of her being her father’s daughter. We had the most enormous, cataclysmic fights about the fact that I wasn’t involved in a huge portion of his life. I had completely missed the point that he, too, wasn’t involved in a huge portion of his life. I think back about the things I said, and I cringe down to my toes.
My Partner’s Story – In His Own Words
We sit opposite each other and I suddenly feel nervous. I think I know what he’s going to say, but what if I’d fundamentally missed something at the time? I truly cannot imagine how he coped in hindsight, and I know that my own behaviour was less than perfect when we were in the thick of it.
I read CAFCASS’s list of alienating behaviours out loud to him, and we begin.
“It seemed to be a method to express anger towards me. I honestly don’t think it had anything at all to do with Bea, it was just about Holly and her desire to be angry with me.”
Despite the months of successful parenting leading up to the breakup, my partner was presented as unfit to see Bea by himself. He was the subject of badmouthing within earshot of his small daughter, his contact with her was completely cut off, and a great deal of dependency was encouraged between Holly and Bea by my partner’s family and Holly herself.
They created a narrative that my partner had abandoned his daughter. It was said that because he had abandoned her, he had no right to see her. This was then being used to justify all action taken against him; the other elements of the alienation were slotted in around this narrative. It felt like a form of punishment, which just went on and on.
Holly kept in very close contact with my partner’s family after the breakup. She would attend family events that he was not, as a result, invited to. She would take Bea over to see his family without any communication with him about what she was doing. She was also kept in the family group chats that my partner was deleted from. Even as his family started to thaw towards him, they still didn’t want to meet me because it would be awkward for Holly (and, by extension, them).
Holly remains close to my partner’s family even now. Sometimes we think this might be starting to change, but then they’ll go shopping together or work-out together, and we’ll both feel immensely disappointed. It’s completely impossible not to compare your own relationship with your in-laws when the ex continues to be in the frame, and ridiculously, it’s a comparison for my partner too in the context of his own relationship with them. You can’t tell people who they can and cannot have a relationship with, but it certainly stings when it feels as though that relationship is stopping you from belonging within your own family.
The Progression of the Alienation
I ask him whether he feels that the behaviour started to get better as Holly’s anger started to fade away, and he says that it didn’t feel as though she was doing any more or less as time went on. It was more that Holly’s words seemed to have less effect on the people around Holly and Bea as time went on.
He makes an interesting point after I stop recording – that there were times where it almost felt as though she had forgotten that she was angry, and then she would remember and pull herself back into conflict with us. I remember she had once agreed to let us take Bea to the theatre, and we had it booked in for months ahead of time. The day we were supposed to take her, however, Holly inexplicably changed her mind, making an odd excuse that it wouldn’t be good for Bea’s welfare. There was no apparent reason for this u-turn, in fact at the time there hadn’t been much contact between households, and to us it felt as if she just needed to maintain her own anger.
I suppose once you’ve so thoroughly painted a picture of pain, and dishonesty, it’s very difficult to break that and to meet the other person in the middle after all. It’s certainly something we still struggle with now.
The Motivation Behind the Alienation
“…it was external influences explaining to her how [the breakup] wasn’t right, and how devastating it must be, that sensationalised that idea, and that was what initially caused the bomb to go off.”
My partner is strong in his conviction that Holly would not have cut him out of Bea’s life if her situation had not been sensationalised by the people around her. We talk about how the people in her life had reacted to the news of their break up, which was immensely negative in some cases. There was emphases on how bad it must be for her, how difficult it must be, and how she was now on her own.
These sorts of reactions will of course trigger a negative one in return, and it’s no stretch to see how anger towards my partner followed. It’s highly probably that had Holly had met someone else before he had, he wouldn’t be in the situation he’s now in, because the narrative would be different.
How It Felt
I ask him what the worst point for him was. He says that it wasn’t initially, as there was so much going on and so much anger to deal with that time moved at double pace. The worst part was missing key milestones, and hearing about them via the grapevine. Like Bea’s birthdays.
Even now we have relatively regular contact, there’s an immense sense of loss there. Every time she leaves, my partner feels as though he’s lost her all over again. There is no contact with her between visits, and my guess is this brings it back up for him every single time.
The lasting effects
“You’re wrapped up in trying to defend yourself, keep going, making sure you get some sleep, making sure you have something to eat, dealing with the emotional and physiological turmoil.”
There are times when Bea is very wary still, and there are times when she’s not. My partner comes out with something very telling – “she doesn’t feel like my daughter at the minute. She feels like a child we take care of every couple of weeks, which is awful”.
I remember the first time I met Bea. She was so shy, not just with me but with my partner too. She was looking at the floor for the first hour, but after much cajoling and one princess doll later, she started to smile.
For months she would refuse to come to our house. She told us that she was scared to, and we still don’t know exactly where that came from. Things are very different now, but we’re working hard every day to make her feel as though it’s her house too.
What my partner wishes his ex would understand about alienation
“The problem with any resolution is that it relies on both parties being able to have a frank and sensible conversation – there has to be a genuine desire to resolve things. The second one person takes more than they give, you upset the balance.”
I ask my partner the same question I asked Dadvocate; if there was one thing that you wish Holly would understand about the effects that alienation has had either on you or Bea, what would it be?
“That Bea has two parents, straight away. And just because you have one way of doing something doesn’t mean that my thoughts and opinions are irrelevant. With alienation you lose sight of the fact that there is actually another parent present.
“As it stands now, we are around 1,000 days down from when everything kicked off, three years ago. Christ. And it’s only really in the last six months that things have started to get better. Even when we moved it wasn’t any better. We moved here in the hope that it would force the hand.“
I was living a couple of hours away from Holly and Bea during the initial conflict hell-storm. My partner would work near them during the week, and come to me at the weekends; keeping a foot in the area in case the situation with Bea started to improve. We took the decision to officially move closer to them before any contact with Bea had been established – we left our home, and the friends who had come to love my partner, and took the gamble to head into the eye of the storm.
My partner goes on to say that he was fundamentally broken by what he went through.
It strikes us now, as it did then too, that it was a very stupid situation; both people agreed in principle that Bea needed both parents, both agreed that they should be doing the very best for her, and both agreed that the other’s families and partners added value, so why they were fighting as yet remains unanswered. Holly was angry that my partner wasn’t there, but he wanted to be there… so why wasn’t she allowing him to be there?
For those going through something similar
“If your way of coping or figuring the situation out is just to take some time and some space away, that’s fine. In almost every self-help situation the advice is to talk about it, and to get it off your chest – to air it, and to remove the taboo. I don’t agree with or subscribe to that.”
[Me] The people reading this want to know that they’re not alone. What would you say to help get them through it? Is there any advice you could possibly give to anybody going through a similar situation right now?
[Him] Now this is quite a controversial point, but if you don’t feel like talking about it then don’t talk about it. If your way of coping or figuring the situation out is just to take some time and some space away, that’s fine. In almost every self-help situation the advice is to talk about it, and to get it off your chest – to air it, and to remove the taboo. I don’t agree with or subscribe to that.
[Him] Losing your child, which is half of you genetically, is one of the most emotive things you can go through. To see that child being brought up, still, by other people now, and not have any influence over that, is a deliberate and sustained attack. That’s more grief than most people will ever deal with in a lifetime. So if you don’t feel like talking about it? Don’t talk about it. If you have to find other ways of dealing with it, then do so.
[Him] Use family and friends to try and broker conversations, and time is a healer. Never stop and never give up. No matter how hard it gets, never give up.
[Me] Do you see light at the end of the tunnel?
[Him] No – I think it’s a journey. The feeling of alienation will never go away. It’s like major trauma, you never forget it. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, and it’s not so much about seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
[Him] If you suck yourself right back out of the situation and look at it from 10,000 feet, you realise that it is not right, and it is not normal. In any other area of life it would be totally unacceptable for someone to do something so damaging to you. Totally unacceptable, I mean christ it’s abuse, it’s verbal abuse, it’s domestic abuse, it’s everything wrapped up in one. There’s no mechanism for resolving it though, and you will always have your disagreements about it. There has to be a level of acceptance around that – agreeing to disagree to a point, and being OK with that.
[Him] The one thing you should never lose sight of is that everything you say and do is for a child. Holly hates me with a passion. She paints me out to be all sorts of nasty things. Maybe 10% has some basis, but 90% is just opinion and language. It’s just venting.
Some final words for the stepmothers?
“…the way I would summarise it is that our personal interests weren’t aligned.”
[Me] So for the stepmothers out there, who are supporting their partners through this ordeal, how do you think I could have handled the situation differently?
[Him] Well before I answer that, what do you think?
[Me] I know that I was hugely anxious, and that I often forced the issue about meeting your daughter. Some of the biggest (and only) fights we’ve ever had was about that. I also wanted to be involved in your conversations with Holly because I had a real bugbear about being on the outskirts. It was only after I stepped back from that that things really started to get better for us.
[Him] So I would agree with that, and the way I would summarise it is that our personal interests weren’t aligned. I’m not saying that was wrong, or that anyone would behave differently, but you weren’t so concerned about the effect it was having on me as you were about the effect it was having on you. It was huge transition for you though – you hadn’t been in the middle of a conflict like that before. I think you’d react in a very different way now.
[Him] I would tell them to step back, as much as they can, for their own sanity as well as their other half’s.
We continue to talk for another few hours after I’ve stopped the recording. It has been cathartic but strange to relive those years – I actually can’t believe what we went through anymore. It seems so (forgive the pun) alien.
I feel very close to him, and I suddenly realise that we’re very lucky that going through The Struggles brought us closer together. It could just have easily gone the other way.
This only scratches the surface of the issues alienated parents face. As always, if you have any questions or any thoughts about your own ordeals, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
PUBLISHED ON STEPPARENTMAGAZINE.COM – my advice to stepmothers going through similar high conflict scenarios, how I felt going through it myself and what I did about it.
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