Archive for July 17th, 2014

Wanting Him to Want Me: On Being Raised Without My Father

Posted on July 17, 2014. Filed under: Parental Alienation Syndrome | Tags: , |

 Two days before my mother died from cancer she asked, “You won’t be contacting your father, will you?” They had been divorced 37 years but their animosity toward each other never waned.

“Really? This isn’t important right now mom.” I was out of my mind with stress and grief. I wanted her to die with a sense of peace and the topic of her ex-husband was not going to get us there.

“Well, he never loved you like I did.” Okay, that was true; but it’s not easy to show love from 1,700 miles away, which was the distance between us for most of my childhood. Between the ages of 4 and 19 I saw my father once, for a visit the summer I was 10.

My mom went on to say she didn’t want me to contact my father because she was worried I would get hurt. She mentioned that I was “messed up,” upon returning from that one visit. I told her I was messed up because I missed my father terribly. The topic of my father was never an easy one. I felt I had to take my mother’s side against half of myself.

During that visit I would say to anyone, even grocery clerks, “That’s my dad.” Many times a day I would call out, “Dad?”

He’d answer, “Yes, sweetheart?”

“Oh, nothing.” Anything to get his attention. The word dad — strange and new and mine.

Some facts: my parents were divorced in the 1960s when I was quite young. My father paid $50 per month in child support, which wasn’t a lot even back then, and sometimes he didn’t pay at all. Needing both financial and family support, my mother moved us from Montana, where my father lived, to Michigan. What took up that space where my father might have been; that terrible yearning for love, is another story. Heart breaking. Life changing.

My mother never remarried after the divorce. She worked very hard; sometimes working two jobs to make ends meet — as a manager at a bank during the day and even as a hostess in a restaurant some evenings. She advanced in her career, and the pressures of being poor relented. Eventually, she even purchased a house. I’m so grateful for the work ethic she taught me. But us kids home alone, it was hard. Since I heard only her side of the story, saw only her struggles, it was easy to join her against my father.

As with everything, it’s more complicated than that. My father remarried twice more, had new families. Stepfamilies. Of the few gifts I received from him as a child, one was a framed portrait of him surrounded by his new family. At Christmas time we often received generic cards with copied Christmas letters containing news about “their children,” which neglected to include anything about his biological children. It seemed to me my father didn’t fight to have a relationship with his kids. I became angrier and angrier, an emotion so much easier to live with than hurt.

My father was a working class man with no legal options and it’s not his way to stand up for himself.

But all parents, regardless of gender, need full parental rights, the opportunity to nurture. Women’s rights, men’s rights, children’s rights, human rights; it’s complex and interdependent.

Although it wasn’t true, I absolutely believed my father never thought of me. I just wanted him to want me.

I was a girl raised without a father and all of the things that come with it — wanting attention from men, low self esteem, unreliable sense of self. I internalized this into my own messed up patterns and made mistakes. Who I am is all on me; my parents are not responsible for my decisions.

I did call my father after my mother died. That was eight years ago. He invited me to meet him at a family reunion. I can only imagine how scary that was for him; to arrange to meet his daughter who had shown him only anger for years and then cut off all contact.

The day of the reunion I walked up to the grange hall full of people, it was crowded with family; my dad is the oldest of twelve. I saw my father right away; tall, a little stooped over, grey hair, pressed shirt, bright blue watering eyes. I was surprised by the tenderness I felt for him.

My father is 82 and has some dementia. “Who was your mother?” he asked me during a recent visit.

“Susan.” My mother was his second wife. He’s been married to his fourth wife for about 30 years, but his memory touches down like a skipping rock.

“Oh, what happened to her?”

“Dad, she died years ago.” I could feel anxiety in my body, tried to breathe it out.

“Good! She was awful…” He’s even compared her to Eva Braun in a previous conversation, completely missing his own affiliation to Hitler. It might be funny if it were on TV.

I had to stay calm. “Let’s not talk bad about her, she’s dead and it hurts me. Anyway, she never had a good thing to say about you either.” Thankfully, the subject changed.

That conversation did bother me, but he’s ill, he’s older, and their war wasn’t really about me. I don’t care to assess blame. It’s been 47 years; I am over my parent’s divorce, but when they keep bringing it up, what’s a kid to do?

It’s been a very long and imperfect process but I have both forgiven my dad for abandoning me, for not giving me all I thought I deserved, and forgiven myself for carrying years of self-righteous anger and abandoning him. I’ve had to keep forgiving us both for all of the things that have come up since; like the conversation about my mother. I forgive again when who he is falls short of my ideal; forgive myself when resentments linger in me and I pull away.

It will never be what it could have been. There is distance — 40 missing years, and there are still 580 miles between us.

What I have now, almost too late: a big wonderful family, moments of grace, our easy love, the unexpected freedom in my heart, which is a sort of self-love.

A woman with a loving father, a woman like that might just choose the company of a partner who is kind rather than one who shows a lot of superficial attention; one who loves her for who she is rather than what she looks like. A woman like that might take risks, believe in herself. She might walk a little taller in the world.

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‘Disposable dads’ causing crisis in families as more boys aged 15 have a smartphone than live with their father

Posted on July 17, 2014. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation | Tags: , , |

By MATT CHORLEY, MAILONLINE POLITICAL EDITOR and LOUISE ECCLES

Teenagers are more likely to own a smartphone than live with their fathers, according to a study.

It predicted that almost half of the children sitting their GCSE exams in 2020 will come from a broken home.

In a startling portrait of ‘broken Britain’, the Centre for Social Justice warned that a culture of ‘disposable dads’ had developed in poorer parts of the UK.

Dr Samantha Callan, David Cameron’s former family policy adviser, who co-wrote the report, said that young people should be encouraged to aspire to have children in wedlock.

Referring to a popular hit single, she added: ‘As Beyonce Knowles says in her song, “If you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it”.

’The CSJ, an independent think-tank founded by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, warned that the Government was ‘sleepwalking into a family breakdown crisis’.

It claimed broken families were costing the taxpayer nearly £50billion a year, through welfare payments for single mothers and the additional strain on the criminal justice system, because the children of lone parents are more likely to end up in court and jail.

The report said fathers who did not live with their children should be given financial incentives to return to the family home.

They should also have the legal right to be named on their child’s birth certificate, it added. Currently, an unmarried father  cannot register his name unless the mother of his child agrees.

Dr Callan called for the Prime Minister to ‘back marriage with money’ and double the transferable tax allowance for married couples to £2,000.

Criticising Mr Cameron, she said: ‘Despite his genuine resolve, when it comes to the most pressing family policy priority of improving stability there is very little to show from that rightly ambitious rhetoric.’

The study found that while 62 per cent of 15-year-olds own a smartphone, only 57 per cent live with their fathers.

Tory MP Andrew Selous said: ‘It’s a very alarming and shocking statistic and a call to action to put strengthening family stability much higher up the political agenda.’

The report warned that the number of single-parent families had risen by 20,000 a year between 2010 and 2013.

It said 48 per cent of children aged five and under in the poorest 20 per cent of families were now from broken homes. The CSJ also found more than 1million children had lost contact with their grandparents as a result of separation or divorce.

The CSJ was set up by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who has argued marriage helps to prevent family breakdown

Christian Guy, the CSJ’s director, told The Sunday Times: ‘For too long family breakdown has gone unchallenged despite the devastating impact it has on adults, children and communities.’ Fiona Weir, chief executive of Gingerbread, the charity that supports single parents, said: ‘Most single parents are doing a good job.

‘Government spending should be focused on policies that make a real difference for families of all shapes and sizes.’

The CSJ predicted that by next year there will be 2million single-parent families.

It found that in the poorest neighbourhoods in the UK, three-quarters of families have a lone parent.

The Government will introduce a marriage tax allowance from next year, in an attempt to recognise the importance of the institution. It means that where one person in a marriage does not use their full income tax allowance, currently set at £10,000, they could transfer up to £1,000 to their partner, helping to reduce their tax bill by as much as £200 a year.

However, the CSJ says the Government should go further, and double the £1,000 transferable allowance to £2,000, resulting in a £400 tax benefit.

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Are we sleepwalking into a culture of disposable dads?

Posted on July 17, 2014. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation | Tags: , |

The Telegraph by Theo Merz

The Breakthrough Britain 2015 study found that just 57 per cent of teenage boys were currently living with their father. It predicted that by 2020 almost half of pupils sitting their GCSEs would come from a single parent families.

Children whose parents had separated were significantly more likely to fail at school, have low self esteem, struggle with peer relationships and have behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression, the report suggested.

“For too long family breakdown in this country has gone unchallenged – despite the devastating impact it has on adults, children and communities,” said Christian Guy, director of the Centre for Social Justice, the think-tank that carried out the study.

Dr Samantha Callan, one of the report’s co-authors, said the “social norm” of having children outside marriage needed to change in order to reverse the growing number of families without fathers.

“There’s a prevailing view in society that when things don’t go well in a relationship, it means the end is near,” she said. “But all relationships come under pressure; you need to have made a commitment like marriage so you know you’re not going to bail.”

The report suggests registry office fees should be scrapped for couples who attend “marriage preparation courses” and that further tax benefits should be available to married couples.

“We’re not talking about bribing people to get married, “ Dr Callan said. “This is a very important cultural issue, there are no silver bullets here. The Government wants to avoid doing things that makes them look like they’re getting involved with people’s personal lives, but this isn’t the nanny state – it’s the canny state.

“Family breakdown is one of the fastest routes into poverty and drawing benefits. Many people can stand alone as a couple but when they split up they find they just can’t do it, which obviously has an impact on children too.”

Family breakdown costs the country £50bn a year through welfare payments and extra strain on the justice system, the authors of the study estimate.

The report also recommends the setting up of “family hubs” to provide relationship support for struggling parents, as well as giving unmarried fathers the right to be named on the birth certificate of their child even if the mother objects.

Glen Poole, the author of Equality For Men, welcomed the report but said that to prevent the rise of “disposable dads” more needed to be done to encourage fathers to stay involved in childcare after separation.

“It’s one thing to try to reduce the number of couples who split up, but you also have to be pragmatic and accept that in some cases, unfortunately, that is going to happen,” he said. “What you have to ask then, is: how do you make it the norm that men stay involved in childcare?”

“In Sweden they have the same separation rate as we do, but separated fathers there are three times as likely to share childcare than separated dads in the UK. It’s because there’s a culture of dads being involved – they have the same parental leave from work and equal rights when it comes to children.”

He added that growing up without a same-sex role model was one of the “major disadvantages” faced by young men when compared to women.

“It’s crucially important that boys have male role models around them,” Poole said. “Even if they’re not positive role models, at least then they can decide for themselves, ‘oh, I don’t want to be like him’.”

David Bartlett of the Fatherhood Institute, a think-tank and charity which promotes children’s relationships with fathers and father figures, agreed that the focus should be on encouraging fathers to share childcare rather than on financial incentives for couples to get or remain married.

“What children need is a close, positive, on-going stable relationship with fathers and father figures,” Bartlett said. “That’s irrespective of whether they are married to or even living in the same household as the mother.

“Medical professionals should talk to new parents about sharing childcare right from the start. We need to make sure both parents are involved at all stages rather than giving people a bit of money to stay married.”

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The Courts and Parental Alienation

Posted on July 17, 2014. Filed under: Parental Alienation Syndrome | Tags: , |

 The British Psychological Society

Parental alienation – a child’s unwarranted rejection of one parent and strong alignment with the other following high conflict family breakdown – leaves the alienated parent feeling powerless.  Despite recognition in recent high court judgements, it is poorly understood and rarely acknowledged in the British family justice system.

That is the conclusion of research being presented today, Saturday 12 July, by Dr Sue Whitcombe at theannual conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Counselling Psychology in London.

Dr Whitcombe conducted research with 54 parents (47 fathers and 7 mothers) who identified themselves as alienated parents. The study identifies these parents’ concerns for their children’s welfare and psychological well-being, and the lack of power they feel in being able to protect them from harm.  Forty two of the parents reported concerns about their child’s mental health.  For 36, a strong concern was evident.

This powerlessness is evident in the findings related to the legal process and its personnel.  Fifty one of the parents had made representation to the family courts.  Orders for contact were repeatedly broken, and 42 parents reported no current direct contact; 30 have not seen their child in over a year.

Dr Whitcombe found that 48 of the participants disagreed with the statement “I feel as though the authorities or legal system are fair, unbiased or supportive of me”, with 25 rating this as strong disagreement.  Thirty-nine participants also found the expert witnesses, Cafcass or the police to be biased by information given by their former partners.

This sense of powerlessness also featured where false allegations are concerned, with 36 participants reporting that they had been subject to false allegations of violence against their former partner and 44 reporting false allegations of neglect or physical, sexual or emotional abuse against their child.

Dr Whitcombe will explain that the denigration and ultimate rejection of a parent in parental alienation is a psychological defence mechanism. Unable to manage the cognitive dissonance of their positive experience of a loving parent and the explicit or implicit negative messages they receive from the other parent, the child’s immediate psychological distress is minimised by rejecting one parent.

Earlier research has found an increase in clinically significant symptoms and behaviours in children affected by parental alienation, as well as a greater incidence of clinical disorder, relationship difficulties, substance misuse and issues with identity and sense of self over the life-course.

Dr Whitcombe says: “My study suggests a lack of knowledge and understanding about parental alienation in the UK. This resonates with my own experience when raising the topic with professionals in psychology, education and social care.

“At this time of upheaval in the family justice system, it is imperative that parental alienation is given a place on the research and policy agenda to ensure the safety and psychological well-being of children, their right to a relationship with both parents and the eradication of social injustice.”

The Annual Conference of the Division of Counselling Psychology takes place at One Drummond Gate, London SW1 on 11 and 12 July 2014. Around 235 counselling psychologists will be attending.

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