One of the things that I don’t often bring up, or admittedly even often associate with my ‘crusade’ to gather community around long distance parenting, is that I was once the child of an estranged parent. From 5ish to 12ish, my father wasn’t around. My sister and I were raised to believe that he was a lot of horrible things and that we should be afraid of him. Our family of three hid from him.
When I was 12, he found us. I still remember the first phone call I had with him. I remember what he sent us for Christmas that year. I went to stay with him for 6 months… and then, when I was 15, I went to live with him.
By that time, I wasn’t looking for a father. I was pretty well grown up. And by that time, the opportunity for him to learn to be a father was passed. We awkwardly played at the father/daughter roles, I finished the growing up and moved out and eventually moved across the country, keeping my father in my life as a fixture… a person who was in my life but who I wasn’t quite sure what to do with.
But as those years passed, it began to become clear to me that the story my mother had given me all of those years, about my father, wasn’t the whole story. Despite her story, what I eventually ascertained to be the actual story was that they were two young adults who were very different and who were going through a lot of internal turmoil and, in the end, were incompatible. That is the long and short of the truth. And OF COURSE, he did not so great things to her… but she did the same. Neither was right or wrong.. it was just a thing that happened.
In fact, over the years, I saw that when I had my son, my father had a sincere interest in getting to know my son and spending time with my son. I noticed that he was the one who had an interest in a genuine connection with what was going on in my world and my son’s world. When I later experienced some life upsets of my own, my father was the one who stepped up and played the role of supportive parent.
What I noticed, as the years passed, was that the stories of who they are played out across their lives and across my life and my son’s life and after several years, it was apparent who they each were and what their desired roles were. Neither was what they had been portrayed to me as by my mother.
What I eventually discovered for myself, knowing what I know now, was that my mother had essentially kidnapped my sister and I from our father. This was in the 80s (hows that for dating myself?), in a time when father’s rights weren’t even a blip on the screen of society. She moved us away, hid us and then painted the story she wanted us to believe. She told us horrible things about our father and ground them into my head over and over using mortal fear and painting worst possible scenarios. We were raised with an image of a monster as a father.
What I know now is that parents do that, sometimes. Now days, it’s called parental kidnapping and parental alienation. Then, it was just something that people did in a society in which divorce was taboo and the term ‘deadbeat dad’ was applied liberally.
But what I learned from my own childhood, despite having been kidnapped from my father and brainwashed against him in abhorrently abusive ways is that the proof is in the puddin’. The truth ALWAYS eventually comes out. Kids grow up to be adults who can think for themselves and can see the truth for what it is. It doesn’t matter how convincing the other parent is, it doesn’t matter to what ends they go.
I’ve been on the other side of that coin too. As a non custodial parent, I’ve had my son’s stepmother try to elbow me out of his life to be his ‘mommy’. Right now, I have a step daughter who I am ‘not allowed’ to see by her father (Almost understandably. He was abusive and I left him. I understand why he wouldn’t want me in a position to accidentally let on about his behavior not being ok.).
But I let all that stuff lie. Eventually my son and my step daughter will grow up. Eventually, my son will make his own decision about his father and his step mother and me. Eventually my step daughter will make her own decision about her father and me. There is nothing I or their other parents could say at any time that would screen the eventual truths that they will see clearly when they are old enough to see it. I’ve seen that side of it first hand.
So, when the other parent is being nasty… just breathe. There is nothing that can be done. Retain your integrity. Retain your dignity and self respect and continue to be honest and loving and caring and supportive of your child’s mental and emotional health. Eventually, the truth will be apparent.
And if you’re ever been tempted to do the badmouthing, parental alienation or even parental kidnapping… just know, that not only is it to no avail, because that child will eventually grow up into a thinking adult – but in the mean time, you are doing immeasurable harm to them.