One of the issues we have not mentioned so far is “parent alienation”. Parent alienation means that one parent makes an effort to damage the relationship the children have with the other parent. Women have often been guilty of this practice after a divorce. They tend to be unable to harness their hostility about the breakdown of the marriage and find it necessary to inform the kids in graphic detail of the failing of the father. They find it necessary to explain in detail the extent to which the insufficient maintenance reflects a failure of love and commitment.
Abusers don’t wait for the failure of the marriage. It’s just what they do. Many families have returned from holidays and because they are together all the time the opportunities for parent alienation have been rife.
Dad “Don’t you think you mother looks fat in that costume?”
Kid “I dunno”
Dad “Well open your eyes son. You are going to be a man soon and men look at women. Look at that one (pointed to a young adult not a mother of two). She’s gorgeous! Let’s find at least three that we both think are gorgeous”.
Game on – father and son are in search of the gorgeous.
Dad “Now be honest – your mother is fat”.
Kid – well what does he do?
Why would any parent actively seek to diminish the other parent? Abuse is about power and if you can divide you can rule. If you can get the kids to ‘prefer” you, you have managed to damage yet another part of the partner you ostensibly love and cherish. You can make her smaller and more scared and more inadequate. You can make her less likely to feel equipped to cope in the world without you. You can prove than no-on likes or respects her. If you do it often enough the chances are she is going to react badly and prove that she is indeed unstable, moody and difficult to be around. If you do it often enough she is going to leave, walk away, escape and then you have the group against mom.
There are children who refuse to play this game. They attempt to mediate a middle path or withdraw. Some even attempt to stay loyal to the abused mother, insisting that she is the most beautiful women on the beach. For that brave soul the holiday has just been ruined. They have backed the losing team and the result will be surliness, ostracization and the saddest of all is that they are likely to have to confront the terrible truth that integrity costs more than we often have. These children are in the famous lose-lose scenario. The king will declare in every way that they are stupid losers. The mother to whom they have shown their loyalty is too distressed to acknowledge them and they will no longer be welcome in the sibling group. All they can possibly can is something they cannot see or be sure of – their fledging self-respect that will be under siege.
I write this for all those women who have spent their holidays feeling like the outcast in the family – you are not alone. It has happened to many of you. More importantly please notice the children who refused to play and express your appreciation. Explain that sometimes families don’t work as they are meant to but this brave child did. Families do not humiliate each other. Families do not turn against each other. Real men are loyal and true to how they really feel even if it makes them unpopular.
Here are a few lines from the poem by Kipling – “IF”
If you can keep your head
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
If you can wait
And not be tired of waiting
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating
And yes don’t look too goog
Nor talk too wise
You’ll be a man, my son (Kipling)