For Step Parents

This page is for discussion about step parenting and parental alienation.

8 comments

  1. karenwoodall · July 3

    So I’ll start – my partner (K) and I were both single when we met in 2010 (we’ve been married now for 3 yrs). I met K’s (only) child (age 10 and a bit then) a few months into our relationship, and around the same time K met my children (same age and older). K’s child’s other parent was hostile about me right from the start, and passive-aggressively hostile to me when we met for the first time a year later. Despite this we mostly did ok, although the child would be very uncomfortable if I showed any affection or even care to them. We holidayed together, including with all my children once, and with my youngest (same age and friends) a couple of times. I believe and fondly recall that the child and I shared a few moments over the time, where we silently acknowledged our mutual love for K. However the aggression was always rising and was kicked into overdrive when K and I announced we were going to marry. The last time I spoke to K’s child was nearly 4 years ago. The other parent had been horrendously aggressive (aided by the grandparent) which included name calling (of me) and slanderous lies in front of the child. Later that same day I saw the child who, unprompted and with real feeling, said sorry to me for the behaviours of the other parent and grandparent. I told the child they were always welcome at our house, and that the other parent was welcome also. I haven’t seen the child face to face since. K hasn’t seen the child (now nearly 16) for 3 yrs apart from a few short times, and only once in the past 2 years.
    My question/issue is that I want to let the child know that there is still a warm loving welcome at our house. I want to subvert and dispel what I think has been the message, that my part in this has been to actively sever the relationship between parent and child, by taking all the parent’s time/energy/money and putting it into my children. The child said this once to K – they said “go and be a (parent) to X (my youngest)”. I always send cards and a present at birthday/xmas but don’t believe they get through. I recently sent a separate card, saying what I’ve said above (about the welcome, nothing more), but don’t anticipate this would have been passed on. There are no intermediaries – the childhood friendship between our children was broken long ago. I do know they run in some of the same circles (they are at different schools), but I have no wish to use my own child as a go-between, and they wouldn’t do it anyway. PA takes its toll on all family members.
    So what do other people do, or what have they done, in this situation.
    Reply Edit
    Anonymous · 15 Days Ago
    I too have a sixteen year old step child (youngest of two), whom we fortunately now see regularly again. In your situation I would keep sending cards in the hope that one day they will get through and that the child will one day start to think for themselves. An alienator can turn anything you do into a reason why the child should dislike and reject you, but doing what is loving and warm-hearted will one day be seen for what it is. One example: sending cards to the children was in our case used by the alienator as evidence of our disrespect of the children. If you think about it, that is so warped that one day the children will see through it and indeed they did.
    Is K in touch with the school? If your child is 16 have they just finished their GCSE, another opportunity for a card maybe?

    I can echo too your experience that the existence of other children is used to further undermine the relationship between the parent and alienated child. What the alienated child says though is parroting their other parent rather than their own opinion. We used to be told how badly behaved our children were because we did not bring them up properly and that we were abusing my step children by making them do the child care to the detriment of the health of one of them. Again the stories just did not stand up to scrutiny, which eventually the children see through. We have been fortunate that we have managed to preserve the relationships between the children and four years post reunification those relationships are very strong.

    We are definitely in the healing process post alienation, something I fear may be a life long process for the children, but where huge steps forward have been made.
    Edit
    CG · 15 Days Ago
    Thanks for the comments. Was there any catalyst for the child coming back to you? The child in our case has one more year to go until GCSEs. We do ask the school for updates from time to time but they have on several occasions made it clear that they don’t really want to be involved. I completely agree with your comment about sending a card being an expression of the warm-hearted care that I would want to show the child. I have come to feel very much that it is up to me to display the behaviour that I want to show, and not worry or obsess over how my actions might be interpreted. The gift is with the giver; it’s not mine to determine how it is received.
    Edit
    Anonymous · 14 Days Ago
    Yes there was a third party catalysts and without that things would not have moved forward. The circumstances are somewhat unusual and I think we were incredibly lucky. I think your attitude is the right way to go about it and I wish your step child will one day start to see through it – hopefully sooner rather than later. We have found 16 an important age for the children to take steps towards independence and seeing them is definitely became easier at that age, but we do have the advantage that up till that age at least we had some contact. I think if you have no contact it will take longer for them to do the mental work that is required to re-establish contact.

    Schools vary in my experience. We have always tried to keep them out of it and have never had problems obtaining the usual information that a parent would be given. Others, I know, have found this more difficult. In our case the school forgets sometimes to send stuff but a reminder and the information is produced, as things increasingly go online this has become easier for them. There has been a number of situations where it has been unavoidable for the school to become involved but again we have been very lucky and they have been reasonable and easy to deal with.
    Edit
    Cara · 7 Days Ago
    I too have an alienated 16 yo stepson that I had a positive relationship, and I wonder if I should be reaching out to him. For whatever reason, his mother never tried to alienate him from me (she certainly made sure he didn’t bond too much with me, but never directly targeted me). My husband sends texts every couple months or so to ensure that he knows he is still welcome here, but I haven’t sent one in over a year. I sent a couple when he first stopped coming over last year. We saw him a couple times earlier this year (during the first two hour visit, he told my husband he loved him, and now he’s gone again) but he’s currently ignoring my husband’s text. Not sure if it would make it worse or better for me to reach out every now and then.
    Edit
    Anonymous · 3 Hours Ago
    I think reaching out is a good idea. Keep it light and not guilt inducing in anyway. If there is an occasion it makes it easier e.g. wishing him a good summer holiday or similar.
    Just because the mother has not openly tried to alienate you does not mean that it has not been happening. I remember picking up my step children to be greeted by mum with “thank goodness it is you and not dad, because ……”. This would involve statement of how useless dad was at something or other, of course stated in front of the children. Yet when the total alienation came the venom towards me was much bigger than towards dad.
    Edit
    Cara · 8 Days Ago
    I have a 16 yo stepson that we have seen twice in the last 1.5 years. He came around a couple times early this year, then took offense to something my husband said and disappeared again. It seems all (of course) driven by his mother, the alienating parent – both the coming around again and the disappearing again. We have been together for 6 1/2 years and she has always cycled in this manner between alienating and encouraging contact.

    He and I had a very positive relationship and for whatever reason, his mother never targeted me for alienation, so it has not been damaged too badly. My husband periodically sends him texts, just letting him know what we are up to, in an effort to make sure he knows that we are still here and not upset with him. I’ve been wondering if I should send some as well? The pattern has been that he is initially hostile to my husband after he ceases contact and then stops responding entirely. I sent him a text when he first stopped coming over, apologizing for anything I may have done to make it harder on him, but didn’t get a reply.

    When he came over early this year, within his first visit, which lasted 2 hours, he hugged my husband and told him that he loved him. He’s such a confused kid. Not sure if my texting does anything in this situation or if I should stay out. Everything we read seems to indicate that it’s best to at least send a periodic message so the child knows that you still care.

    BTW, we have seen no motion towards independence now that he’s 16. Still seems quite enmeshed and willing to allow his mother to control him.
    Reply Edit
    Cara · 7 Days Ago
    Sorry for the double post, I thought I messed up the first time.
    Edit
    CG · 7 Days Ago
    Thanks Cara
    I try to do what is best for me now, and fits with how I want to be true to myself. So I sent a message recently to my stepchild because I wanted to be able to say to myself that I kept the door open. The biggest gain for me was to get to a place where I stopped (mostly) trying to second guess how anything would be received or reacted to. If its received badly then it can’t make the situation worse. If it sows the tiniest seed then that is good.
    I know that every time the child showed any resistance to going along with the dominant ‘your other parent is all bad’ narrative then the reaction to pull him back into the fold was immediate and extreme, hence the yo-yoing that you describe.
    So I’ll send another message again in a while. I figure that even if it provokes a storm of anger around him it reminds him we’re still here and we’re still trying to have a relationship with him.
    Edit
    A father · 2 Days Ago
    Interesting that you say that you were not targeted , thats weird as everyone close to me but my partner was manipulated.
    Wonder why that is , we always suspected that she felt she was “onside” by staying neutral with the kids.
    IE her just being nice to the kids and not getting involved meant she was accepting of their behaviour toward me which in turn must be justified, she was an ally i guess.
    I try not to dwell too much on these things but it is interesting why our partners were left alone.
    The alienator had reason for this but you would go mad trying to figure out what they are up to.
    Edit
    Cara · 1 Day Ago
    a father, I have thought a great deal about why I was not targeted (and I am grateful I wasn’t – I don’t know if I could have stayed in a relationship with my husband if she had targeted me directly). I think there are a couple reasons: 1) I am a mental health professional and she is very sensitive about her diagnosed mental illness – I believe she wanted to look good in front of me, and 2) like you said, I think she saw me as a potential ally – that eventually, I too would see how awful my husband was and when that happened, I would leave him and prove her right. She told my stepson that she had seen me getting out of the car at a pick-up to come over and see her (very cute) dog, and that she saw my husband grab me and pull me back in. I have stayed very distant from her when we had regular contact at events/ pick-ups – always polite but never involved, so I made no motion to go see her dog, nor would he have “pulled me back in the car”. I think she saw me as another victim of the abusive man, who was using me (another thing she told my stepson).

    These people are complicated and I do try not to spend too much time figuring out her motives nowadays. Sometimes I can’t help it though.
    Edit
    CG · 1 Day Ago
    The alienating parent phoned me once, on my mobile. It had never happened before and came out of the blue. Up to that point they had been either outright rude, or complained (via my partner) about me trying to take over their child, or about my being inappropriately there all the time (not true) or some such reason. On this occasion they were obviously seeing if I could be brought ‘onside’ – I was appealed to directly, ‘as one parent to another’ in the most inclusive of tones. I stayed neutral but helpful, said I would care for the child as any parent would. Once it was clear I wasn’t going to badmouth my partner’s parenting the call finished. I was never called again.
    I have been vilely and viciously lied about, to my own friends, and within the court system.
    I wondered about sending an ‘amends’ style letter some time ago, but echo the comments elsewhere that it would simply be seen as weakness and vindication for ongoing vile vitriol. I wish the parent well. If it were possible I’d have nothing to do with them ever agin, however should the child come back into our lives I will champion retaining contact and will help the child understand with empathy that the parent simply made bad choices, but unfortunately acted upon them to everyone’s detriment.
    Edit
    CG · 1 Day Ago
    Cara – your experience echoes mine – I’m sure the alienating parent wanted to see if I would fall in with their view of their ex partner – and hoped to pull me onside to agree with them and so be something else they could throw at the child (even x agrees that me etc) – toxic behaviour
    Edit

  2. CG · July 4

    In response to:

    Anonymous · 1 Day Ago
    Some time ago I met a partner of an alienated parent.
    That was the story of the person sitting next to me attending a course on “Parental alienation”.
    What struck me as odd was why would the new partner of the target parent be sitting next to me and not the target parent themselves. Surely this course was designed to help target parents in recovering their relationship with their children?
    Surely the main players in this family conflict are the two parents and their children?
    I endeavoured to find out why her new partner was not with us. Perhaps insensitively I enquired after her new partner. I found out that he was busy at work.
    This response posed more questions than answers, though I thought it insensitive to enquire why her new partner thought his job more important than this course; it was none of my business.
    There may be other factors why the target parent has taken a back seat. It is no easy task dealing with your alienator and over the years, full of unsuccessful attempts at the reunification the target parent will be suffering fatigue and perhaps mental health problems. The task of reunification may fall quite naturally onto the lap of a third party. This could be any; the trusted solicitor, my therapist, Mum, Auntie Jane or as in this case the new partner.
    The new partner and her children are now part of the equation so maybe meeting her rather than the target parent is not so inexplicable after all.
    Somehow I still felt uneasy about the situation; could I see myself not going to a course on parental alienation and simply gleaning second-hand information from my new partner when she returned from the course I should have been attending?
    What was the state of mind of this target parent such that he wouldn’t be desperate to clue up on the state of the art technique in “parental alienation extermination”? Had he lost his mind? Was his mind being controlled by someone else? Did he ever have a good relationship with his children? Was he the submissive type of personality? What would he say to his new partner when she got home from a day on the course?

    I began to feel uncomfortable at his absence.

    As the day unfolded and stories emerged, exercises were attempted and lessons were learnt, drama re-enacted, knowledge imparted, thoughts supported and explanations given I began to see more clearly the barriers target parents set themselves, the hurdles they encounter and who was responsible for rectifying their situation.

    But then who was I to judge?

    Kind regards

    P.s. I don’t mean to denigrate the emotional and technical support that friends and family give to target parents; this is invaluable.
    ——-

    Anonymous – your comment was:
    “Some time ago I met a partner of an alienated parent.
    That was the story of the person sitting next to me attending a course on “Parental alienation”.
    What struck me as odd was why would the new partner of the target parent be sitting next to me and not the target parent themselves. Surely this course was designed to help target parents in recovering their relationship with their children?”

    I wonder in what context you attended a course in parental alienation?
    If you were a parent then you must know how appallingly this affects every aspect of your life, and any help from someone, especially a partner, who is prepared to believe the madness and seek to find a way to help, is to be gratefully encouraged and received.
    And presumably you couldn’t have been a partner to an alienated parent, otherwise you would know what steps they will take to try and understand and help their partners, through this minefield.

    You finish by asking “but then who was I to judge” implying you’re not making a judgement when in fact I think you probably were.

    • Anonymous · July 9

      I think I am looking at this from a different perspective. I am not a step-parent, but a parent who has been trying to stave off the demons of alienation. I want to share the techniques I have learnt to help the cause of parents who are going through this dreadful experience. I am all for empowering the target parent. Many of the target parents I have met, like myself, have a lot to learn about how they can improve their situation. It is sometimes a long and painful journey and what I say may be of no help whatsoever but I have met a few alienated parents and some of the barriers to re-union that they set up are of their own making. (Setting up barriers is a common stance from a behavioural standpoint and is quite natural……e.g. criticising the ex. not criticising the ex. but failing to reach out to the child. choosing one child favourably over another. failing to embrace the anxieties of the ex. ………etc.)

      In extreme cases (pure alienation) it may be impossible to help the target parent, but I have yet to meet the target parent who cannot be encouraged to explore new routes back to their children. I talk about the barriers that target parents set up for themselves because I am trying to help them help themselves. Dealing with narcissism/ understanding narcissism for example can be a huge hurdle to overcome.

      I can see the point of a step-parent attending a course on parental alienation and see the value in it for them, but the absence of the parent who is being alienated on the course seems inexplicable. The step-parent can be the catalyst for healing the family dynamic. In these divisive times anger, mistrust, despair and ignorance may all be prevalent.
      …………………………….
      George had a dead-end job and was always nagging his wife, Jill about how he felt trapped and lacked opportunities to express himself. Although George wanted to become more confident he couldn’t face going along to the introductory course on “assertiveness training”. He was shy of crowds and fearful of change. He was evasive; on the one hand he professed to be eager to try something new but on the other hand he seemed reticent about dipping his toe in the water.

      Jill and George discussed the matter. Jill, wanting to help the situation as best she could decided that she would go on the course herself and then report back to George. George agreed enthusiastically, seeing the benefits of being able to read Jill’s notes and study the hand-outs that might return back to him every Wednesday evening.

      During the course Jill met many interesting people and was encouraged to be bold. She acted out real life situations using drama and was coached. She discovered new things about herself and began to realise how best she could stand up for herself. At times she was embarrassed, becoming uncomfortably self-aware and at others relieved to know she was not alone in the way she thought. In fact, she was ok and that made her feel good.

      George was appreciative of Jill; she did bring back some notes and hand-outs and he did follow up on some of the leads by finding research papers on the internet. He even noticed a change in Jill. George felt depressed. He could see the world changing around him, but somehow felt unable to engage. He remained fearful. Jill felt empowered; she began to live out some of her childhood ambitions, react confidently to challenging situations and make new friends.

      George remained philosophical, he was a great theorist.

      Kind regards

  3. CG · July 4

    In reply to:

    Cara · 23 Hours Ago
    I was certainly guilty of trying to “fix” this problem for my husband. Partly because I am in the mental health field and mostly because that is my tendency (hence being in the mental health field). I deal with issues by reading about them, learning about them, trying to solve them that way – he deals with things differently. Of course, you know what happened – I would get frustrated that he didn’t want to deal with things my way. It was (is still at times) my way of trying to contain my anxiety about what I was in the middle of, which was traumatic for me, too. When my stepson, at 11 or 12, would come into our room at night, crying and apologizing to my husband (now we know, because he had just lied to the attorney/therapist under pressure from his mother), I would end up crying myself to sleep. I wanted to take away the horrible fear and helplessness my husband experienced as he watched his son slip away from him. Nothing helped – the therapists and attorneys all made it far worse – and even though we saw what was happening, we could do nothing to stop it. And I wanted to help my stepson, who was the real victim.

    Gradually I’ve realized that I can’t do anything except be there to support my husband and love him. This problem is far bigger than me – my husband has a troubled relationship with his own parents, the other parent does with hers as well, her older daughter was alienated from her (different) father … this is multi-generational dysfunction and all I can do is try to be a support to my husband and maybe, someday, my stepson. Now, my participation in stuff like this group, is for ME, not for him. Though I will share what I learn. My husband copes in his own way and I can’t fault him for that. I can’t imagine living through losing my child to alienation and coming out the other side in such good shape as he has.
    We’ve found peace – unfortunately, because the alienated child is no longer coming around and so we are not exposed to all of this toxic drama and stress, If you had told him in the middle of it all that he would be alienated from his son almost completely and still be able to find peace and happiness in his life, he would never have believed it, but he has – in his own way.

    All this is to say – we all handle things differently. Just because the target parent wasn’t at the training it doesn’t mean he was submissive, or not caring, or didn’t have a good relationship with his children. Maybe he attended a different training and wanted her to attend, too. Maybe he could not come due to work pressures and wanted her to attend so they didn’t miss it. Or maybe she was coping in her own way, and her partner copes in a different way.
    —–

    Yes I’ve certainly tried to ‘fix’ things. Now I try to fix just the things I can influence.
    What I have found though is that two heads are better than one in any situation. Much like the advice given that if you are going to the doctors for a diagnosis that is likely to be a difficult one, that you should take somebody with you so that they can hear the things you didn’t hear, and afterwards answer some of the questions you still have, because you were too stunned to hear everything clearly.
    A topic we might discuss on a different forum page is how one copes with the various reactions from close family members, that just don’t really ‘get it’. How difficult it is to have your own close family not really see what’s going on, or maybe not be able to admit it to themselves, and them not (want to) take the steps you want them to take to try and help, because they don’t want to get involved.

    • Cara · July 10

      My husband is fortunate in that his family members believe and support him. His ex tried to create an alliance with them by badmouthing him and playing the victim post-divorce, but his sister-in-law told him about it and asked what was going on. When told, they believed him and did not continue contact with the ex, nipping her efforts in the bud. It’s interesting, because he has a difficult relationship with his mother, who in some ways alienated him from his father in an intact family. My husband has a great deal of anger and resentment towards his mother for this and other behaviors and I suspect that if the ex-wife tried hard enough, she could get his mother to believe her story – but the mother is now the least powerful person in the family system, and his siblings would prevent her from aligning with the ex, I believe. Of course, they too have all lost contact with my stepson as a result of alienation, but they do not live in the same area and didn’t see him often, anyway. They have been very supportive of my husband, which has helped a lot.

  4. CG · November 13

    Lately it’s just one of those times when the effort of keeping on feels like too much hard work. When the enormousness of the injustice of the situation I live within bubbles over.
    My husband and I have been talking about making wills. We’ve been together several years and married a handful but we really need to get on and formalise what would happen ‘in the event of…’ to make life easier and clearer for our respective kids. As part of this process I told my husband he should write a letter to his alienated child so that should something happen he’s said himself what he would want his child to know. So we’ve been having conversations where we’ve gone over some old ground. My stepchild was prevented from coming to our wedding a few years back (and made to say it was their own choice of course). My husband has had no direct contact for several years now, and one unpleasant email a few months back, but he continues to show only love, patience, understanding and compassion to his child.
    My reason for spilling my guts today we that we found ourselves, yesterday, sitting in a car park watching a sports match, from a distance, where my husband’s child was playing. On the back seat of the car was a pair of binoculars. In the end we drove away after a couple of minutes and let the ‘opportunity’ go. The unused binoculars symbolising for me the wretched patheticness of my husband’s situation.
    We drove past the house today where the child lives, with the mothers car outside. Again, as always a wave of rage rises, and I push it back down. I don’t need to point out to my husband, again, how fucked up all this is.
    But there is no-one to share this with, because everyone else is tired of hearing about it, and no-one else cares as much. It is wretchedly painful to watch my husband be tormented by the situation, and know that even close family don’t really understand how it makes him feel, even though I’m glad, in a way, that they don’t. My husband says to me ‘I don’t need you to drown alongside me’.
    My husband’s child just had their 16th birthday. As usual letters were sent, and presents delivered, with no acknowledgement or thanks. I think, wow, 16, surely they’ll break out of this soon, won’t they. I look at my own youngest, 16 too in a few months, and love how gutsy and spunky she is, and how she can tell it how it is, and how she found her own way eventually to cope with divorce and re-marriage.
    So I’ll push my rage and frustration down again, and keep on keeping on, and get busy again, and hope, and pray, for the knock on the door.

  5. JG · 17 Days Ago

    CG
    You’ve stated your thoughts and struggles so well, they are identical to those of mine and my husband, so nice to know we are not alone.

    • CG · 17 Days Ago

      Hi JG
      thanks for the empathy – it really is appreciated. There are a couple of places where I occasionally write things (shouting into the wilderness when its all a bit much). Until a few months ago I followed a host of Facebook groups, and subscribed to various blogs, including legal websites that post court rulings, and various other things. These bookmarks grew up over the years and were for a while useful and helpful in finding support when we were still in the court system. It’s 2.5 yrs since a ‘no contact’ order was made, and my stepson is over 16 now, so all that is behind us. However its taken those two years to come to terms and get past the shock and trauma of the formal assassination of my husbands direct contact with his son. So a few months ago I cancelled all those bookmarks, and withdrew from the current fray, for my own sanity. On the whole I do ok. On the whole my husband keeps on going on. We have a wonderful life together, we are busy, with lots of loving family around us. But it is tough, still, from time to time. My husband has a gaping whole in his life which nothing but the safe return of his son can ever bridge. For myself, I always hoped Karen’s coming new website would give me a community of step-parents to privately support and be supported by, but but didn’t work out in a time frame that could help me. I’m glad Karen and Nick have put their time into children that they actively can help. My husband pursued a complaint with CAFCASS and the PHSO long past the point most people would give up, not because he thought it would help his son (too late for that) but in the hope it would pave the way for revisions that would benefit future families.
      My stepson and his mother have moved house. Of course no contact has been made with a new address. Its a relief not to anymore strain my neck when driving past their house, wondering if i’ll catch a glimpse, wondering if he’ll see me/us and I’ll see some hope in his face.
      My daughter turned 16 recently. We helped her host a house party full of friends. She kindly invited my stepson (they used to be friends before that was killed, and they have a clutch of mutual friends still). He didn’t come (it would have been remarkable if he had) but at least, again, we showed him he is wanted, and welcomed. So we carry on.
      My best wishes to you and your husband. Sadly, you are not alone.

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