What they say about hindsight rings true when I reflect on my experience as an alienated parent. Two years before Gus began refusing time with me, the dysfunction of alienation was already in motion. In fact, alienating behaviors were present soon after our marriage began to come apart. I did not know the term “parental alienation.” It wasn’t until Gus began refusing time with me that I Googled, “Why doesn’t my daughter want to see me?” and similarly phrased, sad questions. When I asked Google why my daughter was rejecting me, I stumbled across articles about parental alienation. What was described in these articles was what I was experiencing- what Gus and I were experiencing, set in motion by AP.
Unfortunately, when the early behaviors began, I did not understand why these things were happening or that they could influence my child to reject me. The only thing I knew was the way I felt when the behavior happened: it hurt.
If I had understood what was happening, would that have changed anything? I don’t know. I hope that it would have. For the sake of all targeted parents, I hope that identifying what is happening before a child completely rejects a loving parent can change the course of parental alienation. That is the reason I write about my experience.
One inaugural incident sticks to my bones. The event was classically alienating behavior. Without the right tools to describe the experience, everyone I confided in just expressed something like, “That sucks,” but no alarm bells rang for anyone. The undefined “suckiness” was actually an insidious problem that was not going to stop. Parental alienation is now criminally prosecuted in Brazil and Mexico. It is recognized by the World Health Organization as a public health issue. In England, an alienating parent can be fined. It more than sucks.
Gus loves musicals. Musicals are her jam. AP signed up for season tickets at a theater in Seattle. In October 2015, I expressed desire to take her to see a musical, but money was tight for me. There was one house for rent in our small school district. The house was too large for us (too expensive), but I was lucky to move in and maintain continuity for the girls. I had a new job, working full time for the first time since Gus was born. I expressed to AP that I would like to take Gus to see a musical. If he would be so generous, it could work for both daughters, as the shows in downtown Seattle were late nights for H., who was nine years old.
One day AP called. He offered me the opportunity to take Gus to see a performance on his residential night. I thanked him and agreed to meet him at 5:30 pm, at the church where Gus received music lessons. I left work at 5:00 pm, as I did every day. The drive took half an hour, as it always did.
When I arrived, they weren’t there. I replayed the verbal agreement in my head. We agreed to meet at the church. We agreed. I called AP.
“I’m at the church. Are you running late?”
He said, “We’re already on the ferry.”
“What? Why are you on the ferry? We agreed to meet at the church.”
While seated next to our daughters on the ferry, AP said, “I thought you would be late, and I was afraid Gus would miss out on the musical. I didn’t know when you would be able to get to the church, so we had to leave.”
My schedule was the same every day: 8 am to 5 pm. Half an hour to get to the church.
“Ok, I’m driving to the ferry now. I’ll be on the next boat.”
He made a few more statements during that conversation that I find difficult to recall. My heart pounded in my head. My body shook. Danger felt imminent, but I didn’t know why. It sank in while I waited in the ferry line. I wasn’t going to get to take Gus to see that play. It was never going to happen. Huge, choking sobs erupted.
I grieved. I believed I was going to take Gus to do something she loved. I believed we both loved our children and wanted them to be happy. Gus believed I was taking her to the musical, but AP intercepted. He promised and then he intercepted. He influenced Gus negatively, to doubt my reliability and affection for her, while creating for himself the role of “hero.” AP built up my hope of spending time with Gus so that it would hurt when the outing was taken away. The orchestrated disappointment gave Gus two important messages: that I was unreliable, and he was the only one who would make sure she was taken care of.
I asked the attendant how to remove myself from the lanes of cars waiting for the ferry. It was the only time I have driven away from the ferry lanes after I paid. I texted Gus that I was sorry I couldn’t go to the show, but I threw up and had to go home.
AP’s mother magically appeared at the theater to watch the performance with Gus, though she also lives on the other side of the water. It was a late night for H., which didn’t seem to bother anyone else. I drove home in darkness. Fog covered the light of the stars.