Insensitive others are a sad fact of life. Women who have had miscarriages get told things like “it was for the best”. I know a mother of a child with Down’s syndrome who had someone say “too bad you couldn’t have had amniocentesis”. People with cancer find some others will blame them for causing their illness with bad diet or negative thoughts. People who have suffered a loss through death encounter friends and relatives who are frightened of their pain and don’t know what to do or say, and also expect them to “get over it” after a certain period of time, and judge them negatively if they don’t.
You may already judge yourself for losing your children through alienation, or fear that others believe that you are to blame. It is NOT your fault. Paradoxically, it is often particularly good parents who are the victims of alienation. If you didn’t care and really were a bad parent, the alienator wouldn’t have to put all that effort into manipulating your child’s relationship with you. Still, it is understandable that people who have not encountered alienation before may be uncomprehending, and even disbelieving, and think that you, and I, must have done “something”.
I try to take the questions as an opportunity to educate people about PAS. They may or may not accept what I say as true, but I know that sooner or later they will meet someone else in a similar situation. Other times I may choose to say little, and change the subject. You will get questions about your kids when you meet new acquaintances, friendly questions from co-workers, neighbours, old friends you run into, concerned questions from relatives… These can all be painful and sometimes awkward. You will probably develop a standard answer for most situations. During the four years that I had no contact with my children and couldn’t answer any questions about what they were doing, I used to say “I have four children but actually I don’t see them. My ex-husband is mentally ill and has convinced our children to hate me. It’s a sort of cult-like situation. I am in court now fighting for custody and access”. People would usually respond with a bit of shock, a bit of embarrassment, and say they were sorry to hear it. Some people would be freaked out and never bring it up again, but others would be curious and ask more, and many would tell me about a similar situation in their own or a friend’s family. Other times when that amount of information was inappropriate I would say “they are with their dad right now, and we’re still working on our custody and access schedule”. Through trial and error you will develop some ways to answer questions about your kids, but you may find it helpful to practice and prepare a few responses for situations when questions about your kids are going to come up.
You are not alone. They are many of us alienated parents, but sadly there are many more parents suffering over even harder problems – parents of children with terminal or chronic illness or severe disability, parents of children with addictions, parents of children hurt in accidents. Beware of inadvertently being insensitive yourself. I’ve occasionally heard an alienated parent imagine that the death of a child might be easier to cope with, because of the finality of the tragedy, as opposed to the continuing unresolved pain of alienation. Believe me, and one poor mother I know who lost one child to a car accident and another to alienation – the grief of a child’s death never ends. That loss is irrevocable and forever, while the loss of a child to alienation could potentially end at any moment.
Take care, and don’t forget to seek out people who do understand and will provide support and encouragement!