A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation, follows the story of Mike Jeffries and his family — wife Beth and sons Jared and Adam — as Mike realizes his post-divorce dream of co-parenting his children as they split their time between two households will bear little resemblance to a post-divorce reality consumed with trying to maintain a normal relationship with his 11-year old son Adam in the face of parental alienation.
THE NIGHT STARTED OUT POSITIVE enough. Adam came into my room to talk to me. Ever the optimist, I took that as a good sign. But within minutes Adam became rude. Then he decided to leave. I told him to sit down. I wasn’t done talking.
In most houses when a parent tells the 11-year-old child to sit down, the 11-year-old child sits down. But my house isn’t like most houses these days. My house is the no-fly zone for logic, reason and joint parenting.
Adam didn’t sit down, so I got up and blocked the door. Adam screamed for Beth. He said that I wouldn’t let him leave the room. Then he started hitting me. I went into my 44 year old imitation of Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope. I had this fantasy that if I let Adam hit me long enough he would work out his anger and frustration, collapse in tears into my arms, and the healing would begin. Let’s just say the rope-a-dope worked better for Ali against George Foreman than it did for me. There was no rope and I was the dope.
Beth called the police when I wouldn’t unlock the door or let Adam out of the room. She told them I physically assaulted Adam. When the police arrived they separated everyone and talked to each of us individually. Luckily, Adam told the police the truth — I never laid a hand him.
The cop said I was within my rights to keep Adam in the room with me — maybe not the best way to handle the situation but certainly not against the law. The official police report stated, “Verbal only. No violence. All okay at this time.” Only a police officer used to seeing much worse would characterize my situation as “all okay at this time,” but I wasn’t about to argue.
I shared this experience with Dr. Davies during my next visit.
|Dr. Davies:||He doesn’t see you as his father anymore.|
Adam doesn’t see you as his father anymore. The change in an alienated child’s behavior is the hardest concept for an alienated parent to accept.
The transition from loved and respected Dad to hated and despised Dad happens slowly. Adam was angry with you. He was angry that you ended the marriage, broke up his home and caused him pain. That’s normal. It is also normal for a child to act out his anger.
However, on top of Adam’s normal pre-adolescent anger is another layer of anger. Adam is angry with you for making his mother unhappy and angry. Remember, at this point there are no boundaries separating the alienating parent’s emotional perspective from the child’s emotional perspective. What she feels, he feels.
In a healthy divorce both parents help the child work through the anger. They let the child express his anger appropriately — within limits. But in alienation the alienating parent doesn’t set limits for the child, because she doesn’t set limits for herself. The parent’s anger reinforces the child’s anger and vice versa.
In strict behavioral terms when a behavior is followed by positive reinforcement, or not followed by a negative reinforcement, the likelihood of that behavior continuing increases.
Beth sent Adam all sorts of verbal and non-verbal signals that he could act any way he wanted without consequences. So over the course of the month you watched Adam’s behavior get more defiant, oppositional and confrontational. Adam tested the limits and discovered that there were no limits anymore. Beth reinforced Adam’s perception by allowing his inappropriate display of anger towards you.
In order for Adam to behave the way he does, he had to stop seeing you as Dad and start seeing you as someone to be despised and disrespected. He had to make the distinction from the father that once was to the father who caused him and his mother all this pain.
A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation by Michael Jeffires and Dr. Joel Davies. Published by A Family’s Heartbreak, LLC. www.afamilysheartbreak.com