Happy Endings

December 22nd, 2015

This is my first post to this blog in two years. It will most likely be my last. I can’t think of a better way to end my parental alienation blogging career than by giving readers of A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation, and all visitors to this site, the gift of hope this holiday season.

We wrote A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation and created this site to help other alienated parents and children avoid what my family went through. Please note the past tense, ”went.” I haven’t been an alienated parent for some time. I also haven’t talked publicly about reconnecting with my formerly alienated son — until now.

I’ll keep the details of how we reconnected, as well as my theories on why we were able to reconnect, private. But if you read A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation, you know the alienation was severe. My son and I didn’t see each other or communicate in any meaningful way for 12 years. I missed all of his teen years, part of his 20s, and countless events. He missed plenty of family gatherings and all the father/son experiences that I missed.

The important thing to remember, however, is we did reconnect; and the past few years have been incredible. My son and I have a wonderful relationship. We may be closer than we would have been if we didn’t lose all that time.

I’m sure you have plenty of questions you would like answered. Please allow me to leave you with some suggestions instead:

  • If you are an alienated parent or family member, never give up hope. Never lose your faith that one day you will reconnect with the child. If you believe you will reconnect, you will.
  • Never stop reaching out, even though your efforts may go unacknowledged for a long time. Most days you’ll feel like you are pouring your time, money and mental health into a black hole. If your emails, cards, invitations, gifts and other efforts never reach the child you will at least feel better for having tried. If your attempts to reach the child do get through, I guarantee you the child will remember your attempts. The fact you always tried will make it easier for him or her to reconnect with you one day.
  • Let go of the anger. This point is a key to reconnecting. The child wants to see he or she is getting back the same happy, emotionally secure parent the child remembers from before the hostilities — not some angry person who resembles the parent the child used to know. The child may also still feel loyal to the alienating parent. Showing the child you are no longer angry at the other parent removes a huge weight from the child’s shoulders.
  • Reconnecting is not about validation. Don’t expect the formerly alienated child to be interested in your pain, admit you were right, or apologize for years of rude and inconsiderate behavior. When the child is ready to reconnect, keep the focus on the child’s life and check your need for validation at the door. The fact that the child is letting you into his or her life is all the validation you need.
  • Don’t stand on ceremony. If your formerly alienated child initially calls you by your first name, bite your tongue. If the child forgets your birthday, let it go. Keep your eye on the prize standing in front of you and don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Come to the grips with the fact that your child may never want to discuss parental alienation or the lost years. In fact, the child may pretend those years never happened. That’s okay. Stay focused on a present and future that includes the child with whom you dreamed about reconnecting.

Happy holidays and Happy New Year. We hope 2016 is the year you experience the joy of reconnecting with your child.

 

Here’s to 2014!

December 23rd, 2013

Wishing all our A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation readers and fans a happy holidays surrounded by the people who mean the most to you. May 2014 be the year all targeted parents and alienated children reunite. And for those parents and children who have started rebuilding their previously normal, healthy relationships you have our sincere best wishes for continued success and a lifetime of happy memories ahead.

We will continue to offer support, resources and information in 2014 — doing our best to help parents and children avoid the heartbreak of parental alienation.

Sincerely,

mike jeffries and Dr. Joel Davies

Hooray for Hollywood? Not for a long time

December 7th, 2013

For some reason, I’m watching a lot of old movies lately. Really old movies.

Last night’s selection was Blonde Venus starring Marlene Dietrich and Cary Grant from 1932. In the movie, Dietrich plays a German night club singer who meets an American chemist named Ned, played by Herbert Marshall. They marry, have a son, and then Ned discovers he has been poisoned by radium. He’ll die within the year unless he can find enough money to travel to Germany and get treated by the only doctor who has success treating radium poisoning. The only problem is Ned doesn’t have $1,500 to cover the cost of the trip and the treatment. Yes, let that one sink in for a moment — in 1932 $1,500 bought you a round-trip ticket between the U.S. and Germany and medical treatment for a deadly disease.

In any event, Dietrich’s character Helen returns to the nightclubs against Ned’s wishes to raise the money. There she meets Nick, a millionaire played by Cary Grant. Nick is smitten with Helen and writes her a check that allows Ned to leave for Germany.

The story takes off from there. Helen falls in love with Nick. Ned arrives home early from Germany to discover his wife is cheating on him with Nick. Ned asks Helen to bring his son Johnny to him since Johnny is, “all I have left.” Instead Helen kidnaps Johnny and takes off, moving from town to town to evade Ned and the people Ned hired to find her. Finally, Helen realizes that life on the run is no life for Johnny and agrees to give him to Ned, who asks her to never see Johnny again.

Eventually, Helen decides she does want to see Johnny again and returns home. When she asks Ned to let her see her son he refuses. Helen asks Ned if Johnny remembers her and Ned replies, “I hope not. I’ve been doing everything I can to help him forget you.” Finally, Ned caves in to Helen’s request. Johnny does remember his Mom and asks both his parents to tell him how they met; the bedtime story Helen and Ned used to tell Johnny in happier days. Ned pretends not to remember the story but with a little prompting from Helen and Johnny he overcomes his anger. The movie ends with Helen and Ned back in each other’s arms.

Watching this 80-year old movie just reminded me how much parental kidnapping and alienation are ingrained in our culture — especially our storytelling, cinema and television shows. While these issues are more fairly represented in entertainment today than in the past, a movie like Blonde Venus is just one small reminder of how long parental kidnapping and alienation have been used as plot lines with producers giving little, if any, thought to the messages they were sending to their audiences.

I heard once that it takes three generations within a family to create a negative pattern of behavior and three more generations to undo the damage. Let’s hope for everyone’s sake that within the family of Hollywood writers and producers the same timeline doesn’t apply to stories about parental kidnapping and alienation.

Unspoken truth comes from unlikely source

May 11th, 2013

On Two and a Half Men the other night there was a touching scene, at least by Two and a Half Men standards, between long-time co-stars Jon Cryer and Angus T. Jones that probably resonated with every divorced parent watching the program.

In reality, producers have demoted Jones and his character Jake to recurring status for the show’s upcoming 11th season. To explain his absence as a regular from the program, the writers have Jake, who is now in the Army, transferring to a base in Japan for one year. Before shipping out, Jake goes home one last time to see his Dad, Alan.

Father and son take a road trip and during the trip Jake admits that while he initially blamed Alan for the divorce from his Mom, he now realizes that the breakup wasn’t all Alan’s fault. Alan, touched by the gesture, thanked his son but indicated he wasn’t going to say anything bad about his ex-wife.  Jake replied, “Yea, but you probably hope I do.”

How many of us announce we are taking the high road by saying, “I’ll never say anything bad about Mom/Dad,” but secretly want the child to say something bad instead? Maybe we need a little validation or reassurance. Whatever the reason, if you’re honest you’ll admit you’ll take whatever putdown your child is willing to offer.

Mother’s Day is tomorrow. Father’s Day is next month. This year on Mother’s and Father’s Day give your children a present instead of expecting one. Don’t say anything bad about your ex, and don’t send them the unspoken message that you hope they say something bad instead.

Innocence lost

December 14th, 2012

Tragic.  Senseless.  Heartbreaking.  Unfathomable. Trot out all the usual adjectives to describe another massacre. Twenty six people, including 20 children, are dead tonight because someone who shouldn’t have been allowed within 100 yards of a gun held one in his hands.

A man walks into a crowd carrying a gun. Sounds like the first line of an old joke. Yet the only stories repeated more often than old jokes these days are stories about killing sprees in movies theaters, malls and schools. The latest story took place in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. This one hit too close to home; but in reality, they all hit too close to home for someone.

Before too long, another massacre will hit too close to home for someone else. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun advocates will once again remind us that, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” They’ll also remind us of our constitutional right to bear arms — for protection. But I’ve always wondered, how come we never hear stories about people sitting at home minding their own business and having to kill armed intruders for protection? Instead, we hear stories about places like Virginia Tech, Columbine, Aurora and now Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

When are we going to wake up and address this national epidemic? Sure, we can put x-ray machines and metal detectors at the door of every school, store and public building in the nation. Yes, we can produce public service messages about gun safety. Yet these solutions are like applying a band-aid to the gaping wound caused by an automatic weapon.

When the founders of our country insured our right to bear arms I hardly think they imagined a day when a gun could kill dozens of people in the time it took them to load, fire, and reload their reliable old flintlock rifle. The only people who need these guns are the people who want to kill lots of other people and kill them quickly. The best way to prevent the next massacre is to cut off some lunatic’s easy access to automatic weapons. If that means the rest of us can’t get our hands on them either, consider it a fair trade-off for real safety — and a much more effective means of protection than taking our shoes off before boarding an airplane. 

Innocence went up against evil this morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School and innocence lost. How many more times do the innocent have to lose before we match the gun advocates dollar for dollar, sound-bite for sound-bite, and lobbyist for lobbyist, and get automatic weapons off the street and out of our neighborhoods?

Making the first move

December 10th, 2012

Baseball fans will remember that earlier this year All-Star free agent Prince Fielder signed a nine-year, $214 million contract to play for the Detroit Tigers. Tiger fans rejoiced, and Fielder was a key element in the Tigers’ run to the World Series this fall. 

Fielder is not the first member of his family to gain noteriety as a Detroit Tiger. Prince’s father Cecil was a slugging first baseman for the team in the 1980s and 1990s. When Prince was a boy, Tiger Stadium was his personal Field of Dreams.

When Prince signed with Cecil’s old team their complicated father/son relationship was highlighted in the media almost as often as Prince’s batting and home run records. According to reports the two had been estranged for years. Prince blamed Cecil for being an absent father. There was also a difficult divorce between Cecil and Prince’s Mom; and allegations that Dad had taken money from his son’s signing bonus to pay gambling debts.

In one story Cecil reported he had recently reached out to his son and the two were talking “a little bit.” When the reporter asked Cecil why he reached out to his son after so long the father responded, “Someone had to make the first move.” 

Parent/child relationships are complicated; even relationships untouched by parental alienation. Parents estranged from their children, however, should not dismiss the importance of “making the first move” — no matter how long it’s been since they spoke with their children. People change. Children grow up. While parents and children tend to think about each other as they remember them, both parties have lived a lifetime of experiences since the last time they spoke. These experiences are often reminders that past wrongs, both real and imaginary, aren’t always very important in the present.

The holidays are in full swing and at some point the media will report on the latest holiday miracle. Parents who make the first move with their estranged children, even after many years, might have their own miracles to report this holiday season.

Helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy

November 2nd, 2012

Dear Friends:

Over the years I’ve tried to help as many people as possible through the horrors of parental alienation. I’ve provided advice, information, referrals and support to anyone who asked. I never asked to be paid for my time, and never accepted money if it was offered. I never required anyone to buy a book in return for my help. I never asked anyone for anything, until now.

Hurricane Sandy left behind horrors that defy description. The storm devastated much of the northeastern United States, but saved its worst destruction for the New Jersey shore — a place that creates wonderful memories for so many children and families. Federal aid and insurance money will fall far short of what these coastal towns and their residents need to survive and rebuild. Many towns, like Belmar, New Jersey (http://www.belmar.com/) are accepting donations to help with relief and rebuilding efforts. So I’m asking you — please contribute whatever you can so that these towns and their people can rebuild and once again provide the kind of enjoyment and memories that are such an important part of family life.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

mike jeffries
Author, A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation

Hope for the holidays

December 21st, 2011

(This is part two of a two-part story highlighting how a formerly alienated child reunited with his Dad after parental alienation kept them apart for 18 years. Please scroll down to our December 15th entry for the first part of the story.)

When Oliver, Zach’s Dad, dialed Zach’s phone number on the dawn of the new millennium he didn’t know what to expect on the other end of the line. “I found out Zach’s Mom had separated from her second husband and left town,” Oliver explained, “so even though I hadn’t seen Zach in years I hoped the time might be right.”

Oliver’s hope quickly turned into disappointment when Zach refused to come to the phone.

“I was caught off guard and needed some time to digest things,” Zach said.

Zach often thought about his father growing up. As a teenager, Zach would get angry with his Mom and threaten to contact his Dad. “That would make her furious,” Zach recalled. “Then she would call Dad ‘the Devil’ and tell me to go ahead and contact him, but I never did. I guess I was afraid of the unknown. I also didn’t want to disappoint or betray Mom,” he added.

As it turns out, all Zach needed was about 30 minutes to make a decision. “Dad was shocked when I called back. I wasn’t sure what to say, but I was really excited. I was also really happy. I remember thinking, ‘Mom moved out of town so the pressure is gone,’” he recalled.

Oliver also remembers the conversation. “We talked for at least an hour. It was amazing. Zach sounded good. He was curious and also a little angry. I was flying high but cautious not to come on too strong,” he said.

Oliver and Zach began communicating on a regular basis. They also exchanged pictures – neither one knew what the other looked like. After a few months of emails and instant messages Oliver asked Zach if he could visit. “We were both excited to see each other,” Zach remembers. “The visit went really well,” Oliver added, “mostly because we had communicated so much via email.

Without knowing it, father and son followed a formula that many parental alienation experts recommend when a formerly alienated parent and child reconnect. Initially, Oliver and Zach focused on the present and did not address the reasons for their estrangement. As explained in A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation, when a formerly alienated child is ready to discuss the past he or she will bring it up. Even then, however, targeted parents should remember that the conversation isn’t about them. The child is looking to understand what happened; and not, as many parents hope, validate Mom or Dad’s belief that he or she was treated unfairly.

Zach’s relationship with Oliver was back on track, but Zach still had one piece of unfinished business. “My first conversation with Mom was very uncomfortable,” Zach shared. “She was not happy. She tried to act like she was okay with it but I knew she wasn’t. But I was angry too. In fact, I think after I reconnected with Dad I was angrier that he missed my ballgames and school events than I was when I was young.”

Today, Zach is married and a father. He calls his relationship with his Dad “great” and his relationship with his Mom “rough.” “I still can’t say ‘I’m going to see Dad,’” Zach explained. “I have to say ‘I’m going to see Oliver.’” For his part, Oliver has also reconnected with his daughter even though repairing that relationship has been harder. They’re sharing their story to help other alienated children and parents avoid what they went through. “I’m here to tell alienated parents that miracles do happen,” Oliver said. “I would love to write a book or start a non-profit and reach people who are dealing with this tragedy,” Zach added. 

Holiday miracle gives hope to alienated parents

December 15th, 2011

Whether you believe in the miracle of Christmas, Hanukkah or the Miracle on 34th Street, you hear the word “miracle” a lot this time of year. Many alienated parents pray for a very specific miracle during the holiday season – the miracle of reunion.

Zach White of Birmingham, Alabama knows a little something about miracles. Zach was alienated from his father when he was two years old. Nineteen years later, a holiday miracle brought father and son together. They’ve been together ever since, but in order to appreciate where Zach and his father are today, you should know where they’ve been.

In all honesty, their story isn’t unique. Zach’s Dad and Mom divorced. Mom interfered with Dad’s parenting time. Mom told Zach and Zach’s sister that Dad was mean and violent. Zach and his sister behaved badly when they were with Dad. The children were coached to say they wanted nothing to do with him. Dad sent presents and the presents were returned.  A court-ordered five weeks with Dad turned into a few days of drama before Zach and his sister forced their return to Mom’s house. Alienated parents could probably substitute their child’s name for Zach’s and insert his or her name instead of “Zach’s Dad.” As we said in A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation, the examples that define parental alienation are remarkably consistent.

The last time Zach saw his Dad was 1991. Zach was 12 years old. During a court-ordered visit the children first refused to leave the airport, then locked themselves in a room at Dad’s house and wouldn’t come out. During the same visit, Zach’s Mom called the police and accused Zach’s Dad of abusing both children. A short time later, Mom and Dad were in court. The judge ruled that Dad didn’t have to pay child support and the children didn’t have to see him if they didn’t want to.

“My earliest memories of my Dad are him trying to visit me and my sister and my Mom not allowing us to have anything to do with him,” Zach remembers. “I was very confused. My Mom kept telling me he was mean and violent and I didn’t know enough about my Dad to know any better.”

All it took, however, was a couple of visits with his Dad for Zach to form a different opinion.

“I saw Dad was not the horrible person Mom said he was. At this point my life became very difficult. I wanted a relationship with him but knew I couldn’t let Mom know because she would be furious. I also felt a sense of loyalty to Mom. I knew she disliked Dad so I felt like if I liked him it would hurt her,” Zach also recalled. 

Zach’s sister complicated his life. She was three years older than Zach and he quickly realized that if he was too nice to Dad when they were together his sister would report back to Mom. “I felt like I couldn’t be myself around him,” Zach indicated. “I felt like I was walking a tightrope.”

Zach’s Mom promised Zach that he wasn’t going to have a relationship with his Dad and she was true to her word. Nine years passed. Zach and his father were living in different states, but for all the contact they had they could have been living on different planets. Mom, now separated from her second husband, moved away.  Zach was in college and returned to Mississippi for the Christmas holiday. Ironically, he was staying with his Step-Dad in the home they had shared when Zach’s Mom and Step-Dad were together. The date was December 31, 1999. While many people were worrying that the Y2K bug would stop the world in its tracks, an alienated Dad in North Carolina picked up a phone and placed a call that would jump-start a relationship that had been dead in its tracks for nine years.

Do you believe miracles can happen for alienated children and parents?  If you do, come back on December 22 and have your faith validated.  If you don’t, come back for a story that may change your mind.

Misplaced priorities dominate Penn State discussion and our lives

November 11th, 2011

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve heard about all I can stand on how allegations of sexual misconduct are tarnishing Penn State football’s formerly pristine reputation and the legacy of its iconic former coach, Joe Paterno. 

In fact, if we, as a society, spent half as much time talking about the affect abuse has on its victims and their families as we’re spending debating whether or not Paterno’s failure to “do more” wipes away his many accomplishments on and off the field, we could educate millions about the long-term affects of all forms of abuse.

As a society, our priorities are misplaced. We spend billions of dollars every year buying tickets to sporting events or jerseys promoting our favorite teams, but when it comes to financially supporting organizations that are working to help families avoid various forms of abuse, such as the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization (PAAO), we often turn away. We spend countless hours every weekend watching football games, but have no time to donate our skills and expertise to an organization like the PAAO.

So here’s what I propose. Instead of buying a new Penn State football jersey or tickets to watch Kobe Bryant or Michael Vick play their respective sports, donate the money to a non-profit organizaiton that is working to eliminate the type of abuse associated with these athletes and institutions. Purchase books, DVDs and informational materials on all forms of abuse and donate them to your local libraries, churches and community counseling agencies. If you are a writer, photographer, IT expert, Marketing professional, Public Relations pro, videographer or website expert, donate your time and expertise to an agency low on resources. And if you believe parental alienation is emotional abuse, donate to the PAAO — http://www.paawareness.org/

We’ve spent a lot of time this past week discussing all sorts of secondary issues that resulted after a football coach allegedly sexually abused young boys a decade ago. Isn’t it is about time we focused on the primary issue that led to all these other conversations?

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