Editor's Note: This article will be hard to read for some, as it recounts a very specific kind of pain. At MilSpo Co., we are committed to sharing military stories- even (and especially) the hard ones. Giving voice to these concerns, hurts, and deep pains are ways that we can truly change the narrative. The first step to changing the narrative around our military community is to acknowledge the many struggles we encounter and bring awareness to the hardships that we endure. Thank you, Grace Tuesday, for opening your heart and being so courageous in telling your story.
From Whole to Broken
You don’t have to be a military family to feel the roller coaster of emotions that come with a divorce and family break-up. Even if a couple was never married, raising children separately is not something people plan to do, and it puts a twist on parenting that those that raise children alone rarely experience. Some couples do a great job of co-parenting. But there are also parents who refuse to co-parent and attempt to erase the other parent from their child’s life.
When my children were small, friends referred to me as June Cleaver or Clair Huxtable. Some of you don’t know them? Today, I think the term is Pinterest Mom. I put my career on hold for twelve years to raise my children. My oldest son was born when I was twenty-six. Two years later, I had another son, and a daughter three years after that. I was the room-mom at school for all three children, we were in play groups, went on field trips, I kissed and hugged them so many times in a day that my kids didn’t need a "Kissing Hand," because they had kisses all over them! I planned parties that would put Martha Stewart to shame, played taxi to all the practices and sporting events, went to all the doctor appointments, and made home-cooked meals every night. You get the idea.
My husband traveled frequently for work, so often I was alone to hold things down at home. I married my college sweetheart, but from the get-go, our marriage was riddled with emotional and physical abuse. When we divorced after twelve years, I found myself in the juxtaposition of being terrified, while simultaneously thanking God for setting me free.
After the divorce, my children’s father and I shared custody and tried to remain amicable which we failed at more than not. Shortly after the separation, I noticed a shift in the way my sons treated me. They were verbally, and sometimes physically, abusive. They would fight me when it was time to come home from their father’s. When there was a family function for my side of the family, they would say they didn’t want to go. Insults that a child would not think of on his own were slung. They started damaging things around our home. I found myself not knowing what to do because their behavior was so out of character.
Parental Alienation, otherwise known as Parental Alienation Syndrome, is the slow psychological manipulation of a child’s mind in which one parent slowly turns a child against the other parent. My sons, and eventually my daughter, fell victims to this as their father slowly turned them against me. Despite my attempts to co-parent, the father of my children would not. Eventually, my sons refused to come home. The alienation has caused a complete severance of any relationship.
I have been in court to fight for them countless times, and while the courts have never denied me contact with my sons, my sons will not communicate with me. The judge that presided over our case said ours was the worst case of alienation he had ever seen, yet he did nothing to restore the relationship between myself and my children. My daughter remains in my life, although our relationship has drastically changed. Alienated children often find it is easier to give into their alienator, than it is to fight against them.
My sons are now men that I do not know. I have missed almost eight years of their lives. The mourning process has been devastating; much like mourning the death of two children. I live a new-normal that mostly feels backward. People assume that an alienated parent must have done something to make a child hate them. Yet that is not how Parental Alienation works. It is slow, and manipulative, and takes its victims by surprise. Victims often don’t realize what is happening until it is too late.
Being in the military makes co-parenting, whether in a relationship with the other parent or not, extra difficult. The stress of deployment and reunification, marrying at a young age, financial issues, and frequent moves cause high divorce rates among those under thirty in military professions. Fostering a relationship between a child and an absent parent requires diligence but it is critical to the emotional health of your child. Coming together early with a solid plan on how to co-parent is important for you and your child.
The issue is that when someone is faced with a Parental Alienation case, co-parenting is virtually non-existent.
Children have a right to a healthy, loving relationship with both parents, regardless of how their parents feel about each other. Work to foster a positive relationship between your child and their other parent by:
Refraining from talking negatively about the other parent in front of your child.
Keeping the other parent involved in decisions regarding the child and letting them parent from afar.
Encouraging video-calls, and in-person visitation.
Helping your child make a big-deal out of their other parent on birthdays or holidays.
Reminding your child that they are loved by both parents, no matter the distance.
Asking a neutral party act as a liaison if communication between you and the other parent is not amicable.
This is a life I never dreamed possible. I move forward with my grief. There are thousands of alienated parents, and therefore, even more alienated children in this country. If you are an alienated parent, you are not alone. Don’t lose hope. Your heart may be shattered, but you deserve joy. Seek things that make you smile, prioritize self-care, surround yourself with others that care, and pray. Somehow your children will learn of the life you are living, and if you’re doing it right, they will know that you lived with grace and determination. This is your life to live and it is not over!
Grace Tuesday is a military wife, a Health and Nutrition Educator, a speaker, and a published author. She strives to empower others to live a life filled with deep trust and hope in God, despite tragedy and trauma. She promotes self-care through proper nutrition as an important part of healing. Grace works to advocate for legislation that will provide better shared-parenting laws and restore relationships of alienated parents and children. When she’s not working, you can find Grace running, hiking, or spending time with her husband and their Bassett Hound. Connect with Grace at www.gracetuesday.com