Climate the Movie: Parental Alienation on a Grand Scale
by Deborah Whitaker
"When I was about three years old, my parents made the heart wrenching decision to get a divorce. I don't remember much about this time, of course, but … during this tumultuous event, they made the best agreement that they ever could have; they agreed, as a team, to never, EVER speak poorly of the other person in front of me."
This is the opening paragraph of my daughter Rachel's Facebook post in support of Climate, the independent feature film my colleagues and I are producing surrounding the topic of parental alienation. When I asked Rachel to share our crowd funding link, this is what she chose to write. She continues:
"Throughout my childhood, never did I hear a single complaint, a single criticism of either parent uttered. Because of this incredible decision, I was able to have close, loving, fulfilling relationships with both of my parents, untainted by the pain that they were feeling during that time. To this day, I am *so*, SO grateful for this decision."
I'm the one who's grateful, I thought, reading her words through joyful tears, to have a daughter like Rachel. She is my hero, and there isn't a soul who knows her who wouldn't agree that Rachel is someone special. Rachel is grounded yet playful, empathetic yet clear-eyed, brilliant yet humble, and it shows in her vibrant life as a scientist living and working in Silicon Valley with her bright and loving husband, also a scientist.
Without a doubt, the constant love and support of both her parents throughout her entire childhood, as well as our extended families and friends, helped Rachel become who she is today. But, as Rachel continued…
"Unfortunately, not every child of divorce is as lucky as I was. Too often, parents who are going through heartache are unable to keep snide remarks and pain-driven commentary away from the ears of their children. Children are incredibly impressionable, as we all know, and these words eventually begin to seep in to their subconscious. This often leads to the children adopting the poor impressions of their parents, and can lead to good parents who otherwise would have had wonderful, loving relationships with their children being alienated from them, as the kids begin to believe the horrible things they hear."
And that is just what happened to two very dear friends of mine. One friend delivered two of his children in the back of a Subaru but hasn't seen them in 12 years. Another friend sends gifts and cards to her children (and now grandchildren) on their birthdays every year just to remind them that their mother still loves them, even though the only place they've allowed her to have a relationship with them in over a decade is in her dreams.
My friends are loving, giving, and dedicated people who went above and beyond to try and reach their children through severe cases of parental alienation. They both tried everything they could, but parental alienation seeps in so insidiously that typically by the time it's identified, it's often too late.
When it comes to divorce, a typical reaction is to either take sides or quick step away from "he said/she said." "If they lost their children, they must have done something wrong" is a common conclusion, and one that is not only blatantly untrue, but a shallow and condescending understanding. Parental alienation is not just about losing your temper in front of your child, or saying something ill of the other parent. Parental Alienation is child abuse. Children who suffer the loss of their loving parent end up more likely to become victims to drugs, alcohol, suicide, teen pregnancies, etc., and then continue the cycle of abuse as adults.
Parental alienation is a pathological process that continues unchecked thanks to a broken court system and a superficial yet dangerous misunderstanding on the part of many child advocates and mental health professionals. Psychologist Craig Childress, Ph.D. devised a thorough scientific model that he terms "Attachment-based Parental Alienation Dynamic," and he is now training mental health professionals in this model. He explains "The mental health response is inept and too often colludes with the pathology, and the response of the legal system is glacial at best, prohibitively expensive, and entirely inadequate."
However, Dr. Childress strongly asserts that until we change this for all families, we cannot change it for any one family. This is Climate's theme.
In our story, geologist and soccer Mom Jocelyn Pelletier loses her 14 year old daughter in a typical case of parental alienation, yet her fictitious story, any more than the true stories of my friends upon which her story is based, cannot be isolated from the culture around her. Jocelyn is smart, caring and loving; a good parent. Yet parental alienation still happens to her, thanks not only to a failing system, but to a cultural climate of alienation.
As Climate's log line states, we are…"Out of Tune. Out of Balance. Out of Time." When it comes to Earth's climate, how many of us would disagree with that statement? Most likely, very few, whatever our views on climate change. And how many would disagree when it comes to our culture? Again, very few. We joke about an upcoming zombie apocalypse when really the zombies are already here and they are us, operating as if we are fully alive.
While printing up t-shirts for Climate with "Override the Static" on the back, the printer asked one of our team members "What does that mean?" It's a fair question. Just what is the static?
We're cynical and think that's hip, we're un-empathetic and boast like it’s a talent we're proud of, and we're complacent in the face of horror, desensitized unless it involves us. We feel overwhelmed and powerless to something that seems bigger than us, and so we just accept it as status quo.
We are frantic, frenzied and fragmented. Distracted, disconnected, and in denial. These attitudes have become like the air we breathe, an invisible, cultural static that consumes us. Often, we can't see the static any more than the fish sees the polluted water it swims in. That is, unless you're lucky to get out of the static long enough to notice its impact, and find a way to change it.
And this is what Climate the Movie will offer, a means to step away from the static and inside Jocelyn's story, to travel to Hawaii with her and see the Earth and our connection to our Mother with new eyes.
Climate's message is an important one. It's a story that needs to be told, and it’s one that affects more than those going through divorce or parental alienation, since alienation is what's happening with our greater parent; Mother Earth, on a grander scale.
In a typical case of Parental Alienation, a narcissistic parent (the alienating parent) breaks the natural bond between the child and the other parent (targeted parent) until the child eventually completely rejects the targeted parent and exhibits narcissistic tendencies themselves.
Just like in a typical parental alienation scenario, when some faceless alienating parent severs our natural bond between us and Mother Earth, we then end up becoming narcissists ourselves too. It's our ability to connect; our own sense of relatedness that makes us feel alive. To tear at our natural bond to relate to each other, to ourselves, to all living things, and to the Earth is an abusive cycle where narcissism breeds narcissism; a real zombie apocalypse.
In the grander scheme, who's the alienating parent? While that's a question for each of us to answer in our own hearts, the more pressing question is how do we stop the cycle of abuse and override the static?
Climate tells the story of one woman who finds a way.
A Father's Creed by Tj Chisholm
The day that cell door slammed behind me was the lowest point of my entire life. It forced me to reflect on the past 24 years to what led up to my being here. My divorce began as I turned 48. ‘Married’ for 24 years, ironically I came to feel I was living in a cage. Nothing was what or how it should be. My wife wasn’t the least bit interested in who I was anymore, nor I her. The day I found the courage to put an end to this boredom was a first giant step in facing my fears, and thankfully my life has never been the same since.
My parents provided me with a great childhood where I felt loved, safe and secure by seeing how well they always seemed to get along. Born in the 50’s, I felt privileged to experience the 60’s and 70’s before I was “ready” to strike out on my own and repeat my father’s life. In my eyes, he did it right. I never saw my parents fight. They never seemed unhappy, and they never divorced. Those memories will forever be etched in my heart and that served as the basis of what I wanted for myself in this life.
Today I am 59. Born third of six, my birthday is shared with the events of 9/11, but I’ve always said that I was here first! My divorce felt like that day many times over, lasting 7 years – all of which were pure hell. I hit rock bottom the day the judge threw me in jail and angrily threatened me over a trivial money matter. Spending those 4 days in that 6 x 10 concrete block cell being allowed only 1 hour a day to leave it besides eating on those cold hard metal tables and chairs gave me plenty of time to think about things; how I got here, why, the insanity of the court system and its involvement in divorce… It was the beginning of my journey of self discovery. That’s what divorce really is. It may not seem so when you first start out. I certainly didn’t think so. For me, that is ultimately what it proved to be. My mom was my saving grace early on and throughout, because she never stopped being mom.
The most memorable events were the birth of my 2nd and 3rd kids. We were invited onto the new ‘Joan Rivers Show’, because we delivered them ourselves in the car on the side of a road. Not once, but twice! Yes twice; two and a half years apart. It was 1989 when I found myself telling my story on national television. I even made Joan Rivers laugh! We were on her 3rd episode in her new endeavor. We got the call to appear after we made the Sunday paper. A front page picture that took up the top half of the page and the story below went out over the AP. We certainly got our 15 minutes of fame.
It was a cold, nail-biting January day when her water broke and she began feeling labor pains. We had 50 miles to go to get her to the hospital, plus a stop along the way to drop off our first-born at the baby-sitters. We had moved into our first house during her pregnancy that was in NH, and the hospital and doctor were now 50 miles away in Mass. She didn’t want to give up this doctor after our experience with our first child’s birth, having been pulled out of her with forceps after a very long, painful labor. For some reason she insisted on taking a shower before we left for the hospital. I was not comfortable with this idea and protested, but to no avail. By the time she was ready to go, she had a very hard time getting in the car as her labor pains were quickly getting closer and closer. After dropping our son off at the baby sitter, we still had just under half the distance to get to the hospital. Shortly after we left the baby sitter’s I had to pull over on a super highway so she could move to the back of the station wagon and lay down. She was clearly in pain and could not get comfortable! I was continually looking for a cop and becoming frantic as I did not want to have to take on bringing this child into the world myself!
By the time we were a few miles from the exit but still 6 miles from the hospital, she told me I ‘better pull this car over now cause this baby’s coming!’ I refused as I was scared shitless and was hoping we could make it to the hospital. Mind you this was rush hour and I found myself going down the break down lane heading for the exit as fast as I dare. We made it off the highway and to the end of the exit ramp when she was screaming at me to stop and help. I knew by the tone of her voice this was it! I pulled the car into a business’s parking lot and jumped out running to the back and swung open the tail gate. To my horror I saw the baby’s head crowning as I stopped thinking and just reacted. The next thing I knew I was holding our new son in my cold hands, and watched as he took his first breath. Knowing he was ok, I handed him to her and she wrapped him in a blanket while I jumped back in the car and sped off to the hospital (4 miles away). I had to pull directly into an intersection to get the traffic cop lady’s attention to make room for us to get through the rush hour mess. She approached the car with a look on her face like she was going to tear me a new ass-hole, but when I rolled down the window and pointed to the back of the car telling her what I had there, she nearly fell backward as she suddenly became wide-eyed and immediately stopped traffic so we could continue. I thanked her as I sped off still in a panic.
When I pulled up to the emergency entrance and ran into the building up to the front desk where a few seasoned nurses were standing having coffee I was jumping up and down like a lunatic, babbling about my wife in the car and the baby, to which one nurse calmly put down her coffee and summoned a stretcher. They were quite amused at the whole thing. I followed them out to the car and as they were taking my wife and child out of the back, I fell against the building and began sobbing uncontrollably. At last it was over! They had to put our child in an incubator to warm him from his introduction into the New England winter, but he was fine.
Two and a half years later, pregnant again and living only 10 miles from the hospital, we figured this time would be a breeze. Cut to the morning of a sunny, warm Saturday in July. She woke me up with the same message she had given me years earlier. ‘My water just broke!’ My mom was with us to help with the kids, and again the wife decided she needed a shower! Both my mother and I protested, and mom pushed her to get going as she felt the baby was due sooner than later. Well, after her shower we tried to get her in the car, but she was having pains so regularly that she could not sit in the seat, only kneel in it facing the headrest to hang onto. Off we went.
We made it a mere two miles up the road when she said ‘pull this car over, this baby’s coming!’ I said, ‘Oh no honey, NOT AGAIN!!’ I pulled off the town road onto someone’s front lawn and ran around to her side of the car. Within seconds the baby just slid out and I caught her, handed her to her mother as I watched her take her first breath and become animated. This time I knew she was fine and we both laughed at the irony in this, so I took my time driving us safely to the hospital emergency entrance where I pulled up to a cop who was walking into the building carrying his coffee. I got real close with the car and he turned startled and looked angry as I rolled down the window and pointed to the baby in my wife’s lap next to me. He immediately knew what happened and stated he’d get help for us as he hurried into the emergency room and had them bring out a stretcher. I remember telling him ‘It’s ok! We’ve done this before!’ I was actually calm this time!
Our neighbor saw me return home that morning so as I told her what happened. She thought that was hilarious and was laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes. Little did I know she later called the newspaper and shared our story. That day a reporter and photographer paid us a visit in the hospital to take our picture, which ended up on the top half of the Sundaypaper the next day along with our story. The rest is history, and a memory I will cherish the rest of my life. Because of the courts ineptness, a memory is all it will ever be for me. I turned to poetry during the worst years of my divorce as a way to channel my anger, resentment and all negative (and some positive) emotions brought to bear on me during those formidable years. I offer the following as an early ‘premonition’ of what overtook me, and of what the courts robbed me of;
A Fathers Creed
From first day granted you my miracle, and first to hold your fragile life
Helpless eyes are fixed on me. Yes, I’m your dad, commissioned to take care of thee
I pledge to keep you in my heart to help you through this life right from the start
God’s shed his grace that’s you on me. Without a doubt I accept this great responsibility
We’ll learn the ropes together and bond into best friends
If life’s cruel twists should make us stray, know this my child; I pledge to you I’ll find a way
To rise above the ones whose hate would cause us to live through that fate
And we’ll emerge much stronger and above the hate that tried to sway our love
I, like you have blindly trusted life’s unknown, confident of nothing harmful while I’ve grown
But life can change that in a blink. It must have been our time, I think
The best I’ve got to offer you is seek the truth to see you through
If you can trust your soul, I promise you’ll emerge from this thing whole
And don’t forget the ones you’ve had: a brother, sister, mom and dad
Though we’re not what once we were to thee, we separately will always be your family
And remember that I love you
Just As Well
What next for these two souls that cannot be
And what to do with all their tainted history
Each soul no longer shares the others dreams
Then on separate paths they part so violently
One soul clinging tight their spoils thinking they did well
Steering others toward their destiny they cannot tell
Blind of their own ignorance they cannot see
The other seeing clear there will no winner ever be
When all is said and done the battlefield so messed
The ones that lost the most - the kids - oblivious at best
Was it worth the pain and suffering for all that fell
One left to re-invent their life – the other warm inside their hell
The damage had been done. All I had now was the past to reflect upon. I ended up losing many material possessions, lots of money; most of which wasn’t mine; which I had to pay back. But worst of all, I lost my kids.
I love my kids!! I adored being their father! I enjoyed watching them grow up, helping them mature and make good decisions, and just loving them. It’s now been over 12 years since I’ve heard from any of them. I had to give up trying to get them to talk to me after many failed attempts to reach them over several years early on ( possibly the ex’s doing). I had to stop to save my own sanity. It was the most painful part of the process that did the most damage. Others didn’t realize the damage also done to those kids. They’ve lost a father. They can’t get back those years any more than I can. And to me, the courts are the criminal in that. They destroyed an American Family. They destroyed the American Way Of Life. The current system is a cancer. We need to CHANGE it! We need to get the courts out of the family dynamic. Divorce is NOT a crime. There is no place for a judge to be involved in a process they were never involved in at the beginning! They have no training or expertise in these matters. Yet, they rule un-checked and un-accountable for the most part in matters that don’t concern them!
Help us get them out of the loop. Help us bring back the power of family and the discipline parents have every right to instill in their kids.