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.