Sunday, January 18, 2015

When it's not the enemy doing the PASing

I've talked before about how PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome) has done its number on our family in the form of Becca's mother, with Becca being the collateral damage. But the longer I've been a Step/Mom, the more I've realized that my experience with and knowledge of PAS makes me particularly aware of when I see it happening in other families. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it), God didn't grant me the grace to overlook PAS when it seeps into my own circle of friends and family. Having a friend or family member who actively PAS'es their child or children isn't like having different religious or political views from someone. I can overlook those differences, but actively and eagerly destroying your child's relationship with their other parent is not something I can overlook or forgive.

In my almost eight years of being a Step/Mom, I've come to surround myself with other women who are also stepmoms. All of my friends and I have started out as stepmoms without biological children of our own (childless stepmoms), but over the years, many women have come to have bio-children. Unfortunately through the years, some of these moms have also separated or divorced their partners. It's always sad to see a marriage fall apart, but one would think the experience of being a stepmom would make one more sympathetic and eager to encourage a relationship between their ex-partner and their child. Not so in some cases, unfortunately.

Many of us who have been fighting the Step/Mom fight have seen these types of mothers before. They're often our stepkids' mothers. These mothers are relentless in their battle to persecute and punish their ex-partner. They will stop at nothing to ensure everyone they come into contact with thinks their ex is a bad, bad man. Abuse claims are often made. Their weapon of choice is endless petitions to the family court overseeing their case. They also often claim their family court judge is biased against them, that they favor the father. Any reasonable person who has spent even a brief moment in family court knows this is a laughable notion at best. I've never heard of one custodial father who didn't face significant hurdles inside the courtroom in order to gain custody of his child/ren, even in cases where the mother was certifiable. But this type of mother, the one who seeks full custody of her child at all costs, will scream at the top of her lungs that her judge is unreasonable, biased, sexist, or all of the above.

Early on in my journey as a Step/Mom, I became friends with one such mother. We became friends long before her child was born; in fact, it was even before she married her now ex-husband. She was passionate about changing society's views on stepmotherhood and we also shared similar interests and political views. But, as these things sometimes go, she separated from her husband not long after her child was born. And suddenly, this man who had been proclaimed as an Amazing Father by her during their courtship and marriage was now Public Enemy #1.

I won't go into the details, mainly because I've tried to block most of them out. I don't doubt that her now ex is not the greatest guy on Earth, and he doesn't even sound like a particularly spectacular father. But, no one put a gun to her head and forced her to have a baby with him. Before a child is born, the woman has - for better or worse - all of the control. She willingly and eagerly chose to have a baby with him, yet now, because she was ready to move on and wanted her latest partner to be The Only Dad in Existence, she ramped up the PAS to ensure she would destroy any ounce of a chance her now ex had to exercise his right to be a father to their child.

She told me sob story after sob story as to why her ex was evil, why he was a terrible father who was causing permanent psychological harm to their child, why he was a horrible person, why she was most definitely not PAS'ing their child, and why she wished he would just take a dirt nap already and get out of their lives. She dragged him back to court endlessly, never satisfied with each court order that granted even less visitation and even more child support. She couldn't - or wouldn't - understand her role in all of this. That her dramatic sobbing at each exchange only made it even more traumatic for their child, that encouraging their child to call her latest partner Dad-like names was not appropriate, that her permissive parenting had a lot more to do with her child's acting out than anything that was happening at her ex's house. No, because that did not fit her narrative.

I finally had to sever my friendship with her because I could no longer support her. As much as I tried to separate my feelings about her PAS from my feelings about her as a friend, the fact remained that I simply could not overlook the extreme injustice she was doling out to her child. It would have been akin to me being friends with Becca's mom, despite all the hell she's put Becca and Ashley through, and that I would never be able to do. So, our friendship ended, but unfortunately from what I understand, her PAS'ing has not. And so another victim of PAS for the books.

Dear readers, if you truly love your child, that love will always outweigh your hate for your ex. If only some mothers would realize that and act accordingly.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The problem with being the present parent

So sorry for my extended absence, dear readers. I promise it wasn't intentional - it's just that 2014 was quite the busy year at Tara. But have no fear, as one of my New Year's resolutions is to blog more, especially after the encouragement I received from one of the editors I work with through my actual job to write more. So, here it is!

So...the problem with being the present parent, you ask? What's that supposed to mean? Well, it occurred to me as I yet again, for the umpteenth time earlier this week as I had to set boundaries on the electronics Jade and Gabby received for Christmas, that there are some perks to being the absent parent. Ashley and I have had a rather interesting few months as the girls thought they were being sneaky online, only to realize that Mom and Dad know a lot more about the Internet than they do. As a result, there have been groundings, extra chores and a lot of time spent being the rule enforcer.

Here's a dirty secret of parenting no one bothers to tell you before you get into it - no one actually likes being the rule enforcer. Well, maybe some authoritarian parents do, but not most of us. It's hard work to put your foot down, say no, and stick to it. It's even harder when you work all day, come home to cook dinner, do dishes, do the laundry, AND be the rule enforcer. It would be a lot easier for all of us if Jade and Gabby just followed the rules all the time. But of course, preteens - especially preteens who love to be oppositional - are practically required to break rules. Which is all the more reason why it's so important to enforce rules and boundaries.

But, I'm not a perfect parent. Especially after a busy few months at work, combined with some health issues I continue to face, it's quite exasperating to be the present parent most days. So, do I lose my patience at times? Yes. Are there moments that I look back and go, "Alright, Southern Step/Mom, you could have totally handled that better." Of course there are. All this means there are times where the kids don't see me at my best. Just as with spouses, when you live day in and day out with someone, you see all sides of them - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

But when you're the absent parent, like Jade and Gabby's bio-mom Maggie, you get to be whatever your bio-kids choose to see you as. Some kids see their absent parent for who they are, but as I saw plenty of times when I worked in child welfare, it's easy for many kids to sanctify their absent parent. The kid comes up with any and every excuse in the book as to why the absent parent is really the "good" parent, because it's easy to ignore the parent's faults when they aren't in your face every day. It's easy to think that life would be so much better with the absent parent because the absent parent never has to enforce rules, set boundaries, or....well, be a parent.

This is why I firmly believe it's so much easier to give birth to a child than it is to be a mother. Any woman, theoretically barring any physical issues, can give birth, but to actually stick it out through the next 18 years and raise that child? Well, childbirth sounds a lot easier than people would have you think compared to 18 years of active child-rearing. Maybe it's not as physically painful, but it surely can't be any more emotionally trying.

So do I expect the girls to appreciate all Ashley and I do for them and sacrifice for them now? No, but I do hope that when they are adults, they realize that despite our faults, being the present parents takes guts, determination and an inner strength that no one really explains before you become a parent, and that they cut us a little slack for being imperfect.