Today’s question is a follow up to last week’s discussion on what to tell the kids about what’s happening in the marriage. However, this week’s question is rooted in one mom’s fear of parental alienation when she separates. This is a very real issue in high conflict relationships and something you must be mindful of it if it is happening to you.
First, you don't want to be guilty of alienating your children against their father. Mothers have sometimes lost custody of their children because they’ve regularly bad-mouthed their dad and their dad has been able to document and prove it.
However, that doesn’t mean that you stay passive if he is badmouthing or alienating your kids from you. By your
Today’s Question:By God's direction, confirmed by several individuals in the know and not in the know of my situation and even by my spouse's own counselor, I will be separating from my husband for at least a year.
My head knows God's got this and obedience is so important here, yet my heart is struggling. I know this will be hard enough on my spouse but how do I explain this to the kids.
My kids are older. The 20 year old has a mild autistic spectrum disorder and emotional or stressful situations are difficult for him to process at all and my husband has pretty much convinced him that I am just crazy, though I have spoken some truth to him recently to try to dent this lie.
When I do, he just looks lost and overwhelmed by it all. I don't know that he will understand and to him it will just confirm my husband’s painting of me as irrational and crazy.
My almost 19 year old and future counselor son sees and is aware of the abuse but still holds on that my husband can be taught and he will be devastated by this separation. He will be angry at first but as I explain how God has walked me through it I have some hope he will see God's plan.
My 16 yr old daddy's girl will hate me. The abuse is normalized to her. When he acted out in such a way that every teen in our small teen group went to their parents because of his abusive words and scary physical behavior, she saw none of it. It’s normal
My greatest struggle if I'm being honest is fear is that they won't understand and I will lose my kids (because I keep grabbing my kids off the alter and re-idolizing them).
I know I have to be willing to accept the loss of my family if that is what obedience to God requires, but if there is any way to help them understand and function in this transition, especially without being ugly about their father, I want to help them. I want them to be okay. Can you help me? I'm desperate for direction as this is approaching faster than I can comprehend.
Answer:I hope you read last week’s blog as this follows up to the information I already provided in that post.
Parental alienation is not uncommon in an abusive marriage. The opportunity for your spouse to alienate your children becomes greater when you have over-functioned as the good Christian wife and mom to create a “happy family” picture of your marriage and family to protect your kids from the truth.
Now that you’ve decided to separate, you fear you will be cast in a negative light. Your husband may tell the kids, “You’re mom’s crazy and making things up.” Or “She’s disobeying God and breaking up our family.” Or “Mom’s always been unforgiving and she must be having an affair.” Or “Your mom doesn’t really love you because she doesn’t care that she’s breaking up our family.”
Right now you’re ready to separate and you don’t think your kids will understand why you’ve made this decision since you’ve “put up with it” or “hidden it” this long. Either way, you fear you will be blamed and lose them at least temporarily. And you might be right.
I’m glad that you’re aware that in the past you’ve made your relationship with your kids an idol. There is nothing wrong with desiring a positive, loving relationship with your kids. But when you have to lie, pretend, and deny reality in order to have one, it’s not healthy for any of you.
So let me first speak more generally and then I will give you some tips on how to navigate your particular situation.
One of the jobs a good parent must do is to teach your child to live in and accept reality (the truth). When we create a false reality of what’s happening at home, we are trying to shield our kids from the ugliness of abuse. Those are good motives for sure, but what ends up happening long term is that when you can no longer do that or don't want to anymore, you get blamed by your abuser as “giving up.” Or “making things up (crazy)” or “being ungodly, unforgiving, or unloving” and “breaking up the family” and your kids hear that.
That’s why it’s so important as I spoke in the last blog to speak factually early in your child’s life about the reality he or she experiences as it is happening. For example, let’s say dad has a rage attack. Don’t ignore that and don’t throw dad under the bus. But you can simply speak the truth. “Yes, daddy does have a temper and it’s scary sometimes.” Or “Yes, daddy and I had a bad fight last night, I’m sorry you had to hear some of it.” You don’t have to tell your child the ugly details and
By always speaking the factual truth to your kids without judging, condemning, or showing contempt towards their father, they will trust you to validate their own perceptions of reality without feeling that they have to hate their father to side with you. Click To Tweet
Let me give you a few more examples of what that sounds like. “Yes, you did see daddy stumble up the stairs last night. He drank too much wine.” Those are the facts. You aren’t covering for him. But you’re not saying to your kids, “Daddy is a drunk and doesn’t care about anything but drinking.” That would be an ugly way of disparaging their father. Or “Yes, dad and I are having marriage problems, but I’m praying and doing all I can do to see if we can get help” rather than saying or pretending, “Everything is fine, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”Or saying “Your father is a jerk, don’t become like him.”
Kids are pretty perceptive and when we lie about what they already perceive, they learn not to trust their own perceptions, which hurts them later on. I wonder if that’s what’s going on with your 16-year old daughter. She witnessed her dad have a rage attack that scared her friends so badly that they told their parents. Yet she didn’t see it? She didn’t notice dad was out of control? I wonder if that’s because when he’s been out of control before, you never said, “Dad is out of control right now with his anger. Go to your room until he stops.” You didn’t define his behavior as sinful, wrong, or abusive. Now it feels normal to her.
Here’s what I suggest you do to see if you can have an honest conversation with your children about what’s going to happen. First, I think it would be best to have this conversation with them individually as they all will have different needs and different questions.
Second, it’s important that you are calm and confident in your decision and clear in your communication. You may want to write out what you want to say and practice it with a good friend. Your children are almost adults but they will still feel your anxiety or pick up on any doubts you have about the rightness of your decision to separate right now. You must be confident with God that it is the right thing to do, even if they disagree or don’t understand. You don’t want to give their father any leverage in calling you unstable, crazy, or ungodly because you did not prepare well enough for this conversation.
Third, if it’s true that you’ve covered up for their father’s behavior most of the time, begin by sharing that. You can say something like, “I thought that my role was to make sure our home was as safe and peaceful as possible but in doing that I haven’t always been honest with you about everything that’s been going on between dad and me. But now I have to be more honest with you, and with dad.”And then fill in some of the facts – the reason you have decided to separate for a year.
Then you can say, “I know this may be hard for you to understand but I have a sense of peace from God that this is my next step to take. My hope is that dad will want to get help for his (whatever behaviors are unacceptable to you) so that our family can be reconciled.” (This will help your son who believes his dad can change, but it doesn’t put the responsibility on you to “make” him change or put up with his abusive behaviors until he does).
When your daughter expresses negative feelings like “I hate you”, stay calm and loving. Reframe her words to see if that might be more of what she’s feeling. For example, you can say “I don’t think you hate me, and I certainly don’t hate you. But you hate what’s happening right now as I do. I hate that dad scared your friends at your party, so much so that every single one of them told their parents what happened and they spoke with me. I hate that Dad hasn’t been willing to get any help for his anger or change the way he treats me. I don’t think God wants a husband to treat his wife that way or for a dad to act that way in our home. I’m separating from him to give myself a break from his rages and to give your dad a chance to see if he wants to work on that and change so that our marriage and family can get better.” (It might not only be his temper but that’s all you put in your question – so add what’s appropriate).
If any of your children say, “It’s your fault he acts that way Mom.” You need to stop…and press pause. Take a deep breath and respond calmly. Here’s an example of what you can say. “I agree with you that I need to work on me just like Dad needs to work on himself. But it’s not true that he acts that way because of me. Dad acts that way at home because he chooses to, not because I make him. I can’t make Dad act that way any more than you can make me act that way. Each of us is responsible for our own actions, even when another person makes us angry or hurts our feelings or disappoints us. Dad upsets me a lot of times too but I don’t scream or curse or threaten him. Not because I don’t feel angry, but that’s not how I want to handle my anger. I have no power to control Dad’s words, his body, or his angry feelings. That’s his job. But what I have decided is that I can’t live like this anymore and so I’m going to separate. I will do my work to be a godly woman even while we are separated and I hope Dad sees that he has some work to do on his own ___________rages. But I can’t do Dad’s work for him.”
Continue to reassure your children of your love for them, your desire for healing and reconciliation as well as your ability to know your mind and discern God’s will to handle the situation with truth and grace. That will fly in the face of your husband’s accusations that you are crazy as well as help to calm the anxiety that your children will have over the upcoming changes that are going to happen.
Friends, what have you found helpful when you feared that your husband’s alienation tactics might work and that you could lose your relationship with your kids?
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I really like this response. It is just as important to properly prepare for significant conversations with the kids. These are likely to be landmark moments for them. I like the suggestion to rehearse a prepared ‘speech’ with a friend in advance of talking to the teen (s).
I think kids are on their own journey of discovering they are in an EDR and figuring out what to do about it. I look at how long it took me to realize and go through denial, grief, learning all I could… then setting boundaries, and my story is not finished with a happy ending yet. It took me decades of trying harder, believing the best, believing he could change if only I could do better. Older teens and young adults are still trying to figure out who they are much less who their dad is and the complexities of their parents marriage. The ones who have felt his ire turn on them will be more likely to be seeking understanding, but the approval of a father is a very strong yearning no matter how crappy he is.
I agree with what you said and would add that an adult speaking truth about their situation can help to reduce the confusion in a teen, because it will validate their feelings and cut through the fog ( fear obligation guilt) that they are experiencing by living with such manipulation.
Or “Mom’s always been unforgiving and she must be having an affair.” Or “Your mom doesn’t really love you because she doesn’t care that she’s breaking up our family.”
My husband’s words verbatim! 😭
I am the writer of the question answered in the Jan. 2 blog. The answer was so good and convicting. I wonder if anyone else realized they had work to do also? When I applied the questions she listed to decide if best to share more info or stay silent to some new information I learned – I realized that the kids do not need to know. When I applied the self reflective questions to the new information – I knew I had more forgiveness work to do in light of the new info. As he continues to lie, I am tempted to “tell” for the wrong reasons. He tried many alienation tactics, but 4 out the 5 kids figured it out over time. During that time of waiting I refuted many lies about my character – certainly not doing it well at times. It is so hard to tolerate that – but I kept coming back to the fact that Jesus was silent when He was accused. I love Leslie’s examples as to how to respond about situations with out contempt. HARD TO DO.
I am really sorry for the circumstances you are experiencing.
I’m glad you posted your question because I think so many of us here can relate to having to deal with others who want to put us in a negative light or face crazy accusations about our character especially when boundaries, requirements, and also separation is involved. We do get the kick back and tactics for often trying to do the hard ‘right’ thing from those who would prefer we tolerate more chaos or accept mistreatment.
I am wondering about your 1yr long separation and if it’s a structured separation with counseling and interventions or if you and your husband are flying ‘solo’?
I would also consider speaking about the separation as a minimum of a year and maybe longer?? as you work on yourself and your husband works on his behavior and then the marriage rebuilding time.
Reconciliation can be dependent on what is accomplished in separation and even then you don’t know if reconciliation is possible.
The length might really be in the ball-court of your husband’s willingness to face himself and really how hard he wants to work on his stuff.
This puts the burden back off of you or the outcome as you define the separation.
Aly, I am actually the writer of the question answered on Jan 2. Sorry for the confusion.
Thank you for correcting me! I’m sorry.
for addressing this as you.
Thank-you for the comments. I have no idea how long the separation will be. I haven’t said anything to him about the separation except to explain in a letter that this was an act of obedience to God. I made sure that when I left it was not directly related to an event and there was no anger.
Telling the truth, it hasn’t been 2 wks and I am struggling because of how much there is to accomplish which is why I have been silent so far on this question. I don’t have enough time in the day to accomplish it all! Very overwhelmed all around. Just need everyone to pray.
I’m sorry for your overwhelmed place and you most certainly don’t need to respond to this post.
Sometimes slowing things down and navigating one thing at a time can help.
I’m wondering if you would describe yourself as ‘over functioning’ ?
I think when we OVER function in many contexts we can feel overwhelmed because it’s not in proportion with what is our part or our limits.
It seems to mean from what I recall, you carry a lot of the load of responsibilities for your family home etc.?
Is your h also contributing at a similar level of your involvement?
It seems like you are taking steps to get healthier and not be over responsible for everyone. Which is a good step.
I’m wondering about keeping it simple with your kids as your are the responsible parent advocating for their well-being. And leaving it at that.
I realized you left the home (without your minors) and I do hope you are getting legal help with these steps.
Do you feel like you wear both roles mother & father?
Did you feel like when dealing with your spouse you are ‘parenting him also because he isn’t behaving like a safe grown responsible partner?
Appreciate the answer. I am so sorry that I haven’t had time nor have much time to reply. I did leave Dec. 31st out of necessity (not violence). Have had amazing discussion with my boys about everything in their lives and about the abuse. It has been interesting with my oldest who has mild autism spectrum and does not overly get emotions nor feel or understand the cutting undertones nor looks, etc. He is in a long term relationship right now and he was telling me how his girlfriend will point out when he is treating her or looking at her like she is stupid. He feels awful about it and is asking her to help him with recognizing this. I explained to him that this is the difference between a character trait that needs work and abuse. In abuse you don’t care that you are hurting someone, or if you do, your needs to protect yourself override that care and you refuse to change or work on it legitimately. It makes sense to him. Funny thing is he is the one who said he is shocked that my husband hasn’t gone looking for me yet. He has no clue stalking is abuse.
My middle is emotionally having a tough time with the separation even though he is the most aware of the abuse and is often on the receiving end of it. He is quite the mix of his mom and dad. He wants to be able to fix it all and is a future counselor, but he can sometimes manipulate and coerce to achieve the desired outcome. He is aware of this in him and is working on it. It is harder for him to understand he can not ever “fix” this, only God can. While I know he would rather not live with him dad because of the abuse, he is afraid to make a decision to move in with me when I get my own place because he doesn’t want to hurt his dad any more than he has nor be treated like he is taking sides (which is funny because he knows I won’t see it that way no matter where he goes, but his dad will, so he feels compelled to stay with him as to not hurt him, even though my husband is hurtful to that son).
As for both boys, we have been able to speak freely, minus the things I won’t even mention here. Though my middle made a terrifying point. If this all ever goes to court, the stuff I don’t want to disclose to them will come out openly in public. He did not say this to scare me but to tell me that they may still find out everything in the end so it’s ok to tell him, but it terrified me, the very thought is nauseating and the last thing I need to do is lose more weight. It is amazing how free we all are to actually talk when outside the oppressive walls of what was my home. My oldest told me something terrifying: he and his girlfriend (both 20y) are talking marriage and neither of them has a well laid out plan for the future yet though my son is finally deciding to go to trade school which thrills me as traditional school causes him to be suicidal. I do believe my leaving and standing up to my husbands pressure gave him a small taste of freedom to be his own person and make his own decision for his life. While the prospect of them marrying when they both come from such broken homes and the potential that my son will be abused by her from what I have seen, I can still support them with love and education and even providing for them to get premarital relationship counseling. I will do everything I can to break the cycle. My son was shocked at how I responded as he thought I would be upset. It was nice to be able to tell him honestly that this is the real me, where I can respond freely without the influence and judgment from his dad. It’s nice to be who God made me to be, though this freedom is definitely sprinkled with sadness over the loss.
Notice I haven’t mentioned my daughter. It took her 4 days to respond to me. When she did, she tried to act normal but when I asked if she had questions of if her dad read the letter to her she became upset and the abuse by proxy began. “The REAL God says what God has put together….”, binding and casting out the demons speaking through me, and telling me she misses her “real” mom and she knows in the end she will get her “real” mom back. All other interaction has been superficial overall but at least time together. She is avoiding actually talking to me and at this point I guess that is ok. I realize now that when I started pulling away from my husband 2 years ago emotionally and setting boundaries he started to shift his narcissistic supply to my daughter and now she is full blown sucked in. I feel awful about this and am “shoulding” on my self and trying not to. I don’t think things will be okay with us until she’s in her 30s if ever, but I know she will eventually be ok, even if she is not ok with me. As long as she is ok with God, I will be ok with this, even though it hurts. Minute by minute I keep picking up and laying down the idol. Little reminders (or big ones to me) like not being at a place where I can help guide the teen bible study anymore really stinks and can sometime set an already difficult day to super sad.
Overall the freedom is nice but the stress of trying to take back all the junk and finances that he took over from the business, straightening out the shady finances with the help of an accountant, trying to get caught back up on the months of work that I fell behind on because of all the time on the blog, podcasts, books, counseling, etc, the exceeding quality time spent with each individual kid each week, the now nearly 3 times longer commute to work, etc. Is taking it’s toll and I’m exhausted.
I have a great DV lawyer lined up to help but figuring out the finances to pay and getting all the other information together to get it figured out is super hard. Everyone is telling me to not give him so much money, he HAS to get a job. I agree with the job part, but my kids are there so it is hard to back off the money. (I have to quit enabling, I know, I just want to protect my kids overall). Please everyone pray as I figure this out. Also pray for my safety, in the one interaction with my husband (in the presence of my pastor) to talk about what was due with business taxes, he made sure to mention he has a peace about this which is why he hasn’t tried to find me. I’m not sure if he intended it as the veiled threat it felt like, “as soon as I don’t have peace I’m going to find you”, I’m not sure, but with what I have found out from his counselor, he is probably well aware of what he said and what it would mean to me! My poor pastor doesn’t get it, though he is supportive of the separation and does agree there is abuse.
This has already taken more time to post than I actually have. I will fill in the rest later. Thank-you all for your love, words of encouragement and wisdom, and above all, your prayers. I hope to share more of the story later.
Leslie, you reach more women with what you do than you ever know. I don’t know if anyone remembers, but my job puts me in a particularly interesting position that allows me to recognize the destructive relationships people are in and, though I am still working though my own situation and learning how to work my own core, your books and blog have been a valuable tool for many of these women and I am ever grateful and pray God blesses you, your family and your ministry seven fold for the boldness you have to bring God’s active kingdom to this earth. Thank-you.
Calculating how much money should go towards the kids care would be a relatively easy thing to figure out for your attorney, I would guess.
Don’t pay a penny more.
Wouldn’t this instantly decrease your ‘overwhelm’?
Thank you for the update! Your middle sounds like an empath ( like his mom:). Have you prayed about having him read ‘why does he do that?’ or something on Narcs? I’m concerned that he wants to ‘sacrifice himself’ so that his father doesn’t get ‘hurt’. Sounds familiar to many of us here!
Remind him that his biggest ( and hardest) job in this lifetime will be to guard his heart. Prov4:23
Sacrificing himself is the LAST thing that Jesus would have him do. That was Jesus’ job….so that we don’t have to.
yes, I am going to buy a copy for both my boys. My middle has very much been the subject of emotional abuse and all have been neglected because my husband does not actually parent. He is usually very apathetic until he suddenly engages and is in bully mode.
I worry that both boys want to rescue their girlfriends. When I asked why our boys were picking such broken girls, my husband replied, because women are supposed to be the weaker vessel! Which is NOT what the scripture says. It says that men are to treat us AS the weaker vessel which means like a delicate vase, with love, cherishing and care. Violence of any kind flies in the face of this but is done to keep us “weaker” in the way my husband intends the scripture.
Believe it or not, my middle could go either way. He can coerce and manipulate to control the other person for what he sees as their good because he wants to fix their brokenness so desperately. We have talked about this and he is aware but Lundy’s book will be essential to help him form himself better from here forward. My book has way too many personal things written in it to let them borrow it. Thank you again ruth for the gift. My husband actually has his own copy because his counselor asked him to read it in a final effort to wake him up. Not only did he lie to me, telling me it wasn’t in stock at any barnes and nobles when its on the shelf of all but 1 in a 100mile radius of our major city area, he then concluded to me that it must not be a very good book then and not a good source, he then proceeded to buy it used but used the business card intending to write it off as a business expense (not knowing I could now access that information- of course I didn’t confront him), then he read the book openly in front of the kids (you can interpret for yourself what you might think that means and how it effected the environment of the house), he then told the counselor and my oldest son that there was no empiric evidence, no science behind the book so he took no stock in it. Please! If its by a “Christian” author with no training whatsoever AND no science, he would latch right on as long as it was what he wanted.
You know whats funny. I just realized I was both my husbands positive and negative narc supply. I didn’t realize that happened. One minute he would lie and tear me down to others including my parents and kids, the next he would talk about how exceptionally smart I was to everyone and how much I care for the kids, etc, then tell me I’m never home enough yet not making enough. He would brag about me if it got him the attention he wanted, then tear me down for the “poor you”s as he felt the need. I feel my daughter has been a secondary positive and my middle a secondary negative supply and he is now turning them into his primary.
At times I wish I could hit a reset button and do it over with the knowledge I have, but then we would never have married and I wouldn’t have the most amazing three kids in the world! (I’m sure every parent feels that way, but my kids are actually really awesome, which is shocking given the home they grew up in- God is good)
Something that I think needs to be included in a discussion is an apology from the mentally well parent apologizing for selecting an unsatisfactory mate.
Apologize that you made a poor choice. Explain to those of appropriate age how you got tricked into trusting their disturbed parent. Explain how they were once someone you selected to date and how you foolishly let that relationship advance to trust and intimacy. Take the blame for your poor judgement and suggest what you could of done instead to protect yourself and your children. Outline the actions you have and will be taking to protect yourself and them from future damage.