Holding on to Hope

Amanda and Matt's story of holding on to hope after the trauma of parent alienation

December 22, 2020 Lifeline
Holding on to Hope
Amanda and Matt's story of holding on to hope after the trauma of parent alienation
Show Notes Transcript

Parental alienation is said to affect at least 10 per cent of children affected by divorce and it happens when one parent seeks to undermine their children’s relationship with the other. Victimised mums, dads and children can suffer terribly as a result. Here Matt and Amanda share their stories and explain how they’ve supported each other, rebuilt their lives… and continued to hold onto hope.

Speaker 1:

This podcast series, we'll share personal moments of connection and deeply felt experiences. If anything you hear has a triggering effect, please reach out to someone who can help keep you safe. Or remember, you can find lifeline at any time. On 13, 11, 14 .

Speaker 2:

I say some of the worst cases , um, you know, whether it's , um , international abduction and the suicides, and, you know, it's a heavy topic to talk about. And unfortunately, a lot of people don't understand it . They just think it's what , um, parental alienation is , what abusive fathers claim to take children away from protective mothers. And that's totally incorrect. That's not what parental alienation is.

Speaker 1:

Welcome to holding onto hope. This is one of the most difficult issues we've ever covered in our podcasts. Sadly, it's also one of the most common parental alienation is set to effect . At least 10% of children effected by divorce did happens when one parent seeks to undermine their children's relationship with the other victimized mums , dads and children can suffer terribly as a result here as in demand to share their stories and explain how they've supported each other and rebuilt their lives.

Speaker 3:

It was a Halloween party. Uh, we met there and , um, very rapidly sort of became a couple six months later. We're living together and I'm at work. And I get a call from my wife who was supposed to be doing the driving test that day. And I said, did you pass? And she said, I passed a test of another source . It was up there with the happiest days of my life. Um , soon to be that done by actually being at the births of my children. I think we were in just a relatively, rather normal family. Um, I used to sort of play with the kids a lot. Um, otherwise animals pets around the house. We've always had dogs. So it's been cats around. We'd love camping. We always did for a long time. Um, bought all the gear , um, and then realized before too much gear . I think when we were camping was, was always great times. Christmas plans were usually pretty good. Um, my parents now, so things were relatively normal. We were normal average everyday family. As far as I knew, we regularly told each other, we loved each other. She cried . I remember so many times , um, her saying to me, I'm going to grow old with you

Speaker 1:

All

Speaker 3:

Intents and purposes, a perfectly normal loving

Speaker 1:

Relationship. Matt went on to have three children, two sons and a daughter, but family life was about to change in unexpected ways. I guess

Speaker 3:

I started probably five years before end . Um , my wife had basically a nervous breakdown. Um, she spent two weeks effectively in a catatonic state, so she would wake up in the morning, go sit on the couch, sit there for 12 hours, get up, go back to bed for another 12 hours. Um, and that's when we started getting psychologists involved. Things slowly came back to normal. Um, I looked after her for effectively, about three months, things sort of came back to normal three and a half years later, I came home from work one day to discover something was really, really strange with her. And I didn't know what was wrong. I ended up taking it to the hospital.

Speaker 4:

Matt's wife developed further issues. He did his best to help her, but the strain took its toll

Speaker 3:

And it just got progressively worse to the point where eventually I said enough is enough. And then I pulled the pin on that relationship. And I remember saying to her, get yourself right? And then we'll talk about, you know , sharing the kids properly. It moved on the last time she was in rehab. We'd already effectively split. When she came home, we had an argument and two days later I answered the front door to the police who had a restraining order against me. Uh, and I was kicked out of the house. The kids came back with me to my mother's house. We were there for about three weeks. Um , I was sleeping on some cushions on the lounge room floor because if run out bed space and , um, my kids were still talking to their mother , um, on a daily basis, they would be using , um , Skype or whatever the iPhone one is. I forget now. Um, but after three weeks at this that had been no legal help. There was no one to help the , to deal with trying to get things to normal. My daughter, I'd been talking to her mother and wanted to schedule an event with her on the weekend. And I sort of explained that because of the restraining order. So there's no way I could take over because , um, you know, I'd be reaching a restraining order by getting so close to my ex. Um, and the Friday before her 10th birthday , um, we were at my mother's house and suddenly I realized my daughter wasn't there anymore. She'd she'd run away, run back to her mother's house, which was the last time I effectively got district to her. Um, and that was February 20 2015. I presumed , um, the , the craziness would end and things would be sorted out very, very soon. I do remember at the time telling people that I got to get a lawyer would have to go to family court and this could take months, maybe even six months to figure out. And that was such a daunting prospect to me at the time that I wouldn't say my daughter for six months now, five years, six months later. Um, reality set in, I guess. Um , yeah , I thought things would be sorted out.

Speaker 4:

The restraining order was swiftly lifted. However matches strange went from his daughter and his divorce and custody proceedings were not so easily resolved.

Speaker 3:

Um, well I could use a contentious phrase . Well, one that is contentious within the legal system called parental alienation. Um , my ex quite blatantly did not want my daughters to have a relationship with her father. I assumed the system would talk to people. This, what you're doing here is silly , or what you're doing here is silly mediation. Arbitration let's find a middle ground. Let's find a way to work together. Unfortunately, the system pushes you further apart

Speaker 4:

Himself, a lawyer. He could see that in the eyes of the courts, welfare officers and psychologists, this looked like a complicated situation, but he was sure it could be resolved and he could continue being a father. However, as the proceedings looked set to last years, rather than months, he began to despair ,

Speaker 3:

Uh, without a shadow of a doubt, it was the most difficult period of my life , um, to spend 15 years with someone and think he loved each other and realized it was a bit of a facade , um , is very, very painful, but I've got three children. I love very much from that time in my life. Um , so there's still great levels of confusion. That was awful. Um, I guess what was more awful was earlier on in the process when I first got to family court and it sort of dawned on me that there was a good chance, I could never see my kids again. And that's when I decided that , um , I'll be better off not being here. I made this decision that my kids needed to be together. Um , and so I told them my boys to go and live with their mother. I spent three nights at home on my own. I don't think I was at work at the time. Uh, getting drunk to the point where on the final night , um, I think I drank two bottles of wine decided that had enough. Um , it was weird. I set on my lounge with the TV on, I can't remember what was on, but it's just sitting there waiting to die.

Speaker 4:

No one should ever have to face their darkest moments. Alone. Lifeline is here to help please call 13, 1114 or visit lifeline.org.edu. Amanda's perspective comes as a result of being abducted by her father and turned against her mother. Although now a mother of grown up children herself, the scars are still there,

Speaker 2:

11 years old. Um, I was , um, my, my parents had separated and my dad was already living, living in the Eastern States and had kept my brother there on holidays. So I was now just living with my mom and we were sort of going between , um, sort of like hostile, tight homes as well as living in the car and all sorts of things. You know, we're having a really tough time when we finally got into this house and, you know, my father had always hired investigators to follow her and , and continue to torment her. And then one morning I heard that knock at the front door. And when I went to answer it , um, I saw this syllabi silhouette that was quite tall and they said, Oh, it's it's, it's your brother. And I didn't recognize the voice because he'd gone through puberty and his voice was like quite Husky and I didn't believe it. And then I opened the door a little bit and he's like, Oh, open the door. And you can see me. And I, I opened it right up and next thing you know, it , um , cause that's where the little chain of the door. And then the door flew open and my dad grabs me and all these men came running into the house. And so I was taken out to a higher , highest than which my grandfather was driving on my dad's side and took me off to the airport. And , um, it was quite at first it was very traumatic, but then my dad was sort of, Oh , you know, we can buy this and we buy that. And, you know, he made it, he distracted me completely from what was actually going on. And , um, that was sort of like my life in the, you know, the coming months , um, being in Sydney now. And from there, I was taken to , um, a psychologist, which I later found out was a friend friend of my step-mom's. And I was , um , encouraged before going into this meeting to talk badly about my mum . My dad kept saying things again and again. And then when I got to this meeting, I basically filtered out everything that my dad had said. And because he'd been spoiling me rotten and totally distracting me, you know, it's that card sided with him and I didn't know what was happening. And I didn't realize that, you know , I wasn't going to see my mum , um, for a very long time. And , um , that enabled with this reports enabled my dad to get court orders in Sydney now, because back then the courts weren't connected between WIA and new South Wales. So my mum did have full custody of us, but then my dad went and got court orders and took us out of the country. And , um, there I was taken , um, for six years and without my, you know, any contact with my mom except for one phone call , uh , my mum had been hiring investigators to try and find us kids. And eventually when she was able to find us , um, I got a phone call and , um, my broke down in tears on the phone. And , um, there was no one else home and I was holding onto this phone and I didn't know how to deal with such extreme feelings within myself and hearing my mum and tears and thinking about the things that I had done , um, to talk bad about my mum, to the account , to the psychologist. And yeah, I didn't know how to handle situations. I ended up putting the phone down because it just became overwhelming. I didn't have tools to cope with the situation at all. And so , um, I ended up returning to Perth , um, when I was 18 to go and look for my mom and I had a brief meeting with my mom and it didn't go down too well because there I was this, you know, now 18 year old wanting answers, you know, and I'd been told all sorts of horrible things about my mom. And , um, and she said to me that I was so much like my dad, but inside myself, I was screaming as I'd go hang like, I'm so much like you even look like you. And I wanted to tell her how much I love her, but I was so angry with the whole situation that I couldn't even say it. And I didn't realize that was going to be the last time I ever saw her because sadly , um, she committed suicide and then months later,

Speaker 4:

Lifeline crisis supporters can also provide advice to people who are caring for someone in emotional distress. If you're with someone who is not okay, please call lifeline on 13, 11, 14. If life is in danger, please call triple a . Ironically, Amanda not only endured parental alienation as a child, but with her own children, they now are United, but she says the intergenerational trait is surprisingly common.

Speaker 2:

I hear about a child rejecting a parent. People think you must have done something wrong, you know? Um, and people don't understand , um , what coercive control is and how a child can easily be synced into hating or fearing, and then rejecting their parent. I remember back when I, I went to a barbecue once and I had somebody said to me, always your kids today. And, you know, I was, this is after I was going through the court process and I was, you know, very sensitive and, you know, and I said, look, my, my children have been turned against me. And this parent said to me, Oh God, that would never happen to me in my relationships, very strong with my children. And it was like having a sword through my heart. I thought, gosh, you know, you're thinking that I didn't have a good relationship with my children. You know, you obviously don't understand what one goes through when you've left an emotionally abusive relationship. You know, thinking that you're , you know, you're , you're out, but then next thing you know, it , your children are being used to further abuse. You,

Speaker 4:

Amanda decided to set up a support group for others affected by family alienation. It would also provide research and promote family court alternatives. She called it any meenie,

Speaker 2:

Miney Mo to highlight the dilemma of a child, forced to decide between parents. I think with losing my mom and saying that she was alone and that she suffered immensely and she had no support back then and then going through it myself. And I think finding other parents and really watching everybody like what was happening to them. I thought we've got a serious problem here, not just in Australia, but around the world. And , um , we've got parents and children taking their lives left, right. And center. And these stories , um, never make it to coroner reports because they often say they've got depression or they've got some sort of mental illness or disorder. And so you never hear that voice. And so this is what kind of drove me to go, wow, we've got to do something when that was released from hospital after his suicide attempt. One of the first things he did was go to a meeting

Speaker 5:

By met someone outside the court. You'd mentioned this website. So when I was back after the getting out of hospital, I actually looked up the website and that's when I started meeting other people who were having similar issues to me.

Speaker 2:

Well, I organized a meetup group, you know, when I first became alienated and I was reaching out to find other people who had these experiences, I had this group one morning and, you know , there was about six or seven of us sitting down and I could see somebody, you know , standing outside the cafe, sort of, kind of pacing back and forth having a , um , a cigarette. And then, you know, I thought, geez, you know, this guy looks quite stressed. I thought, well, maybe this, this is our seventh person who's supposed to be here. And I went up there and , um, I hate the poor guy. He could not look at me in the eyes, you know, and, and, you know, head down in such shame. And, you know , I said, are you looking for the parental alienation support group? He looked up and he's like, yeah, yeah, that's me. And , um , I said, well, you know, do you want to come in and join us? I said, there's, you know, about moms and dads here. He sort of walked in with me and sat down. And we had a moment where each person , um, sort of talked about their experience and, you know, the look on his face, you could see that he was no longer alone. He was hearing people who were experiencing similar things, you know, and then he opened up to me and he told me that he had attempted suicide. You know, I think it was just either the week or so before, you know, and I was horrified to hear that someone had felt that there was , um , no way forward.

Speaker 5:

It was another life-changing moment , uh , getting involved with a group of people, you know, realizing that, yeah, you've got it bad, but there are people who've got a lot worse.

Speaker 2:

I think it's important to be able to share your experience because you know, when you're on your own, you know, and you've experienced being misrepresented. And then you've been living under a magnifying glass, you know, through the court systems, you, you start to self doubt . And so when you're able to share your experience and see other people's experiences , it's kind of gives you a bit of a reality check that you know, that you're not going crazy and that this does actually happen to other people. Um, I guess that's what helped me myself, you know, was finding others. You know, I went from feeling like I've lost my complete purpose in life. All of a sudden seeing that there was other people and we can all work together and support each other. It is what we do. And it's like, we've all become like a family within our support group. And it's like a safety net. We have grandparents and we have , um , step-parents and we have support partners as well. And we do actually have a few adult siblings who are alienated that are in the group.

Speaker 5:

It lets me go, well, it wasn't just on me. Yeah, sure. There were things I did that , that led to the end of my marriage. Um, yeah, like I said, I was never the perfect parent. I think I was a good parent and I certainly think I was a good enough parent . Um, but yeah, realizing that it wasn't just me. Um, it takes a huge weight off your mind. You can forget about trying to sit there and blame yourself and blame yourself and blame yourself and go, well, what's the future? What do I do now?

Speaker 2:

And when parents separate, it's really important that they , um, put their own life vest on to begin with. And that life versus on is , um, you know , uh , self care and that's, you know, getting support , um, eating well, exercising, trying to keep that balance in their life because if they're, if they're not functioning normally, how can they be the best parent?

Speaker 5:

I ended up adopting a four year old English masters still got in. Now he's pushing nine now. So it's getting to be an old guy, but it was a lifesaver, you know, anyone who has pets and loves pets knows that you can sit there and tell your troubles to a pet and I'll lick your face and make you feel better. And it's one of the last simple pleasures and yeah, literally quite literally, he was a lifesaver for me and sort of allowed me to get back on my feet and get to the point where I could talk to my , my sons and told them that I'd made a mistake, calling them to go live with their mother. And , um, my middle son effectively came back living with me almost full time and my eldest was , was doing work about , um, so it just brought some normalcy back to my life that I had some focus , um, looking after my boys, so trying to guide them and help.

Speaker 2:

And then the next thing is obviously the children we've got to guide them. And if, if you're showing a child that you're, you know , blowing things out of proportion and , and twisting stories and , um, you know, staying in fight mode, you know, the children are going to learn this and this affects them biologically and emotionally, psychologically w we get children who, who are learning these behaviors, but then they're staying in the fight zone.

Speaker 5:

Yeah. The last thing you want to do in a separated family is denigrate the other parent because you're not attacking the other parent, you're attacking your child's beliefs. And it's hard not to do it at times. And I've certainly been guilty of doing it. And I know my excess , it probably feels good to rant and rave about the other parent, but stopping and thinking how my child hears that has caused me to be conscious of the fact that I have to not do that.

Speaker 2:

It's important to educate about parental alienation. We need more awareness to people, to, for people to see the , um, the tactics that can be used. We've been able to expand those tactics on our website, which is a triple m.org.edu, where when you, when you actually read down the list, you go, Oh God , you know , this is what's happening. And like, if a parent is doing that, they can see, they can actually go through and tick the boxes as well, you know, and , and see that these behaviors that are damaging. Cause there's a , there's a lot of hating groups out there online , um, which are keeping people in the fight zone.

Speaker 5:

Don't believe everything. Everybody says about you. Don't give up hope and focus on your children. It may not be tomorrow. It may not be next week. It may not be next year. You need to be around when your children need you then. So suicide and checking out, whatever you can't be there for your kids. And, you know, that's the thing that turned me around in the thing when I called the ambulance was, well, if I check out who the hell is going to look after my kids,

Speaker 2:

There's a lot of controversial stuff that gets posted , um , about men who claim parental alienation. Um , there's a big misunderstanding in that area. And unfortunately there's a lot of groups out there that some of the men get , um , even further traumatized and triggered , um, that they go down the destructive path where it's, it's so important that, you know, we get, you know , parents , um, like Matt into , um, like a therapeutic environment, encouraging them to self care , um, to believe in themselves and also to be mindful of , um, the time that they do spend online. And , um, the people that they do associate with, it's really important that, you know, parents are in now , support groups are taught this sort of stuff to understand that someone might be tormenting you. And , um, the best way to respond is like, you know, where did at a time don't react straight away. Don't send a message straight away on email, you know, sit on it for 24 or 48 hours , um, and you know, rethink about it and then decide whether it's constructive to situation or not. So these are like kind of little tips that we share. And we also share in our groups how to reach out , um , to the target or sorry to the targeted child , um, ways to communicate because if parents aren't getting enough support and they're not self caring, they sometimes want to push their side of the story and that can be really damaging and it's harmful for the child as well, because you're, you're triangulating them into the adult conflict. And so, you know, when they've been misrepresented to their child, parent might go, well, that's not the side of the story. I want to tell my side of the story. And this is what he or she did. And, you know, and , and the poor child is already hyper protective of the other parent. And it doesn't go down too well when a parent responds in this way.

Speaker 3:

So moving on, it's a very, very slow process. You don't just flick a switch and go on , moved on. Um, you know , you live all those lives . See that's a little high, not the low end of the high metal . And with each passing day, things don't quite feel as bad as the day before.

Speaker 2:

There was a time where I tried to visit my children at school, and there was a meeting place that was arranged. And I saw my children walk out the gate and they went to the opposite direction. And I was like, wow , what they're doing? And I , I walked down there to try and, you know , you know, see them to pick them up and take them with me. And they ran down the street like scared cats, you know, they were just bolting. And then they're looking back fearful at me. And I thought, gosh, you know, some of the parents saw me like, Oh, what's she doing there? You know? And I just felt terrible. I just thought, gosh, how could, how could my kids be running from me like this? But they did all these things that it was to please their , um, their father and their mum . It was, it was, it was devastating to say. And , and , and like, when you go through something like that, you think, gosh, do I go to the school again too ? I try to contact them. Do I just walk away? What do I do? And because I'd been learning about this form of abuse, I thought how important it was to try and stay in contact just really gently, let them know that I'm there, loving them. Everything will be okay, not to be too emotionally Laden in my communications. It's kind of like, we call it the approach, withdrawal method. It's where you approach them gently. You , you know , um, you give them a bit of love and attention and show that you're interested in them and then sort of step back and you might not see a response straight away. You might not see it in weeks or months, or sometimes even years, as long as you still

Speaker 1:

Gently contact them. Um, and let them know that you're there loving them. And everything's okay between you, because we hear of the situations where parents give up. Unfortunately, some of those relationships never rekindle because of the damage is , is just too bad yet. It's devastating today. Both Martin demander , uh , studying psychology, it's helped in their own recovery and in their ability to support others, having a support group that understands has also been key as is holding onto hope matters , told his lawyer, he still dreams of walking his daughter down the aisle. One day,

Speaker 3:

I feel like I'm being able to parent my sons, even though they're now 18 and 20 or next 20. Um, I feel my relationship with my sons is moving from parent to , to frame and then peer , um, I can have conversations with them that I wouldn't have dreamed off a few years ago. Um, I can have conversations with other people. I wouldn't have dreamed of having a few years ago. And I loved the learning , um , on that I'm still , um , quite an overweight guy, but I still go out and exercise a lot. Um, it's just, yeah , it's doing all those things of getting back to nature and looking at the simple things in life , um, bring a lot more joy than the neurons you think they would . You know, I think we get all that joy when we young and then we forget about it and move into the stresses of everyday life and working at a relationship working at your job. Um, so the freedom I've had for the last probably three years now is something I wouldn't, I wouldn't give up.

Speaker 1:

We've got some beautiful parents at have , um , you know, that meet up on a sort of a regular basis and help each other out and, you know, spread their wings out to other, other parents that are in distress, you know, male or female, you know, and it's , it's very refreshing to say that we've actually bought men and women together.

Speaker 3:

Both of my sons are now in long-term relationships. I'm hoping they're able to have families. I'm hoping for grandkids. I want to be a doting grandfather. I want to be, I want my kids to be able to come to me and say, dad, can you look after the baby? And I'll go, sure.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to holding onto hope. Lifeline Australia is grateful to all our interviewees who share their stories in the hope of inspiring others. We also acknowledge all of you who provide support to pupil in crisis and those on their journey to recovery. If you found this podcast helpful or inspiring, please share it, rate it, write a review or subscribe wherever you download your favorite podcasts. If this story has affected you and you require crisis support, please contact lifeline on 13, 11, 14. You can do this@anytimeorvisitlifeline.org.edu to access web chat every night from 7:00 PM to midnight. If it inspired you to be a lifeline volunteer or to donate, please visit lifeline.org.edu with thanks to WIA creative for interviews, editing, and production, and the voice of lived experience, which is essential in the development of our work.

Speaker 5:

[inaudible] .