Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dealing with Alienation and Keeping your Sanity

I was sitting in the waiting room of my doctor's office reading an article is some magazine that I normally would not have been reading. An article caught my eye in which the author was making the observation that the half dozen men he was writing about in the article - all very successful - shared one common characteristic: none were cynical. Being an occasional cynic myself, this troubled me. Then I began to think of all of the Parental Alienated parents with whom I have known for all of these years, and it occurred to me that those who somehow found success in the mine field of parental alienation in fact did not appear to be cynical. Maybe this guy was right. Then I thought about how difficult it would be to not become cynical after being told that you are hated by your children, that you must pay for all sorts of services that never seem to make things better, and that the people who are charged with finding the truth and acting in the best interest of (your) children do not really seem to be acting that way at all.

Related to this, I recently spoke with a father who had clearly been the target of parental alienation. He had three children, all of whom have become alienated from the mild to the moderate to the severe levels. His eyes were wide open to the fact that those appointed by the court seemed to get what was going on, but would not step up and do what was necessary to fix it. He approached this like a problem to be solved more than the overwhelming and even hopeless tidal wave that it can so easily and often feel like. He somehow never became cynical about it. At any rate, when I spoke with him on the phone I asked him how things were going, and he replied that it was both good and bad. He had good days with his kids and bad days with them. As an example, he pointed out that as I was speaking with him at that moment that he was standing in a lift line with his children and that they were skiing. By contrast, he pointed out that one of these same children had called the police on him the week before. He said that, "its good today," so I am thankful of that. He added, "last week was last week'" and laughed.

I had an anthropology professor in graduate school who had lived for many years with pre-literate peoples, in New Guinea as well as in the Arctic. In both of these cultures, life was very tough and tragedy was potentially close at hand at any moment. One of the things this professor would lecture and write about was the remarkable world view and philosophy of these people in these very difficult situations. They knew from their earliest moments that life was not fair and that bad things very often do happen to good people, and that this is just the way it was. I am not sure why that seems significant here, but it does. I guess cynicism results from feeling victimized. From what I recall from my professor, these primitive peoples who lived in these harsh and difficult environments never seemed to feel that way. It is just the way that life worked...they would say.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Reaction to Jenny Sanford's book and interview

I am curious to see if my reaction to what I recently heard on the radio is just me. I was driving home the other night and was listening to NPR in the car. Jenny Sanford, the soon to be former wife of the South Carolina Governor, Mark Sanford was being interviewed about her new book. It is an autobiographical account of her husbands failure of judgment when he had an affair with a woman from Argentina and secretly left his watch as Governor and went to Argentina to see her. I had read about all of this in the newspapers and recall shaking my head when I read it then. What I heard on the radio interview with Jenny Sanford was her description of how she handled this when she found out about it. It turns out that the Sanfords have four sons. Upon realizing what her husband had done, she assembled the four boys and told them about their father's affair and his related lies. From her description, as she read the passage from the book, she essentially presented it to them as their father's affair being not only a betrayal of her as their mother but also a betrayal of them as his sons.

My reaction was twofold. First, I would strongly suspect that the way that this information was presented to the four sons would have a significantly alienating effect on them and create an environment in which their not feeling personally betrayed by their father's actions, would be a betrayal of their mother. I then thought about how this message essentially conveyed to them that their father's actions - as regrettable and terrible as it was - would be internalized by them as evidence of their father not loving them. Regardless if this is true or not, I was thinking about this not being a helpful message to be sending to these boys: that they were not loved by their father. I believe that Jenny Sanford believed this to be the case, but why would she want her boys to believe this? Would it not be better for them to believe that their father had a horrible failure of judgment, and that in spite of this tragic error - which it clearly was - their father still loved them?

What do you think?