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?


X.Christensen said...

I agree entirely. However, when I watched an interview with her this thought did not even pass me. I simply thought, 'Man, if this was my husband, he'd be dead.' I believe she should have protected her children better from what their father did, and not use them as a sounding board for her coping.

My father cheated on my mother when I was three. They stayed together--and I never found out about this until eighteen years later when they divorced and she thought it necessary to tell me. The feelings it stirred when I was 21 was simply a mature reaction to what could have happened when I was 3, 4, 5, etc. She told me in an effort to get back at him--but I was able to recognize that he didn't cheat because of me--but because of what he wasn't receiving from his marriage. It did however have a negative impact on both of my younger sisters who weren't even born when this indiscretion occurred.

FramedFather said...

Sadly "brainwashing" more often than not is the first strategy that a betrayed and angry parent does to the children to gain leverage against the targeted parent/betrayer.

Ms. Sanford has every right to feel betrayed and to be angry at her husband, what he did was wrong period.

Throwing the children into the middle of a highly charged emotional relationship/marriage/adult situation that is having severe adult problems is wrong wrong wrong! What is even worse, now these children are caught up in the middle of their parents problems which they most likely don't understand the dynamics of and they are being "brainwashed/forced" to feel the pain, anger, discust and to experience what the betrayed parent is feeling, at the same time being taught to distance themselves from the targeted parent. WRONG WRONG WRONG!

Parental Alienation and "brainwashing children" is no less than an act of terrorism, child abuse, and a hate crime that should be punishable by severe penaties.

Michael said...

Yes, Dr. Bone, I had the same reaction when listening to Jenny Sanford's television interviews. It seemed likely to me that her communications with the children were highly inappropriate, and almost certainly alienating and damaging. It also was quite obvious that her capacity for self-examination was severely limited. Clearly what her husband did was wrong, but I did not once hear her wonder what she might have done wrong, or how she might have failed her husband. Feminism has had both good and bad effects.

Monika Logan, LBSW said...

The pain that Jenny endured drives many to loose any rational thought. However, I believe if PA were more well-known & understood,some parents might stop and think before speaking. Key word "some". Sure Jenny needed to vent, but not to the children. She had every right to express anger, hurt, and betrayal. The expression however, needs to with an adult. For some that have been betrayed, the best revenge is to get the childen to join in on how bad mom or dad is. She assembled; alignment, enmeshment and alienation are likely to follow. Expressed adult pain in the presence of children produces children that side with the "victim parent."

Anonymous said...

I would typically agree with everyone's comments about how inappropriately Mrs. Sanford handled this situation. However, let's not forget these are public figures. The phony hiking trip, trip to Brazil, affair, private emails, etc. were all going to become public. The late night comics would make fun of their Dad, the bloggers, commentators and analysts would talk the subject to death. Even Governor Sandford's peers would be asked to comment.

Given these circumstances, do you want your children to hear all the nasty details from TV and the web or do you want to break the news to them yourself?

Clearly, the better way to handle the situation would have been to have both parents talk to the kids together -- as uncomfortable as that may have been for everyone. So while I believe Mrs. Sanford did not handle the situation appropriately, perhaps she didn't handle it as poorly as it appears.

For better or for worse, I think the rules are different for people in the public eye.


mike jeffries
Author, A Family's Heartbreak: A Parent's Introduction to Parental Alienation