“Parental Alienation Syndrome”, “Pathological Alienation Syndrome”, “Paternal Alienation Syndrome”, “Maternal Alienation Syndrome”, “Targeted Parent”, “Rejected Parent”; regardless of what politically correct catchphrase of the moment is en vogue they are all related to one thing: child abuse. There are many books and articles both in print and online that discuss this topic and an array of related issues at length but that is not the focus of this piece. Instead I want to talk about how the love of a 6 year old little boy helped this rejected mother regain her perspective about her place in the world.
Matthew is a gregarious little boy who is the son of a childhood friend that I reconnected with through a popular social networking site. Though we grew up in a very tight-knit Hungarian community in New Brunswick, NJ my childhood friend, Linda, and I hadn’t seen or spoken to one another in over 20 years. Life just took us in different directions as is the case with many; nothing extraordinary about that. Though I was not new to the internet when Matthew’s mother reached out to me on Facebook I was still very new to the concept of social networking and didn’t know what to expect. I was still somewhat hesitant to utilize such sites because I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the power that would come from connecting with people from all over the world in such a fashion. But more importantly, I hesitated because I was afraid of reconnecting with people from my past.
I was a rejected parent, a mother who has been alienated from her children. This singular fact had caused me to change the way I interacted with the world both in real time and online because of the tremendous burden of shame that came with those labels. My children were being forced to hate me and I was met with similar disgust from the adult world as well. For years I fought to bring “the truth” to light: that I was the same good, kind, decent loving person deserving of the love and respect of my children and peers now that I’d been long before I’d ever even become a mother. For over 10 years, no matter how hard I fought, what I did or didn’t do, what I did or didn’t say, regardless of how much money I squandered in court “the truth” didn’t matter because I could not recapture any of the reality that should have come from “that truth.” I was shunned and disrespected both online and in my real life so horribly that there was a time when I wouldn’t even tell people that I’d ever had children. Until one day I realized that it was up to me how I was going to live the rest of my life. I could either keep fighting to defend a truth that didn’t need defending or I could simply live my life.
So Linda and I reconnected. She never judged me. Quite the contrary! Over the next year she would surprise me in just how generous she would be with her support, compassion and humanity. I only say this because that was not the way most had treated me. Even those people who knew “the real me” before, during and after my custody nightmare would eventually turn away and judge me or simply back away because my despair was just too much for them to bear. Up until this point my sister was the only other human being who was truly with me, holding my hand, telling me that I was always the same person that she loved and respected throughout our entire lives. I guess I didn’t realize how much I had withdrawn from the world around me until I began to reconnect.
People like Linda showed me great kindness, patience and tenderness. Over the course of this past year I’d come to realize that my friends both in real time and online were indicative of the kind of person I am and had always been: the kind that is worthy of the respect, admiration and love of anyone’s child. This was so important to me specifically, because from the time I was old enough to know that I could someday grow up and become a mother it’s all I’d ever wanted. I’d always wanted the ability to mother and be able to influence and guide children.
But it didn’t hit home how much I had been missing the final piece of the puzzle that is “me” that the ugliness of PAS had robbed me of until Matthew’s gift arrived in the mail. Weeks earlier I had made him 2 t-shirts as a thank you to his mother for all of her kindnesses to me. I would get regular updates via images texted me from his mother about how carefully he treats his “Zsuzsi shirts” and how much he brags on me to everyone who will stand still long enough to listen. It made me feel so good to know that my original mission was accomplished, that I’d found an adequate way to convey my thanks to someone in a manor that was specific to me. I managed to make a child happy which gave me hope for the future.
But I was blown away one day when Linda texted me that Matthew loves his shirts so much that he wants to give me a present too, but he’s afraid that his gift won’t be “good enough.” Apparently, he’d been struggling with this for some time. I was truly touched but it didn’t really sink in until I was holding his drawing and note in my hands. I was instantly flashed back to the time when my own children would make me similar gifts …and I was nearly whole again. The point of my relaying all of this here is to convey the message that this tender, pivotal moment might never have come if I’d continued to be withdrawn refusing to engage other human beings in ways that are specific to me. I didn’t even realize just how much I had also been holding back these specific gifts from the world due to the fact that PAS had conditioned me to believe that I wasn’t “good enough” either until that epiphany had come upon me.
If you are a rejected parent don’t let despair rob you of perspective or your ability to go out into the world and live your life the way that you’d always lived it; as a good, kind, decent loving person filling the world with your specific gifts. I promise you, that eventually every single bit of positive energy you send out will be returned to you ten thousand fold in the most pleasantly surprising manor from the most unexpected places.
“Matthew, I know that you aren’t old enough to understand how profound your gift to me was but that’s perfectly ok. You’ve two wonderful parents, a loving extended family and an entire lifetime of experiences that will someday help you understand. What I want you to know today is that your love, kindness, respect and admiration will be multiplied and paid forward ten thousand times, even long after I leave this earth. Thank you.”