It was as if Christmas, Easter and his birthday had all come at once when my husband, Rhys, was reunited with his long alienated adult children. The cherished dream had finally come true. Family. Together once again as family should be.
But that dream is rapidly turning into a nightmare. This is Rhys’ story but it’s also the story of anyone reunited with alienated children so they are forewarned about the pitfalls, pain and drama, drama, drama.
After nearly a decade of alienation, Rhys’ reunion with his children was boundlessly joyful. There were tears and hugs, laughter and kisses. His children were keen to share all the news Rhys had missed.
Released from their mother’s Reign of Terror, they were no longer afraid to tell their father what really happened in their childhood. There was physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse. Rhys sat with his head in his hands, sobbing, as his children told him that his worst fears had indeed come to pass.
‘A man is supposed to protect his children’, he wept. ‘But I couldn’t. I didn’t know. I didn’t know’. Even the abuse Rhys did know about and took to court, was thrown out as the wild ravings of a bitter man who didn’t want to provide financial support for his five children. Rhys had used the system to protect his children and the system had failed him and them.
But now, the story has taken an even darker turn.
The abused have now become abusers themselves. Rhys listened in shock and horror as he learnt that two of his sons had been tried, found guilty and gaoled for domestic violence. Fuelled by alcohol, drugs and rage, they had choked and punched their girlfriends leaving them with bruises and broken bones.
Rhys couldn’t believe his ears. Even when things were at their worst, he never raised his hand to the mother of his children. Or any other woman. Yet here were his sons beating their women mercilessly, going down a dark path that can only end in ruin and a second generation of Parental Alienation.
Even his ‘good children’ are struggling with that sensitive transition from childhood to adulthood. Struggling in all areas – work, transportation, education, relationships, shelter, debt.
One of his children teeters on the cusp. Afraid to try, willing to fail. Apparently there is some misunderstanding. They think that ‘if I don’t like being independent’ they can come and live with Rhys and me indefinitely, spending their life watching telly, living on the dole. I wouldn’t be so cruel to them.
Fly they will, independently, for fly they must. I will neither clip their wings nor allow them to clip their own wings.
Meanwhile, Rhys’ daughter is planning her dream wedding, pushing and prodding, harassing and harrying her reluctant boyfriend to propose to her or just get her pregnant. In a haze of romantic phantasy, she’s planning on going deeply in debt to wine and dine at least five hundred guests.
She expects Rhys to play at Happy Families by smiling widely while posing with his ex-wife, a woman who abused their children, bankrupted him, alienated him from his children and drove him to the brink of suicide.
While some might say, ‘Take the high road for your daughter’s sake’ would you really smile and pose with the Devil?! If Rhys declines to play at Happy Families with his ex, she’ll use it to prove yet again what a horrible father he is. The Alienation scenario will repeat.
As if things couldn’t get any more awkward, the female relative who raped Rhys has also been invited to the wedding. The seating chart will be tricky. ‘No, can’t seat Modryb with Rhys. She raped him. No, mustn’t seat Gramps by Modryb. He raped her. Can’t seat Rhys with his daughter-in-law. She’s his ex-girlfriend and his kids called her Mam. Rhys’ son married his Mam‘. Welcome to our nightmare. The nightmare of an incestuous family.
The dream of being reunited after Parental Alienation is rapidly becoming a nightmare and Rhys is gutted. On top of everything else, there is a basic conflict in culture.
His children are accustomed to living lives filled with drama and conflict. They thrive on it. Rhys does not. Years of drama compressed, distilled and dumped on him within just a few short days has already adversely affected his health. He hardly sleeps. He barely eats. He’s melted down numerous times and we’ve clashed…which is something we never do. The stress is unbearable.
Which leads us to the Evil Step-Mother: me. The woman who has fought, worked, worried and cared for Rhys these many years, partly so his children would still have their Da.
Rhys’ ex-wife’s plan for total Parental Alienation was finalised within months of our marriage and blamed on me. My crime was insisting that Rhys’ children treat him with the same respect at visitation that they would afford him if he lived in their home. It was all the excuse his ex needed to claim I wanted Rhys all to myself. Vile words were put in my mouth, Court cases followed. Claims of ‘abandonment’. Removal of custody. It was all ‘my fault’.
Now that contact has been re-established and, thankfully, my grown step-children realise that I’m not and never was the Evil Step-mother, yet I find myself in the same position. Protecting Rhys. Insisting on respect. Setting boundaries to protect his health and our relationship. It doesn’t go down well with his children.
Even as much as Rhys loves his five children, there is a clash of culture everyone is politely ignoring.
Rhys is a bookish man, never happier than in a library…or a garage.
His children are addicted to telly.
Rhys is a sober man, save for the odd glass of beer.
His sons are alcoholics.
Rhys is a quiet man, thriving on a serene drama-free life.
His children thrive on drama, drama and more drama. They create it. Live it 24/7. Delight in talking about it.
Rhys wants a quiet life, enjoying homely comforts.
His children want him to run, run, run, travel, travel, travel.
Rhys and I live on a shockingly small amount of income. His children don’t realise it would bankrupt us to run, run, run, travel, travel, travel with them.
Rhys can’t remember not to refer to his transgender daughter by the male name she was given at birth.
His daughter grimaces when she hears it.
Rhys is a man of faith.
His children are, more or less, atheists.
Yet Rhys and I are both trying to be perfect parents to five adult children. We’re trying to do the right thing and for that, if I were a superstitious woman, I would say we are being punished, coming under severe spiritual attack. I can feel it in my soul. Perhaps ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world‘ and stress and fatigue and worry and disappointment and pressure and poverty and codependence and boundaries.
Yet, given the choice to reconnect or not reconnect with Rhys’ children, of course I would choose reconnect! It was and is the right thing to do.
But if you do it, be forewarned: it’ll be the toughest time in your life. We expected joy and happiness and yes, there has been joy. But things have taken a dark turn we never could have anticipate. Forewarned is forearmed.
Photo by zoethustra