Originally published Stepparent Magazine April 12, 2020
If they’d left to go live in the South of France or maybe on a yacht in the Caribbean, their disappearance from our lives would maybe make more sense. But for many of us who have lost our children to parental alienation, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Dr. Amy J. L. Baker’s book Adult Children of Parental Alienation describes parallels between alienating parents and cult leaders, making clear that material possessions and opportunities aren’t what matter but rather manipulation, fear and power are the elements needed to win a child’s mind.
Loyalty and allegiance to an alienating parent are won through deceit and lies. A slight of hand, if you will, or change in perception is how a foothold is achieved. This is a slow and methodical process that takes patience and effort.
For years, I watched from the sidelines as our alienator masterfully manipulated my stepdaughter Kaitie. The progression from love for her father to hate was an ever-present undertow that constantly undermined the tranquility in our home.
Within days of the alienator realizing her ex-husband had moved on, she began spinning her intricate web to entrap her child’s innocence.
The distortion of truth started small and built emotional dependency. Early on, Kaitie missed school to accompany the alienator to doctors’ appointments for such things as “swollen legs” and a “heart condition.” Eventually this progressed to needing assistance to complete ordinary tasks like grocery shopping and housework. By the end, Kaitie had become a caretaker who felt guilty when leaving for her father’s scheduled weekends. And just like the alienator had crafted, Kaitie eventually confessed that she too was having health problems and cited this as the reason for dropping out of school sports altogether.
With her reality now distorted, Kaitie’s mind was ripe to embrace the lies set forth by the alienator. This was accomplished through tactics like reading court documents and emails aloud, inclusion in police and DFS reports and asking Kaitie to relay messages to her father to “save minutes on the cell phone.” She didn’t dare not comply because after all, her mother was in failing health now and needed her more than ever. Overnight, Kaitie became privy to adult-only conversations which secured her position as not only the alienator’s confidant but also her trusted advisor. Believing lies like her father being an abusive, alcoholic deadbeat didn’t seem so incomprehensible now.
When Kaitie’s loyalty began to wane, fear was the weapon used. In February 2015, we watched as Kaitie became confident and independent. It was a joy to see her finally coming into her own. Within a couple months, she’d not only gotten her driver’s license but also her very first job. Her autonomy was an immediate threat to the alienator’s allegiance. Gaining independence was not acceptable. Within weeks, Kaitie called crying hysterically, telling her father how afraid she was to work at “that place.” And how fearful she was to drive the “unsafe” car we’d bought for her.
The final act of an alienator is gaining absolute power by eliminating the competition. With Kaitie’s mind now encapsulated in fear, the final strike was easy. On March 22, 2015, Jack received a text message from Kaitie putting an end to their relationship for good. In the text, Kaitie stated needing a “break” and that she’d “be in touch.” We haven’t heard from her since.
Her demise may have been easier to digest had her departure resulted in a better life with more opportunity. College tuition paid in full to Harvard or Yale perhaps. Or maybe just a lavish lifestyle full of ice sculptures and chocolate fountains would make more sense. Instead, she left a stable home with bills paid and vacations to boot to live in an environment that promotes dependency, government assistance and lack of basic necessities. But like a cult, parental alienation isn’t about leaving it all behind for a better life or making choices based on what makes sense. Parental alienation is about distorting reality while the victim willingly hands over free will with blind obedience. Just think, if a total stranger like Jim Jones can convince over 900 people to drink cyanide, imagine how much easier carrying out an agenda would be if that cult leader was your very own parent.