People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

The Success of Love

The success of love is in the loving. —Mother Teresa

A few days ago I read the first post I ever wrote about my two eldest children, Jacob and Abbie, and how they came to live full-time with their dad. I sat at my computer, eyes goggling half-out of my head, unable to believe I had accomplished the mental-gymnastics necessary to believe what I wrote.



Like hell it was better, but I definitely believed it at the time, at least at the top of my consciousness. I was mostly (sort of? who knows) convinced that Jacob and Abbie’s dad was a better parent than I; that I was, if not abusive, at least profoundly deficient.

Truth? Yes, I’ll tell the truth: in some ways, in the very beginning, it was a relief to have them gone. I missed them terribly, but at the same time, Carter was so sick that I was living far beyond the limits of my emotional and physical resources and I was stretched much too thin.

More truth? In spite of all that I believe now, and all that I am about to say, I was at my low point as a parent when Jacob and Abbie left. The things other people did and said can’t absolve me of my responsibility, and I am responsible. I did the best I could under terrible circumstances, but that isn’t the same as being innocent.

When they moved out, I never imagined for one minute that they would go away and stay away. I assumed that, given the freedom to choose, they would spend most nights at their dad’s house and just one or two (as opposed to four, as it had always been)  per week at mine. I thought they would come around a few days a week after school, or hang out with us sometimes on Saturdays.

When I didn’t see them for a few weeks, I thought they needed some breathing room, a chance to decompress from the difficulties of life at chez Jones, and so I gave it to them. This was not a decision I made lightly. I prayed and pondered and agonized, staying up late at night writing and crying. Ultimately, though, I decided to live by the credo, “This is a family. We take volunteers, not hostages.”

So while I continued to invite my kids to dinner and other family events, and kept calling them several times a week, and texted them every night to say goodnight and tell them I loved them, I didn’t push or force. I stepped back, focused my energy on Carter and helping him get stable, and I waited.

As carefully as I made that decision, it was absolutely the wrong one. What I didn’t see, the giant piece of the puzzle that I didn’t even know I was missing, was this: my kids’ dad and other members of my family were actively working to keep my kids away from me. That, combined with their anger at my genuine shortcomings, stewed in a broth of early-adolescence, created a case of parental alienation syndrome (PAS) that I didn’t recognize until it was two years entrenched.

The kids’ resentments against me grew and deepened both because adults they love and care about encouraged (in overt and covert ways) those resentments, and because they saw me so rarely (we didn’t see each other for months at a stretch sometimes), I didn’t have enough time to show them that I wasn’t the person they had created in their minds.

Starting in the summer of 2011, when I began to push hard in any way I could to have more time with my kids, I watched it happen: when they were with me more, they started to soften. Their defenses began to relax as they let the reality-mom impact idea-mom. Then, something would happen (something always happened), I would see the kids less, and the fierce, hateful, horrible words would come from the kids’ mouths to my heart again. The same words that their dad and other people spoke to them about me.

Never, ever, ever underestimate the power of a good story.

My family’s experience of parental alienation syndrome is unusual in that the alienation began long after the divorce itself. In fact, Robert and I co-parented fairly peacefully for quite a few years. Or so I believed; I know now that he wanted our kids all to himself long before he got them, and when the opportunity presented itself, he took it. If my kids’ PAS had been more typical (that is, happening during the immediate post-divorce months or years), someone probably would have identified it sooner. As it was, I flew blind for a long, long time before I knew what was happening.

My 18-year-old son and I remain fairly alienated (though I see signs of progress), but my daughter has been home with me now for several months and, while PAS will always be one of the most painful experiences of my life, I’m healing.

Having my beautiful, brilliant daughter, with her heart wide open and her mind searching for her truth, doesn’t hurt one tiny bit.

For other alienated parents, this is what I know:

When you doubt yourself, breathe deep and remember that you don’t deserve this; what they say isn’t true. Oh, I know. I know that you weren’t perfect; that you made mistakes; that you were weak and broken and you failed in ways large and small. Still, you don’t deserve this.

Don’t give up.

Don’t let them (your kids, their other parent, and any other people involved in your children’s alienation) define you. You define you. There is no solution to PAS, no sure way to save our kids or our relationships with them, but I know that living our own lives with integrity is the start.

Never live down to their expectations. Live up to your own.

You are living in the vast darkness and hope is a tiny, flickering flame, almost invisible. Oh, I know, and my heart is broken because you are in the darkness and I remember the darkness and it is so large. So endless. So damn heavy. My grief was like being chained to a line of cinderblocks that I dragged behind me.

Find love. Find as much love as you can, because you deserve love. You deserve people and kindness and togetherness and a whole, fulfilling life, in spite of the terrible hole that won’t be filled by anyone but your children. Still, surround yourself with people who care about you and who see you as you are—gifts, flaws, and all. Those people who assume that only a terrible parent could ever be alienated from his or her children should be tossed overboard immediately.

Don’t give up.

Nourish your spirit, whatever that means for you. Read good books (or trashy ones), go to church, spend time with friends, write a blog, write a journal, pray, go dancing, learn to knit, grow a garden, or take up painting, but find something that feeds your soul.

PAS creates a world in which the ground under our feet shifts and rolls without notice; we need nurturing and support and a strong spirit to survive.

Your kids do need you. No matter how loudly they say they don’t, they do. No matter what they say you did, they need you. They may not hear your words of love (though you should never stop speaking them) but they see you. That bedroom you dust and vacuum every week for your son is not wasted space; it’s an invitation. That bicycle in the garage, with its oiled chain and inflated tires, is a love note that your daughter notices every time she sees it. The phone calls they ignore, the texts they don’t answer, the gifts they return, all speak their own language.

As long as our children are alive, there is hope.

Don’t give up.

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31 comments to The Success of Love

  • Robin | Farewell Stranger

    Your integrity, insight and hope make the world a better place, Adrienne. Much love to your family.

  • Oh my heart is tugged in a million directions by your words. Mostly I am overflowing with joy that your daughter is home with you and with sorrow that your son is still not yet. And still you have the heart and compassion to send your words out to others who may be in a similar situation, to offer sage advice. Big hugs to you my friend.

    • Thanks, Varda. It’s such a sad and terrible thing, and if I thought there wasn’t much support for parents of kids with MI, whoa, I was seriously mistaken. PAS is still widely misunderstood, even by the courts, and there is very little support and information out there.

  • And I forgot to add: Your ex-husband is a dickhead who will someday burn in hell for what he did to those sweet kids of yours. Parental alienation is serious pure evil.

  • PAS is the most horrible, insidious thing you can possibly do to a parent and to the children. Its bad enough that it rips the heart of the other parent in two, but the worst thing is the lasting damage to the kids and to their ability to trust, to relate and to love. It impacts their future relationships, it impacts their friendships, of course it impacted YOUR relationship with them, and it will no doubt (deservedly) impact their relationship with the alienating parent and other family members who participated in the alienation.

    Much love to you, Adrienne. To all of you.

    • Thank you. Yes, I think it will be years before my kids begin to understand exactly what has happened to them, and the consequences will probably follow them for the rest of their lives. I’ll always be here to help them with that, but it will be their road to walk. I hate that I can’t fix it for them.

  • Mara

    Adrienne, I found your blog by chance and I am fascinated by your story, your strenght and your devotion to your children.
    I completely understand how frightening is to watch the bonds you thought would never break actually split in pieces…the connection between children and their parents is such a paradox combination between strenght and fragility.
    I speak from the child position, having lived through this allienation. It is a very confusing and very hard to understand situation but nothing hurts more than a parent who gave up… Giving up contacting, mailing, writing, calling…getting out of your life as if s/he was never there. I still have to understand the reasons and maybe at one point see the big picture. I try, on my part, not to give up, despite everything. I think at least one of us shouldn’t. But it took very long to come to this point.

    So, congratulations once again for your patience and your open heart. You did and do the right thing!

    • Mara, I can’t thank you enough for you feedback! I think we don’t hear from alienated children nearly often enough, maybe because many of them continue to believe their alienators into adulthood. I’m so very sorry to hear that you have not yet reunified with your parent, but glad to hear that you haven’t given up. I guess if I say that as long as our children are alive, there is hope, I should also say that as long as your parent is alive, there is hope. Hang in there, and know that there is nothing you did, nothing you could EVER do, that could cause your parent(s) to hurt you, abandon you, or stop loving you. If they did those things, it is because of them, not you.

  • Thank you. i feel your strength and welcome your support. Your words covered me like a warm blanket. Much love, Mrs. G – The Next Wife.

  • I am proud of you for staying the grownup in the situation. I think many parents who have children who are rejecting them for whatever reason resort to petulance and punishment. You are a strong mama.

    • Thanks, Alex. I think you’ve been there sometimes, when I had to rant and carry on to get it all out of my system. I’ll be forever grateful to you and others who listened to me do that so I COULD be the adult when I needed to be.

  • Lynn

    this is a nice blog post, and moving. But aren’t you doing a bit of the same thing to your children by speaking so badly of their dad? (You don’t call him names directly, but certainly do blame him and imply a lot. At least, I know it would bother me to hear my mom speak this way about my dad, much less publish it. (My parents divorced when I was young and were pretty careful to not speak badly about each other, though sometimes they slipped up a little… most hurtfully in a “you’re just like your mother!” kind of way.) and forgive me.. but if your children are just tentatively reaching out to build a new relationship with you, isn’t it kind of risky to blog about their personal stuff (like your son’s job-finding angst, etc?) At that age, I wouldn’t have wanted my mom broadcasting my fears and thoughts, and if you haven’t been close to them for years, it seems touchy. But I’ve only read a few of your posts.. probably you asked them if it’s okay.

  • Suneva

    I worrie that this will happen between my son and I. This past tuesday we got into the worst fight we have ever had. He screamed in my face and bowed up to me. I raised my hand to hit him and he said he would call DHR. My son is 17. I have not hit him since i popped him on the but when he was little. I have sat back and let his father mentally, emotionally and verbally abuse me and I fear that my son has learned that it’s OK and like his father, all he has to do is say I’m sorry and all will be forgiven. My worst fear is that he becomes like his father and right now I am seeing so much of his father in him. I will no longer allow this to continue. I have asked his father to leave and take our son with him. I don’t know if I’m making the right decision. I feel that this is the only way. I feel like this can go one of two ways: either he will realize that he can never treat me this way again, or he will do just like his father and blame it all on me and never take responsibility for his own actions. Either way, I have taken abuse from his dad for 20 years and I will not spend the next 20 years taking abuse from my own son. This is by no means the first time he has been disrespectful, this is the worst and the last straw for me. I would greatly appreciate your take on all this. Thank You.

    • Oh, Suneva, I’m so sorry. What a painful situation.

      Life can be so wildly chaotic here, especially with my youngest son’s mental illness, and we always say that safety is absolutely first. No other consideration comes above keeping everyone safe. If you feel that sending your son to live with his dad is the safest thing to do, then that’s what you must do.

      Stay in regular contact with him. Call, visit, text, email, Facebook, send cards, whatever. I agree that you should never put up with abusive behavior, but be careful not to send the message that you are rejecting him. He probably won’t hear you the way you want him to hear you at first, but keep putting your message out there forcefully.

      I hope that is some help, but I know that your situation is sticky and you are very wounded right now. You have my ear if you want it!

  • What an agonizing thing to go through yet through it all you kept your integrity and just kept showing love. I hope your son continues to come back a little bit at a time until you have him completely.

  • Adrienne,

    I’ve been following your heartbreak and struggle for the past couple of years and it is with joy that I read that your daughter has come back to you. I believe that each child will see and feel the love in their own way, in their own time. I’m so glad you will never give up.

    I too am alienated from both parents, but the alienation from both sides stemmed in each of their minds, as opposed from outside forces. It existed to varying degrees to my sisters and I from the start of our lives and ended on one side, last week, with the death of my mother. We were with her, walking alongside of her, to the minute of her death but she still believed we weren’t there. Her writings are scattered in her house, which I am now, together with my sisters, cleaning out. Her blindness to our love is breathtaking.

    My father also believes we have alienated him, but nothing could be further from the truth. He and his new(er) wife attended the funeral and a family dinner in my mother’s home. He did not bother to say goodbye, even to grandchildren who look to him for love, when he decided he’d had enough.

    As one writer above notes, you really have worked hard to be the adult throughout this ordeal. This has been evident in your writing. IDK personally about calling another side out publicly (as another writer questions), I think that each family is different in how they deal with their stories. In a way I think that we keep too many secrets, too many things private, rather than sorting through them in an open and honest fashion. If your writing is representative of the events as they’ve occurred, your children will have something to refer to as they figure out WTF happened in the formative years of their life, the years that you were on the outside. As it always does, the truth will be what sustains the relationships or doesn’t.

    All the best. Stay strong.

  • my dear friend…
    I have said before that sometimes, as a mom to such little children, it was hard to read your words. But I always did. And I always kept the hope. Because you are one of the most wonderful moms ever. I just knew that love would not fail.

  • Ado

    Crying while reading this and all that you went through. Yet you maintained your dignity and held strong. thank you for this post, I will pass it on to my sister.

  • Judy

    I was crushed when my lover of three years left to be with another woman. I cried and sobbed every day, until it got so bad that I reached out to the Internet for help. I threw away so much money on fake spell casters – all for nothing – until I hit on the real thing. And that is you, Lord Shiva. You were different from all the rest – you are the diamond in the rough. Thank you from the depths of my soul! I am extremely happy now with Ben back and better. I hope God blesses you as much as He has blessed me. Love, visit him on ( or he can be a great help to you all.

  • Donna

    Thank you so much for your helpful, validating encouragement. My daughter has been cut off from me–it actually started happening while I was married, but it was not so extreme and I just thought it was great that she had a dad who paid so much attention to her. How naive I was. How devastated I am. What nurturing I have needed. I need to speak out about Parental Alienation Syndrome. If anyone who has also experienced this wants to contribute via an interview, please contact me at

  • Amber Stiles

    I have had some of these experiences, but from the child’s perspective. I don’t understand where I came from. I don’t really trust either side. It’s so very hard to be in my mid 30’s still harboring grudges against the people both of my parents were when I was young.

    Good for you for sticking it out and fighting for your family. Please…give your children the full story when they’re old enough to understand. I can’t get it out of my parents and it haunts me.

    • Marie

      Hi Amber. I’m so sorry for what you’ve endured, but I am thankful you posted. What would you want to know? When would you have felt you were ready? I know my kids aren’t ready now, but I wonder how “full story” you would really want. I’m genuinely wondering and not wanting to sound snarky, but what’s happened can’t be anything but snark in many ways when I ask: Would you want to know about Dad’s multiple gf’s and his verbally abusive behavior when you were out of earshot or that continued to bully and abuse after the divorce and that he defied the divorce decree in about every way possible? How much is too much and is between the parents? I guess that’s a question I’ve had for a long time as I’ve kept as much as possible behind the shield of “this is between Mom and Dad.”

      Thank you, Marie

  • […] remember most of it like snapshots, the way you remember things that happened when you were a very small […]

  • Thank you for being so honest and letting me read this.

    I went thru something similar with my divorce in 05/06. The high road I took nearly killed me.

    I admire you even more after reading this.

  • Oh, Adrienne…every time I read more of your story, I feel so sad for what you have gone through. And your integrity and honesty comes pouring through, brave and humble. I am hoping things continue to improve with your kids as time moves on.

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