Alienation – what is it?
Alienation (also known as Parental Alienation Syndrome, PAS) is often part of parental abduction. It is not defined in the Abduction Convention, but parental abduction is a kind of alienation. A broad definition from the article I have just quoted is ‘any conduct that hampers the coexistence of child or adolescent with parent in autonomous lawsuit or incidentally‘. I think a broad definition is useful because alienation can involve many different acts.
Some argue that alienation is an excuse used by child abusers who don’t deserve access. I respect that some children need to be protected from dangerous parents. However, I think both are valid phenomenons within the topic of child protection.
Features I have inferred from my experience
In my experience, alienation occurred when my ex-wife found a new partner. I think I was an inconvenience and our daughter’s cultural identity was an even greater inconvenience. So, she fabricated a version of events that excluded both of us. Optimistically, I think this would have started with a small, seemingly innocent fabrication. For example, she might have said ‘he is not coming back to Japan and has no desire to see his daughter’. They passed this onto our daughter as ‘we are your biological parents, your brown hair is just a random deformity that people are jealous of at school’.
My top 10 list of alienation features/behaviours
Understandably, this then blew up into something much more serious when he realised I was actively pursuing access. Rather than feel sympathy for our daughter, my ex-wife and her new husband saw me as a threat to their stability. As such, they united against me, using our daughter as a weapon. This involved the following:
- Changing history. Telling her that her step-father is her biological father. Also, he was the ‘camera man’ in all of her younger photos.
- Both literally and digitally burning photos of her spending three years living in my home country among loving western grandparents (some of whom are now dead).
- Wrongfully portraying me as a disinterested, abusive parent once the truth was revealed.
- Throwing out all presents that I have sent.
- Preventing us from creating and swapping photos.
- Writing fake hate mail from me in an attempt to damage any feelings towards me.
- Leaning over us in an aggressive manner during visitations to make them as tense and awkward as possible.
- Not sending her to English classes and then trying to widen language barriers as much as possible by actively hindering/insulting my attempts to navigate their language/culture.
- On a daily basis, telling her to fear me and my culture.
- Above all, viewing their own interests as being important enough to justify the above actions.
The above and more are features of alienation. It is not pretty, but thus far nobody has been willing to classify it as child abuse and offer significant penalties for evidence of such behavior. In fact, my ex-wife’s husband actively admitted to all of the above during court procedures. The judge accepted that this was not ideal, but refused to take it a step further, classify it as child abuse and make an order preventing it from continuing.
Ways courts allow it
I think that court orders can contain alienation clauses. For example, my ex-wife alienated me by rejecting presents, blocking access to school records, blocking access to serious medical decisions (e.g. trialing a 4 y/o on 4 different psychiatric meds) and not providing photos. In my access application, I highlighted my disappointment with these actions.
The court provided an order that bans me from knowing which school my daughter is at, bans me from taking photos during visitations and provides that I can only send extremely modest birthday presents. I think presents and photos are very important memories. Most importantly, my daughter cannot receive small, token gifts from her father’s home country when I visit. Last time I visited, she actively asked for a photo with me, which her step-father rejected quite aggressively.
In my opinion, courts should not endorse such restrictions unless they threaten the child’s safety. It is a farce that a man with no cultural or biological connection to a child can assert ownership over her, deny her presents and deny her photographic memories of her already limited access to her father. Orders like this give abductors rights and ownership over children, while denying children basic access to their culture, family and identity. It makes my stomach sick knowing that somebody would assert that he owns my daughter and then systematically deny her access to such basic human rights without recourse.
Do small town attitudes play a part?
I think that small town attitudes play a big part. Alienation is far more difficult to achieve if children are taught to think critically about multiculturalism in school. I feel angry when I hear that my daughter has been teased for having brown hair and western features. Even more so, when I hear that her mother has denied all connections between her appearance and her cultural identity. When parents fail so profoundly, I think schools play a significant role in teaching kids (not just my daughter) to think critically so that they are actively embracing cultural identity. Maybe teachers could play a more active role in reporting cultural alienation by parents as well?
Small town attitudes are not restricted to eastern countries. I think there are much more global implications that I may touch on in another blog post.
As an education student (yes I was once a teacher), I admired the works of Peter McLaren (despite his partiality towards Karl Marx). Politics aside, McLaren is talented in articulating the broader benefits of critical multicultural education. Mclaren does not offer us the panacea. However, I recommend reading his perspectives on multicultural education. I’m currently searching for an article that he wrote titled something along the lines of ‘that doesn’t happen in our neighbourhood’. It seems to have gone missing, but the crux was that we are all incomplete without multiculturalism.
I hope that there is a teacher at her school who is global-minded enough to embrace and nurture her identity in my absence.
Alienation in Japanese culture
For balance, I have observed alienation without the cross-cultural aspect. However, I did not identify it at the time because I was young and drunk. After drinking at a bar, I went to a friend’s house. A well known musician who had played at the bar stayed with us. He rolled a joint and had a puff (I passed as I do not use drugs). After a deep sign, he asked me if I wanted children. I said maybe. He told me to hold them close if I ever did. He then explained that his children were with their mother, and he could not access them. After his divorce, his ex-wife reported him to the police for smoking weed after a concert (with his band), they’d all been arrested and he was labelled unfit to see his children.
I don’t support drugs. However, I accept that they are common in society. Also, I don’t think that having a joint with your band after a jazz concert makes you a horrible person who should never see their kids again.
We have not kept in touch. However, I think this story is significant because it demonstrates that
A successful small town alienation that I observed
The story of George…
I used to work in a small Japanese town. A colleague had a complex demeanor about her. On one hand, she had studied English (small town remember – a very big move). On the other hand, she hated English-speaking foreigners with a passion. In our staff room she regularly told tall tales about idiot foreigners who were lazy, incompetent, rude and generally unattractive. Of course, she told these stories in Japanese, in my presence, assuming I had absolutely no understanding.
Anyhow, she has a son called George (written in katakana – when I last saw him, he was brown haired kid, had western features and was twice the size of his peers). She adopted an uncommon (ancient) spelling for his name to hide its true origin.
Over time, she met a local Japanese man (a 40 year old working at a convenience store – not to judge, but likely one of limited sophistication). One day she abruptly announced she would be moving to a rural area and would not come back to work. That was the last I saw of George, who sometimes visited work.
A mother’s perspective…
I think this story highlights how small town attitudes work. In summary:
- Her own image was of paramount importance. The mother didn’t want to be a divorced single mother of an ethnic child.
- She bottled up a lot of anger towards western society, which is disappointing, because this is a significant part of her son’s identity.
- She honestly thought she could hide her son’s identity by changing his name and marrying a Japanese man.
- When it became too much, she went into hiding and denied her son access to the outside world by hiding him in a rural area.
Yes, I am heavily critical of these actions. They disturb me because they involve a complete disregard for an innocent child’s life. This child could have been a confident, sophisticated, worldly child. He could have visited his father regularly, learned two languages and had cross-border family ties.
Rationalising this all…
I try to understand this from George’s mother’s perspective. My mind pictures a lonely single woman who has traveled the world, learned a second language and broadened her perspectives beyond all of her family members. However, something went wrong. Maybe her child’s father was a dud who ran away (I don’t know his story).
In my opinion, these actions make sense. However, I think society needs to support such women to make healthier decisions for their children. Unfortunately, many small town parents will not know how to deal with having a child who is ethnically and culturally diverse. This makes them scared. However, they should not be afraid. They should embrace their child (even if they hate their ex) and look to further their sense of identity as much as possible.
I would like to see social services investing in education and support programs. Single mothers should not be forced into hibernation by these perspectives. They should be supported and given the confidence to support children’s cultural needs.