There was a young man, a nice enough guy. Not outgoing, but confident enough. Sweet actually, a nice guy with a good heart. His career was okay, a stable guy making good money, quiet temperament, with a kind heart and kind of sweet disposition.
He meets a sparkling young lady. She’s so vivacious and fun. She laughs easily, and she’s just so up-energy, happy, and loving. She’s very loving. That’s one of the things he finds so captivating, is how free and open she is with affection. He tends to be a little shy and reserved, but she’s so easy with love and affection that it makes him feel special and relaxed with intimacy. She clearly loves him a lot, she’s always doting on him and attending to him, making him feel special.
It’s not long before he wants to marry her. He finds her vibrant personality captivating, and the sex with her is very satisfying, she’s so free and available that it makes him feel relaxed (and he typically tends to be a little anxious with intimacy; he’s a nice guy). But with her, he’s relaxed and intimacy is full and deep. What he most likes is how much she loves him. He’s never had someone love him so much, and she so attractive and bubbly and vivacious. They marry.
Things are okay during the first year, but there were several times where his wife got demanding, and when he tried to work things out reasonably with her, she flew off in an angry tirade, accusing him of not loving her and being a bad husband. They didn’t really fix these fights, they just kind of ended and everyone went back to the way it was before, and make-up sex was incredible. So he wasn’t very worried, probably just normal marital bumpy stuff.
They have a child together and things change. His wife has now become heavily involved with the child. That’s a good thing, and he likes that. She’s being a good mother. But attention to him has dropped to zero. If he mentions something to her about wanting more time and attention, she flies into a rage, berating him for being a bad husband and father. He learns not to bring up his needs, because this just provokes a fight. She’s a good and devoted mother… a little too devoted, but that’s a good thing, right?
But things continue to deteriorate in the marriage. His wife becomes more and more demanding of him, in unreasonable ways. When he tries to have a calm discussion with her about her unreasonable demands, she flies into rages, berating him for his failures. When he tries to stand up for himself, things just become worse and her anger goes into supersonic levels. He’s not an assertive guy generally, so he tries to handle her anger with appeasement and keeping her in a good mood.
That kind of helps for a while, but not much. The child is now a toddler young school-age child, and the mother’s hostility is difficult to contain. The mother wants another child. The father is concerned about the deteriorating marriage but already has a young child. The father is a nice guy, he wants to be a good dad. He doesn’t want to divorce the mother and create a broken home for his child, he wants to make his family work.
He decides to have a second child with her in hopes that by giving her what she wants she will be happy, and he’ll get back that fun and vivacious, loving woman he married, rather than the demanding hostile shrew he currently seems to have.
With the birth of the second child, the mother becomes entirely absorbed with the children, but in an odd way. She doesn’t really provide for their care, and the father has to do a lot of basic caretaking for the children, because the mother is rather neglectful as a caretaking parent. But she is super-involved with everybody, telling everybody what to do, becoming angry if they don’t do it, but then changing her mind later and becoming angry that they did do it. It becomes increasingly hard to work with the mother because she is demanding and judgemental, nothing is ever right, and she gets angry easily and goes into angry rages easily, sometimes lasting hours or more.
By the time the youngest child is in toddler years, the eldest is in primary school, the father is emotionally exhausted by the mother’s constant need for attention and high-drama. The anger and verbal abuse are the hardest to endure. There are times of bonding in between, where she seems to forget about all the conflict like it never happened, but then it’s right back into the drama and conflict.
She’s also not a very good parent. She doesn’t take care of any of the children’s basic needs, she doesn’t make sure the kids are involved in any activities, and she’s never involved in the children’s homework. The father has to step up in all these domains of parenting with the children. The mother, however, flutters about the children, controlling, intruding, and demanding.
The dad has a good relationship with both children. He’s more of the quiet reserved kind of guy, so the bond with the kids has that quiet reserved quality, and he’s patient as he works with them on their homework, and he makes sure they’re fed and bathed and at school on time. But it’s getting hard on him emotionally to have to deal with his wife’s chaos and high-drama. He tends to be a logical rational guy, and her emotional tirades are becoming intolerable.
Finally, when his youngest is in primary school and his eldest child is entering middle school, the father simply can’t take the angry tirades, instability, and verbal abuse anymore and he files for divorce. The divorce creates a lot of fights and arguments. The level of the wife’s attacks and verbal abuse increase, and there was that one incident where the wife became irrational and angry, and she assaulted the father, slapping him and hitting him on his chest and shoulders, trying to scratch his face, but the father prevented it by blocking her, and the father in return grabbed her by the wrists and pushed her aside so he could leave the house, which he did.
Initially, the custody visitation schedule was for 50-50%. But then there was an abuse report filed by the school, apparently one of the children told the school counselor about some touching, and the school counselor filed a suspected child abuse report with CPS. The mother then abruptly and unilaterally halts the father’s visitation with the children, claiming she is “‘protecting” the children. The mother tells the CPS investigator, and therapists, and teachers, about the fight where the father grabbed her and threw her to the ground, because the father is controlling and dominating and abusive.
She says that she doesn’t know what the child is reporting, exactly, but that the child said the father touched her, and the mother is only listening to the child, and we need to protect the child because the father is abusive, like the time he grabbed her and threw her to the ground.
During the CPS investigation the father’s visitation time is placed on monitored supervision, because CPS doesn’t yet know if he is an abusive parent. He meets his children at an agency for a couple of hours each week. It’s really odd and unnatural, and it’s so short. And expensive too, to pay for the supervisor. The father hopes the investigation concludes quickly so they can get back to normal.
The investigation takes three months and comes back with “inconclusive.” The mother tells the school personnel and the eldest child’s soccer coach that the father has been accused of sexually abusing the child and has been put on supervised visitation. After the inconclusive CPS report, the father expects that the visitation schedule will return to normal, but the children are now saying they don’t want to visit with their father because they are “afraid” of him.
The mother now withholds visitation, saying that the children are afraid of their father, that he has a history of domestic violence and the child is saying he molested the child. When the father comes to the door to pick up the children they remain behind a closed door and scream at him to “go away, we’re not coming with you.” The mother says she can’t do anything about that, “What can I do, I can’t force the children to go with him. What am I supposed to do, drag the children kicking and screaming to the car?”
The father returns to court to seek the mother’s compliance with the court-ordered visitation schedule, and the mother files an order for sole custody because the father is abusive, the children are afraid of him, and the children are refusing to go on visitations with him because they are afraid. The court orders a child custody evaluation, and continued supervised visitation for the father pending outcomes of assessments. The court also orders “reunification therapy” to restore the father’s bond to the children.
The “reunification therapy” starts slowly, with the “reunification therapist” meeting individually with the children and individually with the father. The father thinks the reunification therapist met with the children and the mother, but he’s not sure. After several months of individual sessions, the “reunification therapist” tells the father that the children are “not ready” because they are “afraid” of him. When the father asks what the children are afraid of, the “reunification therapist” offers a vague answer that doesn’t really answer the father’s question.
The father describes to the reunification therapist all the bonded times with the children before the divorce, doing homework and coaching the eldest child’s soccer team, normal-range dad stuff. The father tells the “reunification therapist” that there is no reasonable or rational reason for the children to be afraid of him. The therapist tells him that the children’s fear is their perception, and we need to validate their feelings.
The father agrees to try to work with “reunification therapy” in whatever way he is instructed. Each child is also assigned an individual therapist to work on their “trauma” and fear created by their father. In the individual therapy, the child plays games with the therapist to build a “therapeutic relationship.”
When the individual therapists raise the issue of the father and home, the children tell their therapists a story about how the father was mean to them so they are afraid of him. Sometimes the story doesn’t even need to describe anything specific, just that he was mean to them and that’s why they are afraid of him now. Mostly, though, the individual therapists work on the child’s “self-esteem,” helping the child to “label emotions” by building the “therapeutic relationship” with the child. Meaning they play the card game Uno for an hour… “building the therapeutic relationship” of trust.
After all, the children are anxious and frightened. We don’t want to push things or go quickly. We have to take our time and be gradual, because the children are very anxious and frightened. Four months into “reunification therapy,” the father has had three individual sessions with the “reunification therapist” and no sessions with his children.
The custody report comes back and says the father likely did not sexually abuse the child, since the CPS report was “inconclusive.” The evaluator says that the mother is showing some “alienating” behaviors, and that the father’s relationship with his children should be restored. The custody evaluator recommends that the current custody visitation be maintained, after all, the children are very anxious and scared and we wouldn’t want to disrupt their current sense of security with their protective and loving mother. The evaluator also recommends “reunification therapy” to help restore the father’s bond to his children, and the custody evaluator includes an admonition to both parents to cooperate for the “best interests of the child.”
The eldest child begins demanding that the father stop coming to the child’s soccer games. The child says that the father watching the child play soccer makes the child “stressed,” and the child doesn’t want him there and the child wants him to “respect the child’s wishes.”
Three years later, the father hasn’t seen his children in three years.
Five years later, the father hasn’t seen his children in five years.
The eldest child is now too “fragile” to “stress” the child with a relationship with the father. The child has reportedly made suicidal threats if the child is “forced” to have visitation contact with the father, and the father thinks there may have been a psychiatric hospitalization of the child but he’s not sure because no one is telling him anything about his child and it’s hard to get information.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychology, PSY 18857