I intended to be one of just a handful of patrons attending a recent performance in Delray Beach, FL of the new BBC film, Philomena. Philomena. This film is a moving story of the search for truth, and hopeful reunification between an Irish toddler, taken from his teenage mother forced to live at a convent and sold to American adoptive parents.
Compelling? I listened to remarks floating around me, in the theater, following the movie's end. All were elderly. All understood those times when teen pregnancy meant embarrassment, seclusion, guilt and shame.
I listened for those comments which might identify those whose children were taken, as mine were. No, not as Philomena's -- a pregnancy resulting from an impulsive, carnal act between two unmarried teens. No. Mine were lost through the effects of divorce, when children are alienated against one parent by the other. Or, when children are so frightened and hurt by the parents' fighting and separation, they choose estrangement.
Can we forgive? Can we forgive when our children are torn from us? When a parent so spiteful and willfully steals the child's loyalty and preaches abandonment by the other parent? Can we forgive when a judge cannot understand that a child will best thrive when time shared with both parents is maximized, not minimized? That where there is proof of alienating behavior, there must be interventions that are enforced by court orders?
I believe these are significant questions, which must be asked in conjunction with the following statistics.
1. There are more than 1,250,000 divorces per year in the United States affecting over 1 million children under the age of 18. (North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service Report on Divorce)
2. 40 percent of public school children are from single parent households. (Federal Department of Health and Human Services).
3. Children who are prescribed behavior modifying pharmaceuticals averages from two and four percent of public school children in some communities to as high as 80 percent (Rachel Klein, "Are We Over-Diagnosing ADHD in Our Kids?" January 2004, New York University's Child Study Center Report)
Is it not time to examine these connections? Is it not time to support those efforts to help parents cope with marriage and relationship change? Is it not time for the courts to acknowledge the research demonstrating that the healthier children have loving and nurturing parents in their lives? Is it not time for the courts sober up to their responsibilities?
Sadly, too, major funders loathe to fund the programs necessary for protecting children. The Toby Center has reached out to many, many who have replied that though the services for helping families as psychotherapy, visitation, and support are essential, there isn't the money to help.
The absurdity is that, unfortunately, funders have not been able to connect these dots, nor have we found upon surveying that many are interested. Yet, research has found that nonresidential fathers see their children only 4 times per month following divorce and about 20 percent of children have no contact with their fathers 2-3 years after divorce. ( Kelly, J. B., & Emery, R. E. (2003). Children's adjustment following divorce: Risk and resiliency perspectives. Family Relations, 52, 352-362).
Returning to Philomena, recognize that she is a real mother, who accepted her loss. But she never willingly abandoned her son. She wanted that message to be heard. Similarly, parents who are being alienated have frequently given up, surrendering to the ill intent of the alienating parent.
That needn't be, especially in today's world. Florida is among the few states which encourages and mandate higher rates of co-parent involvement and I am proud to be a family mediator and educator here. Yet, parents as I still suffer from the injustices that Courts have made historically, to separate the issues of parenting from child support. In the words of the former Director of Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, "Child support is more than financial, it is also emotional."
Philomena is the story which, for me, has brought triumph to understanding, triumph in accepting what must be. This is a most difficult process, though, for parents of alienated children. it remains a most difficult task for the targeted or alienated parent to be heard when trying so hard to repeatedly know on their children's proverbial door and to invite reconciliation.
How might the aforementioned statistics be reversed? When you become an advocate for such change. You, the reader, regardless of vocation, can and should consider the opportunities to speak out in your communities with this information and with your personal concerns for communal considerations.
Become an advocate for children, particularly when parents suffer the absence of their child. Find the ways to help parents and their children preserve their ties when the parents separate.
This is an easier task than may first appear. It truly is.
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