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Suzy left her husband after enduring an unhappy marriage for 15 years. Angered by her decision, her ex-husband invested all his resources in taking Suzy to court. Without money for competent counsel, Suzy was beaten by the legal system, leaving her penniless and losing primary custody of her two children.
The parental plan allowed for the kids to sleepover at Suzy’s house twice a week. But her job was so far from the school the father chose for them that she couldn’t get the kids to school in the morning and be back in time to clock in for work. So the kids had to sleep at their dad’s on her weeknights.
This was a terrible time for Suzy, and by the time she came to see me, she confessed if she’d known she could lose her kids, she would never have gotten a divorce. Here was a woman who loved her children deeply and wanted to have a relationship with them, but her ex-husband constantly sabotaged her efforts and logistics made matters worse.
I began working with Suzy to develop a Be There Even When You’re Not mindset. There were many things she couldn’t control, so we focused on what she could control. She started to show up when she could – surprising her kids at soccer games and school– stopping by even if for a minute to give them a kiss. I told her to schedule a FaceTime call with them every evening before bed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that she didn’t think of FaceTiming them in the evenings but whenever she did, they would end up crying because they missed her. She felt she was doing them more harm by calling.
“At least if I’m out of sight, I’m out of mind,” she’d say, sobbing. But I explained that if she didn’t call, they could confuse that with not caring or remembering them. This was an opportunity for her to reframe the situation. She began finding ways to make the FaceTime call a happy one that they’d look forward to eventually.
And then one day Suzy came to see me and she was as happy as I’d ever seen her.
“You’re never going to believe what happened yesterday,” she said.
“Tell me!” I responded.
“I got a call from my kids’ dentist on Monday asking me to confirm their appointment. I had no idea they even had a dentist appointment. As you know my husband doesn’t tell me anything he does with the kids. I don’t even know how the dentist office got my number but for some reason it was in their records.”
She kept talking faster and faster trying to keep up with the thoughts running through her head.
“So I said, yes, I can confirm the appointment but please give me the date, time and address?” Her eyes lit up.
“I couldn’t be sure they would be going to the appointment or if my ex would forget since they called me for the confirmation. But I decided to risk it and go there to see my kids. So on Wednesday, I took a late lunch from work, and I went to the dentist and sat in the waiting room.”
“Oh my God, what happened? I asked.
“I was so nervous –I could feel my hands trembling. I waited for about ten minutes praying they’d come. Then the door opened and I saw them walk in! They arrived fifteen minutes before their appointment time.”
“What did you do when they walked in?” My heart raced.
“I just smiled and said ‘Surprise!’ They saw me immediately, yelled ‘Mommy,’ and ran over to hug me. ‘What are you doing here?’ they asked. I told them I just wanted to spend a few minutes with them. They were thrilled! They each sat on either side of me and held my hand and we chit chatted about their day.”
“Was your ex-husband there?” I asked, wondering what kind of reaction he had.
“Yes, he was! He was so shocked to see me that he didn’t react. He just nodded his head, sat on the opposite side of the waiting room and never said a word. When the nurse called their names, I gave them one last kiss and hug and slipped out the door to head back to work. Caroline, it was one of the happiest moments I’ve had in a long time.”
That evening Suzy’s kids were beyond thrilled to get on FaceTime with her and relive the surprise from that afternoon. They told her they got their teeth cleaned and they didn’t have any cavities. Before they were ready to shut the computer off and go to bed, her daughter looked straight into the camera and said “Thanks, Mommy. It was really awesome to see you today.”
Just like that, Suzy stopped being a victim of her circumstances. She started playing by her own rules and showed her ex and her kids that she wasn’t going anywhere. She would do anything and everything to be there for her kids, even if it meant a late lunch, a fifteen minute playdate at the dentist office, and driving both ways.
We’ll never know why the dentist’s office called her instead of their father that day, but let’s just chalk it up to the Universe had her back. She was so very grateful for that.
Parental alienation is real and can make it very difficult for a parent to reach their child. But keep trying. Show up in any way you can and let your kids know that you will always be there for them–even if it means popping in for a quick visit at the dentist!