By Lily DeVilliers
earlier published at Themestream.com
Every now and then in your life, you meet with a statement or opinion from somebody else which runs counter to every belief that you've ever held. But it lies around in your mind anyway, and if you ever want or need to do processing that goes beyond your existing system of thought, there it is providing a bridge for your mind to walk over into different turf. The statement opens a door in your mind, and even though you don't choose or want to go through it at the time, sometimes there are later moments when an open door makes an important difference.
I was lucky enough when I left my son's dad to meet a counsellor who broke a lot of that ground and opened a lot of those doors for me. She was this marvellous, mild old Dutch grandmother, and she always seemed to be knitting when I went to see her. She'd just seen too much life, and thought things through too clearly, to be the least bit bothered by the unconventionality of some of her own conclusions. And I remember two things she said, both of them entirely matter of fact, and neither of them entirely assimilable to me at the time.
It was about the myth and bugabear of fatherhood. I wish we talked more sensibly about this aspect of abuse, because I had a lot of trouble when I left my son's dad, first with him using my son as the only button he had left to push in me, and second with the deeply ambivalent attitude society has about abusive men and their 'rights' to fatherhood, not to mention my own son's 'right' to a relationship with his father.
My counsellor said two marvellous things. She said, on the subject of my ex-partner's purported 'love' for our son, and his stated intention of being a great dad to him: 'It may be unconventional, but I believe that when a man has four children and he's not supporting any of them, he should be castrated'. And she said, about the familiar yank of be-nice-to-me-or-I'll-make-sure-the-child-suffers (which I'll get to in a moment): 'Personally, I think a lot of children would be better off if we encouraged and allowed them to view their fathers as more like uncle figures.'
That second statement let me off an enormous hook, and I believe it's saved my son's life and the lives of people he'll meet in his adult life. In the first six or eight months after I left my son's dad, he went through a very common abusive pattern, and arrived at a very common abusive tactic. It works like this.
When you live with an abuser, and an abuser has the ability to affect your life and your well-being simply as a side-effect of the fact that you DO share a life, it's like he has this huge switchboard of buttons available to him that he can push. And when you leave him, it's like you gather all those wires together in one hand and yank them out of the wall. Most abusers don't register this, because they're not quite normal in their thinking: cause and effect are a little blurred in their minds, and to them, people really are nothing but collections of springs and wires connected to the central control panel inside their heads.
You don't realize how truly abnormal they are until you leave them, and you realize that they're incapable of adjusting their button-pushing to adapt to the new circumstances. From a distance of half a city, I watched with amazement as my own abuser went through all the motions of controlling a human robot just like he'd been doing for almost three years -- even though he realized on an intellectual level that I wasn't in a position where I had to care anymore.
It was one of the strangest collections of human behaviour I've ever seen, and it convinced me irrevocably that the man was insane. Maybe not the kind of insane that anyone could ever lock up, but disconnected from reality, living inside his head, so far round the bend he's on the return journey -- absolutely. He was an unpleasant feature of our lives for about two years after we left, and the last I heard of him he was still dealing with all of life by pointing his remote-control device at the world and punching buttons. If he's still alive at this time, I doubt very much that he's changed his M. O. one bit. I don't think he's able to, quite honestly. He looks to me like someone who's not only hardwired that way, but has had the panel over the wiring welded shut forever. And with the dull intelligence of insanity, my abuser finally figured out that our son was the only button left with any life in it.
When I left him, it was amazing to me how many people applauded me for leaving him and dropping him off the edge of my personal world, but had the screaming hab-dabs at the idea that I wasn't going to go out of my way to foster a "relationship" between him and my son.
I can't pretend there was ever any logic in the discussions that arose around this issue. I could never understand how it made sense. The man's bad for me, I'd explain. He's dangerous and insane and unhealthy, and you think it's great that I'm never going to see him again -- so what makes you think he'd be "good for" a two-year-old? I heard some pretty weird answers to that.
A child needs a father.
Even more than a father, a child needs to not be abused, or witness abuse, or be given the message that abuse is okay, inevitable, or somehow redeemed by the position the abuser holds in the victim's life. I'd even say that a child needs to be able to choose ALL their relationships based on who's good for them or not -- including fathers. There's really no difference between saying 'A child needs a father' and saying "A woman needs a partner". Fathers and partners are nice to have -- but they're less important than some other things.
When you value parenthood above personal safety and integrity on a child's behalf, you send a very mixed message. The message says: "We don't choose who we love based on who makes us feel safe, confident, open, happy. We don't choose the most trustworthy people to be closest to us. We're just stuck with whoever happens to be born in a certain relationship to us." Great message for adult life. You might as well just stamp the poor kid with a sticker that says "Property of [father's name]" and box them up right away.
Children need someone to look up to.
Sure, and because it's a need, all the more reason to make sure the people available for them to look up to are worthy of it. Otherwise you condemn them to admiring and emulating the mediocre, the shoddy, the commonplace.
You'll destroy the child's faith in his dad.
My take on that is pretty simple. Abusers are the people who destroy their kids' faith in them, just like abusers are the people who destroy their marriages and relationships. All that's left for a child to wonder is whether the other parent can be trusted or not. Personally, I found that the fastest way to make a child feel really alone and untrusting is to not give them a safe place to express and validate their own impressions. That gives them TWO parents who seem to think abuse is okay and normal, not just one.
You're imposing personal baggage on the poor kid.
Strange statement. There's a big difference between "baggage" and "knowledge". It's not 'baggage' that makes us teach our kids look both ways before crossing the street, or keep them from drinking the Drano under the sink. If I withdraw my child from a class run by a known pedophile, am I "imposing personal baggage on him" or am I using my experience and judgement to protect him from unsafe people? Personally, I decided not to stand by while the poor kid went through the same hoops I'd been through, and learned the same lesson the same hard way I did. My feeling was that if I have knowledge that's relevant to his safety and well-being, and I consciously don't act on it, then that's a real betrayal. It seems to me like it sends the message to my son that he's a second-class citizen: what I won't put up with myself, I'm quite happy to let him suffer.
He's an abusive PARTNER, not an abusive PARENT.
I don't think this one is accurate or relevant. A person who is abusive is, by definition, unfit to raise or be around children regardless of whether or not the child is ever a specific target. As parents, what we do counts at least as much as what we say. We don't subject our children to abusers when they're strangers, and we don't subject ourselves to anyone who we know to be abusive "because you're not the victim personally". The rules shouldn't be different for children, or simply because the abuser's a parent.
You're using your son in your personal power-struggle with his dad.
Actually, no. There certainly was a power-struggle going on, but just like the abuse, none of it started with me. All I did was refuse to give in to the blackmail and eventually move to prevent my ex-partner from using my son as a tool for blackmail. Not something I did only to preserve myself, but also because kids are not pawns and should be made safe from people who use them that way. I personally believe that any parent who uses children as an extended control tool is abusive of those children by definition and forfeits all rights to contact with them on the spot.
What about his father's rights?
You earn the right to be a parent, and not with a quickie in the back seat without a condom. Children don't come stamped with their parents' mark of ownership, and pretending that they do is reducing them to the level of any other possession. It makes them into objects. My son has a greater right not to be an object than any man could claim through mere genetic connection. Parenthood isn't a right, it's a privilege. It's the children who have rights. And it's the parents who have never been abusive who are in the best position to enforce and protect those rights on the child's behalf.
You'll poison him against humanity.
Well, I guess if that were going to happen, eight years would be long enough for some signs of it to have shown up. I think kids actually learn greater faith in humanity from knowing a few people who actually do put principles into practice. They learn less of it from living around adults who turn wishy-washy and won't stand up in their children's defence.
Fatherless children are permanently damaged and scarred.
I wonder. Does being fatherless scar them, or does society's treatment of them and their mothers do the damage? Or do our stats on "damage" REALLY come from all the adults who were forced into proximity with dangerous, negiligent, unhealthy people in the name of "keeping in touch with their dads" when they were kids? I never could see how a poisonous father was better than no father at all.
It's been eight years and counting -- six since I actually filed a motion to end all contact until he shaped up as a parent. I never forget how lucky we both are that he just disappeared instead of trying to fight me on it, because the two years before he dropped out of our lives were the real hell for my son -- not the six years afterwards.
I'm eternally grateful to my old Dutch counsellor, who provided me with the two bridges that made it possible for me to move my thinking beyond the fatherhood myth. So, for what the words were worth in our lives, I leave them here for others as well.
Throughout human history, breast-feeding mothers sleeping alongside their infants constituted a marvelously adaptive system in which both the mothers' and infants' sleep physiology and health were connected in beneficial ways. By sleeping next to its mother, the infant receives protection, warmth, emotional reassurance, and breast milk - in just the forms and quantities that nature intended.
This sleeping arrangement permits mothers (and fathers) to respond quickly to the infant if it cries, chokes, or needs its nasal passages cleared, its body cooled, warmed, caressed, rocked or held. This arrangement thus helps to regulate the infant's breathing, sleep state, arousal patterns, heart rates and body temperature. The mother's proximity also stimulates the infant to feed more frequently, thus receiving more antibodies to fight disease. The increased nipple contact also causes changes in the mother's hormone levels that help to prevent a new pregnancy before the infant is ready to be weaned. In this way, the infant regulates its mother's biology, too; increased breast-feeding blocks ovulation, which helps to ensure that pregnancies will not ordinarily occur until the mother's body is able to restore the fat and iron reserves needed for optimal maternal health.
It is a curious fact that in Western societies the practice of mothers, fathers and infants sleeping together came to be thought of as strange, unhealthy and dangerous. Western parents are taught that "co-sleeping" will make the infant too dependent on them, or risk accidental suffocation. Such views are not supported by human experience worldwide, however, where for perhaps millions of years, infants as a matter of course slept next to at least one caregiver, usually the mother, in order to survive. At some point in recent history, infant separateness with low parental contact during the night came to be advocated by child care specialists, while infant- parent interdependence with high parental contact came to be discouraged. In fact, thefew psychological studies which are available suggest that children who have "co-slept" in a loving and safe environment become better adjusted adults than those who were encouraged to sleep without parental contact or reassurance.
The fear of suffocating infants has a long and complex cultural history. Since before the middle ages "overlying" or suffocating infants deliberately was common, particularly among the poor in crowded cities. This form of infanticide led local church authorities to make laws forbidding parents to let infants sleep next to them. The practice of giving infants alcohol or opiates to get them to sleep also became common; under such conditions, babies often did not wake up, and it was presumed that the mothers must have overlaid them. Also, in smoke-filled, under-ventilated rooms, infants can easily succumb to asphyxia. Unfortunately, health officials in some Western countries promote the message that sleep contact between the mother and infant increases the chances of the infant dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But the research on which this message is based only indicates that bed- sharing can be dangerous when it occurs in the context of extreme poverty or when the mother is a smoker. Some researchers have attempted to export this message to other cultures. However, in Japan, for example, where co-sleeping is the norm, SIDS rates are among the lowest in the world, which suggests that this arrangement may actually help to prevent SIDS.
Human infants need constant attention and contact with other human beings because they are unable to look after themselves. Unlike other mammals, they cannot keep themselves warm, move about, or feed themselves until relatively late in life. It is their extreme neurological immaturity at birth and slow maturation that make the mother-infant relationship so important. The human infant's brain is only about 25% of its adult weight at birth, whereas most other mammals are born with 60-90% of their adult brain size. The young of most other mammals become independent of their parents within a year, whereas humans take 14 to 17 years to become fully developed physically, and usually longer than that to be fully independent.
Apart from being a natural characteristic of our species, constant proximity to the mother during infancy is also made necessary by the need to feed frequently. Human milk is composed of relatively low amounts of protein and fat, and high amounts of quickly absorbed and metabolized sugars. Therefore the infant's hunger cycle is short, as is the time spent in deep sleep. All of these factors seem to indicate that the custom of separating infants from their parents during sleep time is more the result of cultural history than of fundamental physiological or psychological needs. Sleep laboratory studies have shown that bed-sharing, instead of sleeping in separate rooms, almost doubled the number of breast-feeding episodes and tripled the total nightly duration of breast-feeding. Infants cried much less frequently when sleeping next to their mothers, and spent less time awake. We think that the more frequently infants are breast-fed, the less likely they are to die from cot death.
Our scientific studies of mother and infants sleeping together have shown how tightly bound together the physiological and social aspects of the mother-infant relationship really are. Other studies have shown that separation of the mother and infant has adverse consequences. Anthropological considerations also suggest that separation between the mother and infant should be minimal. Western societies must consider carefully how far and under what circumstances they want to push infants away from the loving and protective co-sleeping environment. Infants' nutritional, emotional and social needs as well as maternal responses to them have evolved in this environment for millennia.
Dr. James J. McKenna is a Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Center for Behavioral Studies of Mother-Infant Sleep, Notre Dame University. This article first appeared in the March-April 1996 issue of World Health, the journal of the World Health Organization.
1996, James J. McKenna
Dr. James J. McKenna is a Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Center for Behavioral Studies of Mother-Infant Sleep, Notre Dame University. http://www.naturalchild.org/james_mckenna/babies_need.html
Good Morning everyone. My name is Mark Evans. I'm honored to have this opportunity today to speak to you about this important issue of Justice for Children in Family Court. My talk is about how normal loving moms are losing their children in divorce.
First I'd like to tell you a bit about me and why I came to talk to you today. I'm a dad with three children (two daughters and a son) ages 19, 17 and 16. Six years ago, unfortunately, they suffered the trauma of divorce. Divorce, in itself, is a devastating event for children and parents. The lawyers in our case almost made it worse by trying to turn our divorce into a custody contest. I nearly fell for it. Better sense prevailed, however, and in a Plano, Texas parking lot using the back of an envelope, my ex-wife and I outlined a divorce agreement in which I relinquished physical custody of my children to her.
I reached this painful decision by asking my children which parent they preferred to live with and honored their wishes to be with their mom. My attorney told me I was making the worst mistake of my life. Well, the jury is still out on that self-serving assertion. I share this to let you know that I understand very well the pain a dad can experience losing daily contact with his children in a divorce. I also learned a lesson about how some attorneys will encourage conflict between divorcing parents that of course results in more money in the attorneys' pockets and the pockets of all the other bottom feeders of divorce court.
This reminds me of why lawyers can't go to the beach. It's because cats will come along and try to bury them in the sand. :-)
All kidding aside (they're not all bad), my children were very fortunate in that my ex-wife and I did not fight it out in court. You could say that we escaped falling through the vortex of the black hole of family court, that seems designed to strip everyone who enters of their wealth and dignity and in some cases their children. My sister, Wendy Titelman, has not been as fortunate. The traumatic forced separation of Wendy from her children A__ and J__ is the real reason I am here today.
It might help to know a little more about me to understand my motivation. My educational background is in psychology and computer science. I have done doctoral studies in social psychology and masters level study in computer science. My first job as a psychology research assistant at Georgia State University was with Dr. Josephine Brown, a developmental psychologist who had a grant to study mother-infant interaction and how general patterns of interaction are affected when the baby is born premature. The study was conducted at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital. I was one of four observers who watched and recorded mother and infant behaviors such as vocalization, touching, burping, smiling, etc. I observed in the neighborhood of fifty mother-infant pairs in that study. I came away with a great appreciation for the bond between a mother and her new-born baby. The moms here know better than I that, with rare exceptions, this bond never ceases.
After nearly completing the coursework for a PhD, I switched career direction from the chaos of psychology to the predictable world of computer software, predictable some of the time at least. For the past 21 years, I have worked as a software designer in the telecommunications industry.
Famly Court never appeared on my radar screen until my divorce six years ago and only then as a place to be avoided. However, with my sister Wendy's divorce last year in Cobb County, Georgia, our faith in the scales of justice was shattered and I was propelled into the world of internet activism with the aim of learning as much as possible about the dark labyrinths of Family Court. As we all know, knowledge is power. I hoped to one day have the power to help Wendy and her children.
As I began to network, I learned that Wendy's case is not unique. She is but one of a growing number of moms who have been erased from their children's lives as punishment for trying to protect their children from abuse. I know that sounds crazy, but it is true. Some very strange, Third-Reichian theories are being used in family courts across the nation to switch custody from the protective parent to the parent the child has identified as an abuser.
On the drive here from Plano Texas, I stopped in Atlanta to visit my esteemed professor Jim Dabbs from Ga. State University and his charming wife Mary. Mary introduced me to her friend Jenny Richardson who authored the book "Diaries of Abuse, Diaries of Healing." Jenny was interested in learning about this ROCK America march and about my motivation for attending. After I told her about my sister, she told me the story about how she became a storm chaser. In 1992, Jennie narrowly escaped death when a tornado leveled the house in which she sought shelter in Dahlonega, Georgia. For three days, she was trapped by rubble in the crawl space under the old house. Soon thereafter, she became a storm chaser. Later on, it occurred to me that following family courts is a lot like storm chasing. Tornadoes and family courts have one big thing in common: They are both good at ripping things apart!
If only we had more storm chasers keeping watch over the family courts that so often operate in secrecy behind closed doors. Most people either don't care or are unaware of the atrocities that occur in family courts each week. It's only human nature to care only when we or a loved one are affected directly. Many victims of injustice are left wondering, "Where's the outrage?" "How can they get away with these atrocities?" The answer, some suggest, is that legal abusers do what they do because 1) no one's watching and 2) they can get away with it. Except for a few brave journalists and whistle- blowing attorneys, the news coverage of the dark culture of family court is non-existent. A few exceptions come to mind such as the whistle-blowing story on July 4th by WFAA News in Dallas about a judge who played solitaire behind the bench on his computer while he was supposedly hearing child custody cases, and more troubling, the judge assigning lucrative Guardian Ad Litem cases to a crony who did free legal work on the judge's mother's estate. Susan Goldsmith of the L.A. Times also comes to mind with her excellent stories about Idelle Clarke and Irene Jensen. These stories are a step in the right direction, but need to be multiplied a hundred or a thousand times to expose how the courts truly operate. Unfortunately, most news organizations treat this as a taboo subject.
You may be wondering about this race number (2020) pinned to my shirt. By happenstance, I got this number when I ran the Houston Marathon this past January. I'm big on symbols and want you to remember these two: 1) 2020 is the vision we must have to see the truth of what's going on in family courts; and 2) that we must go the distance, no matter how far or how long it takes, to right the horrific wrongs of these family courts.
To wrap up my introduction, I would like to relate one other visit I had in Atlanta with my mother's neighbors Richard and Helen Taylor. Richard is a retired business owner and former associate pastor of a church in Atlanta. I have known Richard and Helen all my life. They are like God-parents to my siblings and me. A few weeks ago Richard and Helen attended a court hearing in Cobb County involving my sister Wendy. As Wendy tried to present her case in the hearing, the judge repeatedly interrupted her with tirades berating her character and her sanity. The judge's rage became so extreme that his DA friend interrupted and asked him to stop talking to avoid being quoted on the internet and having that come back to haunt them. Richard and Helen were both appalled and saddened by the judge's vitriolic, unprofessional behavior. If only such court proceedings could be videotaped for all to see. As we said goodbye, Richard asked me to speak loud and clear at this march about the deplorable state of affairs of the family court in Cobb County. (Yell: HEY RICHARD, CAN YOU HEAR ME?)
I leave you with these two questions: 1) Who's keeping watch over the family courts of America? 2) How do we get people to care?
With your indulgence now, I want to share a brief essay I wrote, entitled "Twelve Steps for a Mom to Lose Her Children in Divorce" that I have distilled from observing my sister and other moms who have been stripped of their children.
The following are steps for a mom to follow in Cobb County Georgia and many other locales across the USA to lose her children in divorce:
1. Marry a charming business man (whom we shall call Jack) who comes from a wealthy family. You are impressed with Jack's love of children. Jack spent over $140,000 to win custody of a daughter from a previous marriage. Of course, Jack would never do this to you. Jack says his finest qualities are loyalty and honesty. Hmmm.
2. Give birth to two daughters and survive a close brush with death due to complications with your second pregnancy. Give up your career to be a stay-at-home mom.
3. To help you sort out the strains and conflicts of a blended family, record your deeply private thoughts in a diary that Jack can later steal and use against you.
4. Strive to make God and church the bedrock of your life, especially if Jack is an avowed atheist. Participate in church activities and take Bible study classes so that you can be branded a religious fanatic.
5. Home school your children because of concerns with the quality of the local public school system and because you want only the best for your children. For this you will be branded an anarchist.
6. Contract a serious lingering illness with Multiple-Sclerosis-like symptoms so that as household chores slide while you convalesce, Jack can say you are a hypochondriac, sloppy housekeeper, and lousy entertainer for his friends visiting from abroad.
7. As your daughters begin to mature (ages 4 and 6) take note of things they say that suggests that daddy likes to play with more than just the rubber duck while bathing with the girls, that daddy plays games that he does not want mom to know about.
8. Follow your natural maternal urge to protect your children by having them evaluated by a forensic psychologist. When the psychologist tells you the girls have been sexually abused, proceed to the threshold of family court hell -- the Department of Family and Child Services (DFACS, CPS, etc.) -- where you file charges of sexual abuse against Jack.
9. When you select a lawyer for the ensuing divorce, choose someone nice with a good reputation in the Christian community who will turn the other cheek when the other side accuses you of fabricating evidence of sexual abuse, of parental alienation, of being vindictive, hysterical, and insane.
10. You discover your lawyer also represented Jack's first wife, ineffectively, in divorce court (what a small world). Since you've gone so far with this lawyer, ignore the advice of family members to get a new lawyer. They are probably wrong anyway because to change lawyers makes you look unstable.
11. Disregard that for every dollar you spend on a lawyer and psychiatric professionals, Jack's family will spend three. Disregard that the legal system is more concerned with money and influence than with doing the right thing for children.
12. During the two years leading up to a custody trial in which temporary custody is switched to Jack and his new girl friend because you have been branded an alienator, vindictive and insane, continue with all your heart to fight for your children. Exhaust all your resources and borrow from friends and family for mounting legal bills, even a therapist for yourself to prove that you are not insane. (Unfortunately, your sanity became suspect when you married Jack in the first place.) The more you try to protect your children and prove yourself worthy, the deeper the court appointed "professionals" (Guardian Ad Litem, Psych, etc.) will be pitted against you while all the time billing you for their services! It's like being robbed and then having to pay the robber.
Note that it is not necessary for you to engage in adultery, prostitution or nude dancing, to abuse drugs or alcohol, to abuse or neglect your children, or engage in other immoral, unethical or illegal behavior. To lose your children, just follow these twelve steps.
This is the general pattern by which moms in Georgia and in family courts across the USA are being stripped of their children and all their parental rights. The children are deprived of their mom's love and daily guidance. And the Jacks of the world are free to repeat the cycle again and again.
As the children you once nursed and nurtured place their little hands on their hearts and pledge, "One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," will they think of themselves and their mom and wonder if they got justice?
I want to take this opportunity to thank the many people from whom I have learned and drawn inspiration this past year. Many of these people are survivors of legal abuse, some are here today. My sister Wendy Titelman, her attorneys Richard Ducote and Michael Hirsh, Marci Jagen, Idelle Clarke, Susan Goldsmith, Vicki Pierce, Laura Burton, Professor James M Dabbs and his wife Mary, Law Professor John Myers, the list moderator known as Charms, Jennifer Richards, Helen Bonner, Robin Yeamans, Alanna Krause, Kerry Hook, Portia Davis, Cindy Ross, Trudell, Donna, Connie and so many more. I'm especially grateful to the organizers for inviting me to speak and my wife Paula for being supportive.
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