Marina Sbrochi hopes to incite behavior change by sharing the experiences of children and damaging effects of high conflict divorce.
Meredith’s parents divorced when her older sister was three and her mother was pregnant with her. She had been told varying stories of why her father hadn’t been in their lives. It began with her mother telling her from as early as she can remember that her father denied fathering her and wanted nothing to do with them. The story would have varying themes on the original, but also included cheating and physical abuse. They were also told he was a “pervert” and liked little girls. The message sent to Meredith by her mother was this, “your father is a very bad man and a loser.”
Her mother remarried when she was five years old. He was a minister. He too had no problem trashing her father. Even though her mother had remarried, she never missed an opportunity to bash the father she had never met. Soon, they were told that their stepfather adopted the girls as his own. Meredith only learned that this wasn’t true after she moved out. The only reason he didn’t adopt the girls was because her mother wouldn’t get the child support. When the time came that they were adults — they “didn’t have enough money.”
Meredith remembers being a young child and not completing a task, which was pretty normal for someone of that age. Her mother decided she wanted to prove a “point” to her daughter. She told Meredith another “story” about her father. “Your father was lazy and never completed anything he started. He took apart the engine to his car in an attempt to fix it the first year we were married and left the engine in pieces the whole 3 years we were married. He didn’t know what he was doing and he was so disorganized, he didn’t write notes when taking the engine apart to identify what pieces went where. They were just all over the floor of the garage. He just threw away time and money because he’s a loser. You’re going to be a loser just like him if you don’t learn how to complete tasks. I don’t care how boring it is. It’s part of the job. If you want to amount to anything successful in life, then you need to stop being so lazy.” This was just one of the many abusive things her mother said to her using her father as a way to be hurtful.
Her mother would constantly complain about the lack of money because she told the girls her father never gave her a cent for them. Every problem in their lives was blamed on her father. When Meredith questioned why her father left, her mother first told her that he cheated on her, but then the story kept changing. She told her that he said he was going to kill her and Meredith when she was in her stomach. She told me that she just knew, had she not left him that night, he would’ve beat her so badly it would’ve killed her. She also told Meredith that she owed her life and she need to be more respectful and grateful for all of the sacrifices her mother has made for her and her sister. The word “sacrifice” was used her whole life. To this day, she refuses to use that word and she has an understanding with her husband that they do not make sacrifices for each other, their children or their family. They make decisions.
Her mother wanted Meredith to believe he was a monster. Meredith was a very smart girl. She was on the honor roll in junior high and was invited to a private high school. Her mother said she didn’t have the money, but demanded that Meredith go there. She made Meredith clean out her savings, which was years of paper route money she had been saving to go to this school.
Meanwhile, her mother was sabotaging her by verbally abusing her. She started having trouble in school and asked to stay late to get some tutoring. It seems her mother could not be bothered with picking her up and since she couldn’t get a ride back with her carpool buddy, she couldn’t get tutoring. She got her first D and here is what Meredith said happened, “The words out of her mouth after she learned that I had gotten my first D were “You failed your class? How could you let that happen? I thought you knew better, but I guess I’m not surprised. You were supposed to be a boy, you know. You were supposed to save my marriage too. You’ve been a failure your whole life and I thought by getting you into this prestigious college-prep high school, and sacrificing things that our family needs just to pay for it, you would see all of the options available to you besides failing.” Can you imagine how damaging words like these are?
She was having more and more problems and her mother made her stepfather drive her to a group home at the age of 13. Her stepfather couldn’t quite go through with dropping her off there, but took a detour to a nearby trailer park. He pulled up to the junkiest trailer and told Meredith it was her father’s house. He said she could just go live there with him and his new family even though they didn’t want her. At the trailer park, he basically said that unless she could be more respectful towards her Mom, then she would be sent to live with her birth father in his trailer home, with the family that he loves. It was presented as a punishment and a harsh reminder that she wasn’t wanted, so whatever she had at home with her Mom and Stepfather were not nearly as awful as it would be if she was sent to live with her birth father.
She was confused and afraid because her mother had told her so many bad things about her father. She was scared to be left with an abusive man that was a possible pedophile. She begged to act better if she could just go home. The stepfather told her if she respected her mother and would behave, he would take her home.
The abuse from her mother continued and her grandmother finally stepped in and helped to support the children as her mother was not doing it. Her mother could no longer lie and say that he mostly didn’t pay.
Fast forward to Meredith turning 30 and finally meeting her birth father. Here is what Meredith says about her feelings on meeting her father for the first time. “We were told repeatedly that having a relationship with him was forbidden, and we were told that it would crush my stepfather’s soul. After everything my stepfather had done for us, we had no business in seeking a relationship with our birth father. I was very close to my stepfather when I was younger, and I do feel like he treated me as if I was his actual daughter back then. I know he wasn’t as close with my older sister, though. When my Mom would rage, my stepfather was my protective ally. He wasn’t like that with my older sister.”
Her older sister Sarah met him first and urged Meredith to meet with him. Meredith was actually very skeptical about meeting him, especially after all the bad things her mother told her about him. Her sister assured her that her father had a different and more believable story.
You won’t believe what happened next. Meredith meets her birth father, with tears in his eyes. She finds out that everything she was told about her father was untrue. Everything. He called the hospital every day looking to find out when she was born. Her mother refused to let her father even hold her. Her mother lied about her address in order to file in a different county. She lied about being physically abused. She lied about infidelity, she lied about him giving up his rights to them, she lied about child support. In fact, she went after him year after year for increases. At one point he was barely making ends meet with a wife and small child when the child support increase caused him to lose his home due to his inability to pay the full amount which was more than half of his take home pay. She forged his signature on a petition for name changes.
Do you know how she found out? She went to the courthouse and copied their entire divorce record folder. She told me it was the best $100 she ever spent. Divorce records are public records, and while she wasn’t able to obtain the friend of the court documents, there was enough information to back up the things her birth father told her. Her father never told her about how much he paid in child support. She got that info from the record. He also never relinquished his rights for visitation. He fought for visitations. Her mom lied about her income and employment status.
Can you imagine if someone lied about you and took your children from you? What does this do to a child turned adult? What happens when one parent alienates the other parent with vicious lies? What happens when a parent, in an effort to still control their child asks the child to not speak to the other parent or else they will disown the child?
The child turns into an adult that sees the world through a different lens. Meredith knew something was wrong and when she finally found out the truth, she stopped speaking to her mother and her stepfather. Her stepfather is a minister that had no problem lying to alienate another man. A minister that treats his stepdaughter like a problem and not like a child of God. Her mother was finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.
Meredith still deals with the aftermath of abuse and parental alienation. She is so happy to be back with her father, but after 30 years of believing something entirely different, it is going to take her awhile to build a relationship with the father she never knew she really had.
Parental alienation has taken 30 years away from a father/daughter relationship. Meredith wonders how anyone can justify this type of anger?
You can read more stories from children of divorce in Marina Sbrochi’s new book: Nasty Divorce: A Kid’s Eye View