Rhode Island taxpayers have contributed an enormous sum to wage a war that most of us know nothing about. The systems our state established to protect children have instead subjected many to danger and trauma that will profoundly shape the rest of their lives. Who will help to build public awareness and political consensus to protect children from those who prey on them or who profit from their abuse? How should government respond in ways that are transparent and accountable?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Wounded Child & the Good Mother

This cover from The New Yorker by Barry Blitt, "Mother's Day Special" (May 5, 2008), illustrates an insight that took me more than fifteen years to figure out.

Like a child at a pet store window, an energetic woman seems spontaneously absorbed in an imagined new role. She envisions herself as mother, while the man holding her hand turns his back, horrified at her excitement.

Blitt's whimsy offers a glimpse of many romances that end in sorrow, terror, even tragedy. It helps us understand why many good mothers lose their children in custody court. It captures the dynamic tension that motivates some wounded men to fight for children they may never have wanted.

Why are so many good mothers losing their children in custody courts? Or, even more troubling: Why are so many vulnerable children being torn away from good mothers?

As executive director of a shelter for battered women, I kept running aground on a certain type of custody case that gets dragged out interminably regardless of its merits. In these cases, fathers often had a long history of violence, coercion, sexual abuse, or neglect of their children. Yet the court was giving these children to their fathers. Why?

The thing that attracted me to these cases gave me a clue: like the woman in Britt's illustration, these moms are magical. In the shelter, other women's children would gravitate to them. Their talent for creating wonderment fascinated me. They were everything I had not been to my own children.

I watched how they related to children, how they listened, how they responded, how they taught with spontaneity and playfulness.

Then I looked at the men. I looked beyond their evident narcissism and recognized within each one a wounded child who sulked and demanded attention.

As the mothers compared notes about the men who sought custody of children they had once ignored or terrorized, we realized that these men shared similar childhoods. Not only had they been severely abused, but they could not talk about their pain. Often the women only learned of this childhood abuse from others in the family.

So the Wounded Child in the narcissistic man yearns for a Good Mother and is drawn to that kind of woman. She, in turn, recognizes the Wounded Child within him and tenderly draws that child out of hiding.

When they have children of their own, the Good Mother bonds instantly with them, while the Wounded Child lurches back into his childhood hurt. He becomes resentful and jealous. (These are the very words the father projects onto the mother in the psychologist's report in "Lies, Rumors, and Innuendos," above.)

The Wounded Child punishes the Good Mother when she bonds with their children. He may use the jargon of Father's Rights to insist on "co-parenting" children whom he actually resents. If the children resist him, he will accuse their mother of "alienating" them from him. If he is also exploring his sexuality, the children are all the more at risk.

When custody courts fail to recognize these patterns, they set the stage for tragedy, that plays out with alarming frequency, like in the Castillo case below.


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About the Author & Purpose

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service provided since 1996 by Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. The coordinator, Anne Grant, is a retired United Methodist minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter and service agency for battered women and their children. We research and write about official actions that endanger children and the parents who are trying to protect them. Our goal is to reform this area of government and to establish an effective, transparent and accountable child protective system.

We first reported on this case at http://custodyscam.blogspot.com/

To read the blog more easily, please reduce the width of your column. Some of the pictures can be enlarged by clicking once on them.

Comments and corrections may be sent in an email with no attachments to parenting project @ verizon.net

About "Parental Alienation"

If you are not familiar with Richard Gardner's theory of "parental alienation" and how it is being used in custody courts, scroll down to the earliest posting, "Junk Science in Custody Courts." For more scholarly research, visit  http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/1.html

For more on the scandal in custody courts, see: