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My self-help book, ‘A Mother Apart’ will soon be released in the US, Canada and Australia, in time for Mother’s Day, 11 May – the most painful day of the year for many mothers living apart from their children. 

 

In order to try and reach as many women who might need the book as possible, I’ve been spending some time googling: mothers, moms, mums, without custody and living apart from children.  Quite a few forums and small organisations appear, many with heartbreaking stories of separation, pain and confusion, but when I try to make contact with these group co-ordinators many of my e-mails bounce back. 

 

We know that there are millions of mothers living apart from their children around the world, and the numbers are rising – so where are these women? 

 

Women live apart from their children for a whole range of reasons; they lose custody or they become part-time mothers with joint custody, which sometimes doesn’t work out in practice.  Then there are more tragic circumstances involved such as a serious illness, false allegations of abuse or losing touch with their children altogether – suffering Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

 

Whatever the reason, being separated from a child can be devastatingly painful and difficult to manage.  Grief, guilt, regret and the stress of battling with an ex-partner are just a few emotions that women living apart from their children must come to terms with.  And many are left alone to deal with their own pain and emotional journey as the subject is still surrounded by taboo, social stigma and stereotypes of ‘abandoning’ or ‘unfit’ mother.  As a counsellor, I have worked with women who keep their status of being a mother a secret in order to avoid judgement.


That’s why I was inspired to write ‘A Mother Apart’. I have written the book as a mother apart of twenty years (I now have a good relationship with my daughter who grew up with her father in South Africa) and as a counsellor who specialises in supporting women who live apart from their children.

 

Here is a brief synopsis of my book:

Moving beyond the stigmatised phenomenon of mothers who leave, ‘A Mother Apart’ provides empathic, practical support to readers battling with their emotions as they adjust and come to terms with life apart from their child.  It’s written to relieve the isolation of the many mothers apart who say “I thought I was the only one”.  It provides understanding approaches to tackle difficult emotions, helping women to:

  • understand and find release from feelings of excessive guilt and shame
  • grieve your loss and live with dignity
  • learn the art of big hearted mothering: deep love from afar, over time
  • find positive ways to integrate their lives as a mother apart and independent women
  • review and develop their relationship with their child
  • develop amicable relationships with their children’s father, father’s new partner and other family members
  • make decisions about their future, including having new relationships and other children, with confidence
  • and fully appreciate how the capacity to love deeply from afar makes them some of the most extraordinary mothers in the world

 

I’d love to hear from you if know of any organisations apart from MATCH and NANCM, who support and advise mothers living apart from their children or if you are or know of any journalists who would like to write a magazine or newspaper article on this emotive and worthy topic. 

 

 

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We live in a wood in a little house in a wood and we’ve observed that the changing of the seasons is a little slower here than elsewhere.  Our Bluebells are only just beginning to make a show.

 

As you can imagine, with so many trees around us, the dawn chorus is deafening at this time of year! After several years of watching our bird nesting boxes around the house, we have installed a camera into a Blue tit box directly opposite my home office window. Next to my computer is a portable TV, on which I can see Mrs BT, snuggled up on her eggs. We are amazed that there are so many, she has 14 eggs – so they’ve certainly got their work cut out for them. She started incubating them properly on Saturday and Mr BT is very attentive, bringing Mrs BT regular bug snacks. I’m always in awe at nature’s timing. Around here, Blue tit feeding frenzy occurs at the same time as millions of caterpillars hatch on the woodland Oaks. If you go for a walk in the woods at this time, you’ll soon become smothered in parachuting green wrigglers! It’s a miracle how the Blue tits seem to ‘feel’ it’s about the right time for this great green hatching and start incubating the eggs and how in turn, those caterpillars know when to make an appearance, before there’s too much tanin the leaves! Apple blossom is falling like snow outside my window and the Hornbeam leaves have just burst – suddenly the woods are bright green! What a shame that I have to crack on and do some work!

 

 

 

Today is International Parental Alienation Awareness Day.  Parental Alienation happens when a resident parent tries to manipulate a child into saying that they don’t want to have a relationship with their non resident parent.  The term Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was coined by Dr Richard Gardner who described it as a disorder that happens solely in child-custody disputes in which a campaign of denigration is initiated by a resident parent, managing to turn the child against the non resident parent, resulting in the child’s apparent desire to end all contact with the parent they no longer live with. (Just to be clear, Parental Alienation doesn’t of course occur in cases were a parent abuses or neglects a child).  

 

Parents who discover that a once loving relationship with their child has changed, often quite suddenly into the complete opposite, understandably suffer acute pain and despair.  Their stories of rejection, character deformation and sometimes false allegations are heartbreaking. Two such courageous women share their experience of Parental Alienation in my book ‘A Mother Apart’. Their strength, tenacity and absolute commitment to remain in their children’s lives, is an inspiration.

 

Sadly, mothers and fathers who suffer as a result of severe parental alienation are usually faced with the long haul, sometimes waiting until children have grown into adults before any form of reconciliation can take place.  Sometimes becoming a parent themselves makes an adult child want to reconnect with and find out more about an alienated parent, and to ask questions about their past. However, we never know what’s around the corner so if you’re an alienated parent, try to keep your heart and door open, as circumstances can change at any time.

 

I hope the following tips will help you if you’re an alienated mother apart, today and everyday:

 

Maintain as much contact as possible with your child.  Find ways to stay in touch and let your child know that you love and miss them, without saying how upset you are.  Say that you look forward to the day when you can spend some time together. Sounds tricky in a highly emotional situation such as this, but finding good emotional support for yourself is essential to helping you contain feelings that might overwhelm your child. 

 

Be as imaginative as you can in coming up with ways to stay in touch. Phone, text, instant message, send e-cards, snail mail letters, cards, postcards.  Try and find out what her/his latest interest is and send collectables, magazines and cut out articles.  Send photos of you, your family, pets and friends she/he will remember.  Remind her/him of good times in the past and tell them about what is happening in your present. Maybe your attempts will reach your child, maybe they won’t but if they do, they’ll let your child know that you love and care for them.  Don’t give up.  Without a doubt, staying in contact, even if it feels like your efforts are going into a void, is the best way of increasing your chances of reconciliation in the future.  

 

Keep your focus on yourself, not you ex.  You are never going to be able to change your ex, so don’t waste your energy trying to convince him that he is out of order or treating the children unfairly by denying them contact with you.  Don’t hand your power over to your ex.  Try not to allow any fear you feel to influence your behaviour. Keeping yourself small or trying to keep him sweet won’t help.  Instead of allowing yourself to feel intimidated, set clear boundaries, calmly and assertively.  Develop these skills within yourself by having counselling or doing a course if you need to. When we choose how we behave instead of reacting to someone else’s behaviour, we feel more in control.  Think dignity and act calmly.  You will feel better for it, your ex will lose his power over you and your child will see you role modelling dignified, adult behaviour.

 

Take outrageously good care of yourself today.  Go well.

 

 

 

Last Saturday, in The Weekend Guardian, I read a very moving story of a woman whose mother left the family home when she was 7 years old, called ‘My mother deserted me’. It takes a huge amount of courage to put pen to paper and very publically, revisit a trauma which happened over fifty years ago.  I hope the writer found it a cathartic experience – she so deserves inner peace and happiness.

 

If you are a mother who lives apart from your child, I know how hard it can be to read an article like this, especially if your child is very young. However, I believe that by reading another person’s account of loss we can, if we explore our feelings, understand and heal our own pain and loss, allowing us to live without being unduly burdened by guilt and regret. 

 

In my book ‘A Mother Apart’, you’ll find that I’m really interested in exploring what is triggered within us as non-resident mothers (or ‘mothers apart’), and I think the two likely flash points within the article are the writer’s judgement of her mother, finding her “guilty of deserting her children” and secondly, the impact of the mother’s absence on the writer’s life. 

 

Let’s start with the judgement and guilty verdict.  This is difficult because we fear that both our children and other people will judge us – which can lead us to feel guilty and ashamed.  As such we might want to avoid trigger situations such as reading the Guardian article, or conversations with others that could make us feel this way.  Sometimes, feeling shamed and in pain we will hide our side of the story.  As if this wasn’t bad enough, we often judge ourselves very harshly for what we did or didn’t do.  Perhaps we turn on ourselves after reading an article on ‘deserted’ children, blaming ourselves for what happened in the past.

 

One way we can help ourselves overcome this is to make a conscious effort to allow everyone their own experience.  Not easy I know!  That’s why I say conscious.  It means that as we read the article or listen to someone else’s opinion, we centre and protect ourselves by saying to ourselves and sometimes out loud, “OK, I hear that this was your experience, what feels true to you – and your experience is completely separate from mine”.

 

In my experience as a counsellor, ‘the truth’ is a funny kettle of fish.  In fact, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, I don’t believe it exists.  What I have found is that each of us has a version of events and experiences that is our truth.  The degree to which relationships are deepened and enriched directly relates to one person’s ability to really listen to and value another person’s side – their truth.  Respect is generated when we actively try to understand another person’s view of the world.  This isn’t about agreeing with them (although  it could be), but it’s about allowing them and ourselves to  have a version of the truth which is as valid, as real and absolutely equal to someone else’s.  This way, we allow other people to be who they are.  And we in return, are free to be ourselves.

 

Ultimately, we have no control over what anyone else thinks or believes about us.  What’s important, I think, is to live as truthfully and honourably as we are able.

 

Another trigger within the article is likely to be the impact of separation from a mother on a child’s life.  Thinking about the impact of our children growing up apart from us can feel excruciating.  If you struggle with this, it’s with the utmost respect and gentleness that I offer the following for your consideration:

·         What we imagine our children suffer might not be what they actually suffer

·         Your child’s father or carer is as responsible for her wellbeing as you are.  That said, maintain as much contact as possible with your child, through a third party if necessary

·         Keep your heart open and love from afar, the best way you know how

·         As adults, we are responsible for making ourselves happy and establishing and maintaining relationships with others. 

·         Your child, as an adult, will be responsible for making herself/himself happy and finding any help she/he needs to come to terms with the past.  You can support them and talk things through with them but ultimately, like the article writer, choosing to work through childhood issues or not, is a personal decision.

 

Please take excellent care of yourself. Find professional support to help you with this if you need it.  Why don’t you leave a comment to let me know what you feel?

 

Sarah’s new self-help book: A Mother Apart

Support for women

Sarah specialises in counselling and training women. She helps non-resident mothers find inner peace by dealing with guilt, distress and other difficult feelings which can be experienced when living apart from their child. Her self-help book, 'A Mother Apart', published by Crown House, is available now. She also supports business women grow in confidence whilst growing their businesses. To find out more, please visit Sarah Hart's website

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