No one ever talks about what people like me go through with shidduchim. And only because I am going to have to face shame each meal this coming Pesach am I finally opening my mouth about what people in frum communities are shoving under the rug.
I have been divorced for more than 10 years, and I am not able to see my children. My ex did everything she could to poison my kids against me. When anyone asks her why she is doing that, she acts all sweet and says that she tells the kids to go to me or talk to me, but that they don’t want to. She is lying!
My children treat me like I am a monster. Mrs. Sebrow, I promise you that I was such a good father. I stayed up with them at night when they were sick while my wife slept. I did homework with them, took them places while my wife slept or watched TV. My kids used to jump up and down when they saw my car pull up in the driveway after work, that’s how excited they were when I came home. As soon as my ex and I separated, from that moment on, my kids never wanted to see me again. I don’t know why she has to hurt me like this.
When this first happened, I did not want to live anymore. My life meant nothing to me. I went for counseling, and I understood that what was happening to me was parental alienation and it is very common. Eventually, my family convinced me to start dating again. But, as soon as a woman hears that I have nothing to do with my children, they run the other way. Even shadchanim don’t understand my tzaros.
Wherever I go, this comes up. People ask me how many kids I have and what they are up to, and I have to tell them the truth, because I have no clue what they are up to. And now with the Sedarim coming up, I know that other single people will also be invited to those homes, and I can only imagine the questions they will ask me and what they will say about me later.
I know you can’t change my life and everything that happened, but what is a man like me supposed to do? Why do I have to go through my whole life being treated like a monster? Thank you in advance for reading my letter, and I hope you can give me some advice.
Your tragic predicament is soul-piercing. While the secular communities are usually better versed on this topic and therefore sympathetic, you are correct that not enough is being done in the frum communities to bring this issue to the forefront. For those who don’t understand what you are going through, in most cases it’s probably because it is mind-boggling to imagine how a former spouse will deliberately do whatever is in her or his power to keep the children away from their biological parent.
Parental alienation is a form of child abuse. The mothers and fathers out there who deliberately keep their children away from the other parent are emotionally abusing their children, and it is about time that society accepts that as fact. As long as both parents are alive, children have a G-d-given entitlement to connect with their parents, as an integral part of their upbringing, regardless of the parents’ marital status. Those who are denying their children the right to have that are using their children as pawns to hurt the ex-spouse. The people who automatically assume that the alienated parent is the bad one likely do not comprehend that they are pointing fingers at the victim, not at the perpetrator who knows exactly what she or he is doing and does not care that the children are also being damaged. People also don’t grasp that the parent who professes to loving and protecting her or his children from their biological parent are the true abusers in the scenario.
To be politically correct, because this is a heated topic to begin with, I need to put this out there. There are cases where the child’s safety might be at stake and when there is a court order prohibiting a parent from seeing his or her child. But, even in such a circumstance, there could be plenty of discrepancies. However, I will not go into that matter right now, as it does not apply to you, and from what you are disclosing, it does not sound like you are being kept away due a judge’s decision. I am confident that the facts surrounding your case are accurate because you said that when people ask your ex-wife why she is keeping your children away from you, she says it is their decision and not hers. Please bear in mind that any advice I give in no way indicates that I am taking sides. My concern is that you receive fair and just treatment.
This issue needs to be addressed, and more awareness and support need to be created for the targeted parents to bring parental alienation to an end. With enough community familiarity about this subject, hopefully reunions between parents and their children will result. Thank you for bringing it to the Dating Forum, because, as it is happening to you, there are many divorced men and women who have no contact with their children and are therefore being unfairly rejected in the frum world of shidduchim.
Another one of the reasons that society has a difficult time accepting that the alienated parent might be the victim and not the other way around is because to a normal person it seems impossible that a parent would do that. Moreover, people do not understand how this can even occur. How can a parent who was beloved to his or her children suddenly get rebuffed by them? It is only those who are in the middle of such a horrific mess who know that the only way this comes to be is when the parent that has the most influence on the children will make up malicious stories that frighten or disgust them enough to turn away from the other parent. Or sometimes it’s just a fear factor, where the children are so terrified of the emotionally influential parent that they go along with whatever he or she wants even if they know the truth. The parent uses whatever strategies he or she can to manipulate the children’s rejection of the other parent. In fact, it gets so bad that children who previously intensely loved the rejected parent can later come to hate the parent to the extent that they feel the parent is unworthy of them.
It comes down to the question of what kind of a parent would deprive her or his children of the other parent without any regard for the consequences it will have not only on the ex-spouse but on their own children, too. Those who commit atrocities of any kind look and sound like anyone else. Such individuals are capable of flashing sweet smiles and saying all the right words at the appropriate time. Therefore, when they tell the story, they come across not only as convincing but also credible. In fact, they usually act cool, calm, and composed. And why not? They got what they wanted—to hurt and punish their ex-spouse. Meanwhile, the parent who is being kept away from his or her children yells and screams out of heart-wrenching pain, and most people do not take the time to hear both sides of the story, so the angry one is subsequently considered the bad or crazy person.
Thus far, those who are in your predicament seek counseling and emotional support so that they can go on, but that is not enough. You are still being deprived of precious time and milestones. Your children are being denied the love and care of their father. And that is just not fair. Eventually your children will find out the truth when they become adults. But you don’t need to wait that long. Your situation is not hopeless. Just as you have written to me, you need to reach out to every shul and Jewish community and tell your story. Before long, there will be others who are suffering quietly and in shame who will join you, too. Use whatever media platform is available to tell your story. Speak from your heart. Talk about the love you have for your children and how you yearn to be reunited with them. I have a hunch that not only will your children find out about it, but when you start doing it, others will follow, and their children will hear about it, too. Furthermore, use whatever legal means you can to prove parental alienation. Courts do not look at that favorably. Do not give up. Do not hide in shame or the true perpetrator gets away with it.
With regard to finding a shidduch, I can see how you are encountering challenges. If you are dating women who are divorced, they could be coming from an abusive husband and father, so they cannot view your predicament objectively. And that is another good reason why your story needs to be told. But I assure you that not everyone has tunnel vision when looking at the alienated parent. There are plenty of women who struggle as you do, being kept away from their biological children, or they know other men and women who are writhing in the same agony.
You have every right to restore your life to happiness. There are plenty of channels available for meeting like-minded, compatible women. There are lots of shadchanim who deal with second-time-around shidduchim and certainly have heard enough similar stories that they won’t hold whatever you tell them against you and will then advocate for you with regard to finding you a match. Network amongst friends and family who know you and can vouch for your sincerity and will also introduce you to somebody. Utilize dating sites and other available venues for meeting women. And if you hit a bump in the road, where a shadchan or person declines you without hearing your side of the story, or someone just doesn’t want to get into a situation where there are problems, move on to the next possibility. Treat each rejection the same way as you would if it did not involve your personal history.
It is understandable that you fear the upcoming Sedarim, especially since you are joining meals that other singles will attend. You should not allow anyone to put you down or make you feel uncomfortable. If anyone asks you a question that you find too painful to respond to, or you just don’t want to talk about, spin it around and ask them an unrelated question, or simply say that you appreciate their interest but Yetzias Mitzrayim is really the hot topic of the night. Go into Pesach with the thought process that your plight will come to a happy conclusion. Wishing you a Chag Kasher V’Sameach.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles at 5TJT.com.