Real stories from alienated families…

I married Samara’s dad the previous January, and we navigated the waters of blending two families reasonably well. Samara had some significant mental health concerns, and managing social media and teenage dating was proving to be a challenge. Overall, though, our house was a happy one. Samara would hold her dad’s hand while walking, and would regularly curl up with him on the couch to talk about boys or watch a comedy.

My husband was a single, custodial father when I met him. He had three children, Samara was 14, James Junior (J.J) was 12, and Hazel was 9. Jim married Samara’s mother and adopted her as a young girl. When his ex-wife left, he was an Air Force Sergeant; she decided to move to Las Vegas with her boyfriend. She abandoned her three children — their daddy assumed the role of a single parent without hesitation.

This visit was the longest they had ever been away from their father.

I’ve written before about my somewhat tumultuous early relationship with Hazel. I never faced those difficulties with Samara or J.J. My son, Gavin, was just 17 months old when I met Jim, and his big blue eyes captivated Samara. She was a doting big sister and would dress up as Elsa in my old prom dress to surprise him.

In December 2014, Samara was a hardworking and creative 17-year-old with some learning difficulties. We were discussing college plans and visiting schools. Her biological mother had re-entered their lives recently, and trying to get her attention became a constant need for Samara.

We wouldn’t see them again for a month, but we didn’t know it yet.

Her mother had just, for the first time, secured housing that was acceptable for keeping the children overnight. She was taking the children to her new place for Christmas and would have them for five days. This visit was the longest they had ever been away from their father.

That Christmas morning, we all stayed in our pajamas far too long. Our children opened their presents, and the teenagers did an excellent job of playing up Santa for Gavin, who was only 4. Samara was curled up on the couch with her dad, holding his hand and thanking him for her presents when her mother pulled into the driveway to pick them up. Each kid took their small suitcase, and they were gone. We wouldn’t see them again for a month, but we didn’t know it yet.

Five days later, my husband received a call from the police department. They only said it involved our children. We were terrified that something had happened when they with their mother. Jim drove to the police station immediately. My husband’s ex-wife had convinced Samara to file abuse charges against her father so that she could live with her mother. The police were questioning my husband.

None of his three children came home from that Christmas visit. I still remember packing clothing for them after our first court date. My husband wouldn’t have been able to handle that task. I stuffed tear-stained notes about how much we loved them in the pockets of their jeans.

For a month, we battled in court, met with DCF, and hired an attorney to advocate for the children. The abuse was unsubstantiated, but Samara was old enough to decide to stay with her mother. Eventually, we found out that their mother’s motivation was that her parents threatened to kick her out, and having the kids would have meant child support and a place to stay. False abuse claims are incredibly prevalent in child custody cases.

Precisely a month after they left, Hazel and J.J. returned to our home, traumatized, hungry, and afraid to eat the food in our fridge. They went from living in an upper-middle-class home to living in poverty overnight.

We didn’t see Samara for four years. Jim raised her from the time she was six months old. She is his little girl in every way that matters. My husband was distraught. He stopped sleeping. His love for carbs and sugar disappeared, he dropped 30 lbs in a month. His ribs jutted out, and his face was drawn and tired. I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child in such a way, even though I’ve seen him live through it.

We aren’t alone; an estimated 11–15% of divorces with children involved experience parental alienation. One parent decides to wage a war in which the only loser is the child. Carefully crafted manipulation convinces the child that the other parent is abusive, or awful in some other way.

Samara’s mom had been working on her for years before this visit. Samara’s learning disability made her an easy target. We had no idea.

Though two of our children were back home, the court battles weren’t over. They’d continue for years at an incredible financial cost to us, and emotional damage to the children. Our daughter, Hazel, stopped seeing her mother after two years of that dispute and has refused to see her since.

Parental alienation is a form of child abuse involving psychological mistreatment. The long term effects include

“low self-esteem and self-hatred, lack of trust, depression, and substance abuse. Other forms of addiction are widespread, as children lose the capacity to give and accept love from a parent.”

When we saw Samara next, she was 21. She had gone from an awkward adolescent to a young woman holding a wine glass.

She decided to come to my in-law’s house for a family function. It was tense and weird, and none of us knew how to interact with her. Since then, there have been more family functions. Some have gone well; some have not. Samara has sent angry text messages to my husband and begged her younger sister for some contact.

Just because your children leave, they don’t stop being yours.

After a birthday party where Samara ignored most of our family and was rude to her father and me, I met with Samara on my own. She is now 22 years old. I let her know that I was no longer willing to speak to her like a child.

I told her that being rude to her father and me at family functions was confusing for our nine-year-old, Gavin, and 3-year-old Evelyn. Gavin had forgotten her until she started showing up again. Seeing her at family functions brought up a lot of emotions for all of us.

Samara cried when I told her how much we miss and love her.

She said she wanted a relationship with my two young children. I told her she couldn’t have that without a relationship with her father and me. I left the next steps up to her, but I set firm boundaries.

We didn’t see or hear from her for six months.

We next saw Samara at Thanksgiving. She was conversational with us and involved with the little ones. Then, she suggested we come to the mall for Santa pictures when she was working as an elf.

We went. During that visit, Samara positioned herself in the middle of our family photo.

“Oh, wow! I get to have another sister!” Evelyn was over the moon.

She invited herself to our home for Christmas. This Christmas would be the first time in five years that Samara is in our home. Psychologists say that often alienated children want someone to tell them that their alienated parent isn’t a monster. Perhaps my conversation with her over the summer was what Samara needed.

After the Santa photo, my three-year-old, Evelyn asked me why we keep seeing Samara. She saw her at Thanksgiving and again a couple of weeks later. That’s never happened before in Evelyn’s short life.

I explained that her daddy has three little girls, Samara, Hazel, and Evelyn. In the insightful way of small children, Evelyn looked at me and gasped, “So Samara is my sister?”

“Yes, she is,” I replied.

“Oh, wow! I get to have another sister!” Evelyn was over the moon and needed to tell her daddy about her second sister immediately.

I took her to the wooden sign I made that hangs above our dining table. It lists the names of all of the members of our family. At the bottom, it states, “blended and blessed.” And we indeed are. The first name in the list of children is Samara Rose.

Here’s the thing, Samara left of her own volition. She was a teenager dealing with being adopted and abandoned. She was in an extraordinarily difficult position. But just because your children leave, they don’t stop being yours. They are part of you forever, and that’s true whether you gave birth to them, or decided to be their parent through adoption or marriage. Parenting is forever.

I can try to explain the emotions I feel leading up to this Christmas. I’ll likely fail. My husband never dared to dream that his little girl would be home for Christmas ever again. He only recently got to a place where he was emotionally ready to let go. Then she showed up.

Recently, Samara asked Jim to help her at the financial aid office so she can go to college in January. They spent the morning talking about taxes and course load and went out to lunch together. Jim is over the moon, excited, but also cautious.

I shopped for Samara for Christmas without having to send the gifts to her mother’s house. I placed them under the tree, and she opened them with her siblings. I gave up hope of ever having this again.

I am so excited, and at the same time, so terrified that something will go wrong, or that she’ll decide she isn’t ready. I’m terrified that my children will be broken-hearted about losing their sister again.

Sometimes we need to realize that life is entirely out of our control.

I’m not sure yet how the last five years have affected Samara. I know that she’s been working several jobs and supporting her mother financially. According to Psychology Today, alienated children often have periods of trying to reconnect with their alienated parent, followed by periods of withdrawing again.

The effects of this mental and emotional abuse can last a lifetime, and we aren’t sure where Samara is with all of that right now. Though, we do know that she is seeing a therapist.

I was both desperate for this Christmas visit to go well and terrified of what the next steps were. The day went very smoothly. She stayed late and asked me to paint her nails with the colors in her stocking. Having Samara in our home was so effortless that I wondered how she could have stayed away so long.

A few days after our Christmas celebration, we took all of the kids (except Hazel, she’s not ready to open her heart to her older sister just yet) to an aquarium. We had a delightful day again.

I’m reluctant to get too attached to Samara yet. I’m afraid of my young children hurting again. Love for children isn’t something you can turn off just because it hurts. All I can do is take a deep breath, open my arms, and let Samara in. Sometimes we need to realize that life is entirely out of our control.

Parental Alienation destroys families, and it destroys children’s lives.

So far, we’ve been able to avoid complete destruction; our home is a happy one.

Samara, however, lost her siblings for four years. Those years are impossible to get back. In those years, her brother became an adult, her sister turned from a pre-teen to a young woman, and her little brother went from a rosy-cheeked preschooler to someone who is old enough to cook dinner once a week. She has completely missed out on the life of her youngest sister.

Samara is the real victim in all of this.

We share this story with permission from the author to help raise understanding of the damage parental alienation causes affected children AND their families.