THE SECRETS WE MUST KEEP – 2018
Acrylic on Canvas
100cm (H) x 50cm (W) x 3.5cm (D)
Part of my series focusing on parental alienation and the tactics used to influence a child to reject their loving parent.
Asking children to keep secrets from their mum or dad (the targeted parent) is one of the most blatant forms of alienation. Telling the children, “Don’t tell your father,” or ”This will be our little secret,” creates an exclusive relationship that psychologically excludes the other parent. The secrecy implies there is something wrong with the other parent that justifies such behaviour. The victimized parent is portrayed as not understanding or as someone who “doesn’t want us to have fun.”
Parents who try to alienate their child from his or her other parent convey a three-part message to the child: (1) I am the only parent who loves you and you need me to feel good about yourself, (2) the other parent is dangerous and unavailable, and (3) pursuing a relationship with that parent jeopardizes your relationship with me.
When my parents broke up, Mum told us that even though we had our Dad that he didn’t live with us anymore and she was the one who was the main person responsible for looking after us. She was the one who did everything for us, who cooked and cleaned and got us to school and organised all the great things we ever did. Dad seemed to do OK for a little while. He had set up nice bedrooms in his new flat and cooked for us and took us out to the movies. He walked me to school every day. But Mum was so angry at Dad for always being disrespectful to her and she didn’t trust him to take care of us properly, so she was always calling to make sure we were OK when we were there. She made sure she had a right to know what was going on all the time and make Dad agree to everything that happened to us even when we were at his place but she really, really didn’t want Dad to know anything about what happened at our house.
So there were a lot of secrets we had to keep so that we didn’t get in trouble from Mum. She told us to be very careful about what we spoke about when we went to visit Dad. We weren’t allowed to tell Dad about anything that we ever did with her, or what we were planning to do as a family, who we had met or who we had talked to. We weren’t allowed to tell him where Mum was on the weekends or where we were going on holidays. Mum told us it was especially important not to discuss our feelings or problems with Dad because he wouldn’t understand like she did. “Dad had anger issues and he still needed to do a lot of work”. Abi was going to counselling because she didn’t like the way Mum was always saying bad things about Dad and Mum said I would be in big trouble if told Dad about that – it was none of his business and it was an issue between her and Abi.
It was easy to get annoyed at Dad because he would ask so many questions about what we had been up to and things like ‘where did you get your nails done’. It was hard to know what to say to him. It would have been easier if he could’ve just respected our privacy. Sometimes when we met Dad after school Mum would help me manage my father by giving me a list of things that I could talk about so I didn’t make a mistake.
When Dad got a new girlfriend Mum said we couldn’t stay with him anymore as it was not appropriate and that Dad should not put us through the stress of having to spend time with someone we didn’t know just for his benefit. But when we stopped going to Dad’s he wanted to call and text us all the time, so Mum had to make sure all the messages went to her phone and we had to keep our mobile numbers secret from Dad in case he tried to communicate with us directly. Mum said Dad should keep all parenting issues between them and it was very disrespectful of him not to go through her when he had things to discuss with us.
Then Mum had to block us all from Dad on social media and she set up a special instagram account for us girls so we could all share our “year of adventure’ doing special things together but we could keep it private from Dad.
I do miss my Dad sometimes but mostly I am just very upset with him that he has made things so difficult for my mum. She cries a lot. She yells and throws things and it makes me scared. I don’t want to upset her and I can see that it is all my Dad’s fault.