Parental alienation and Religious indoctrination are both very harmful to children. They are both lying to your children, even if you think you are right when it comes to the other parent.
Parental alienation is common after bitter divorces with minor children. The parent who has custody badmouths and attacks the other parent, with the purpose of creating fear and resentment in the child. It’s a petty revenge tool. Parental alienation can also be family alienation, when parents badmouth other relatives which they have a beef with to their child. Whether it’s grandparents, uncles or aunts, the child grows up with a terrible view of that person, poisoning their relationship.
Religious indoctrination, as Richard Dawkins points out, is a form of child abuse. Teaching myths to children as if they are real is basically lying to your child. Instilling fear (which many religions do) and guilt and undermining the child’s questioning.
Unfortunately, children belong to their parents and the indoctrination will continue. The good news is that when it comes to religious indoctrination, more and more parents are becoming secular and raising their kids with morals but no religion (like I did).
I have mentioned the difference between the Brazilian and American cultures when it comes to kids living with their parents. American kids who go to College usually live in dorms, fraternities and sororities as early as age 17.
Brazilian kids live with their parents through College, and sometimes even after graduation. Many still live with their parents even though they earn a decent living. Many only leave the parental home when they get married. The sense of family is so strong that some young Brazilians like the comfort of home-cooked meals and laundry by mom or the maid. Furthermore, homes are very expensive in Brazil, and people in their 20’s cannot usually afford a decent apartment. Living with roommates is considered less desirable than living with Mom and Dad. What are the upsides and downsides of young adults living with their parents?
– When American children go to College, they are usually 17. That is an age when kids still need parental guidance. For some kids, losing the parental influence makes them more prone of getting into trouble. Thus, Brazilian kids observe curfews and know they cannot sleep with boys or girls that easily.
– It’s a lot cheaper. Parents spend fortunes (namely retirement money) to pay for their kids’ room and board. Even when it’s the kids that pay, they graduate with huge debts that are will follow them into their middle-aged years.
– Kids living at home in their early 20’s have to gain with their parents’ life experience. The daily contact with Mom and Dad creates a bond that is for life. Conversations around the lunch (Brazil)/dinner table are fruitful. It is undeniable that even though kids come home during holidays and summer vacations, they don’t have the same level of interaction than kids who live at home during early adulthood.
– Kids usually live with more comfort at their parents’ house, and don’t have to worry so much about laundry and cleaning.
– College students and young adults eat healthier if they live at home and have family meals. The “freshman 15” is a sign that pizza and burgers sometimes becomes the staple of some College kids’ lives.
– Sometimes living with Mom and Dad way into adulthood is really a fear of facing reality and hard work. It can be an easy way out. It often happens when lonely or unhappily married parents project their neediness into their children. In that case, it is the parent who doesn’t want their child to move on.
– Children who live at home until they are well into adulthood don’t learn to be independent. They have trouble in performing simple housework tasks when they are finally on their own.
– Young adults who live with their parents until they get married are basically leaving Mom and Dad for the new spouse. They never learned to live on their own, or even to be alone. Brazilian women have an exaggerated fear of being alone since most never lived by them.
With all the immigration that America has seen in recent years, it is more common to find College kids living with their parents, especially in families from China, India and Central and South America. Many of these parents are afraid of losing influence over their kids, and want to avoid the subtle discrimination that happens with kids from different cultures in dorms, sororities and fraternities. There is also a religious aspect (fear their children will be influenced by more secular philosophies or have sex before marriage) and a financial aspect (immigrant families generally have less resources).
We also see parents who WANT to see their kids out of the house early. In this highly individualistic society, the ME is always in play. After decades of child rearing, many parents want to have time for them, especially if they are divorced. They want the freedom to come and go and travel during low season. The ones who are in the dating world want the freedom to bring their new dates home without having to worry about their kids’ reactions.
Conversely, many couples fear so much being alone with each other (the only thing keeping them together are the kids) that they hold on to their children for as long as they can. Many women define themselves as mothers first, and when their kids leave the nest they lose their purpose of living. They are unable to find pleasure in other life pursuits. These are the parents who will certainly interfere in every aspect of their children’s life and marriage.
Every family is different. Instead of having to follow a certain pattern, parents need to balance independence and guidance, family influence vs. world influence. Remember the old saying that we don’t raise kids for ourselves but for the world? It’s certainly true.
We are living in a very diverse world. Almost every continent has had its share of immigrant waves. Western Europe has received immigrants from Northern Africa and the Middle East for decades. The United States has had recent waves of Hispanic, Asian, Indian and African immigrants. One of the consequences of this multiculturalism is that there are more and more mixed marriages, not only in terms of ethnicity but also in terms of religion.
Jewish-Christian marriages have been common in the United States since the early 1900’s, when the first Jewish immigrants arrived. The number of Judeo-Christian marriages intensified after 1939 with Hitler’s hostility to Jews in Germany. Many Jewish-Christian couples in America now celebrate both traditions, with very little conflict.
More rare are marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims, but I believe they are also growing in numbers. Children tend to follow the mother’s religion, since men have been traditionally less involved with the raising of children. But what happens after there is a divorce? What happens when the father is a non-believer, and agrees to raise his children in the mother’s religion as a way to keep domestic peace but no longer is married?
Like in many divorces, differences sometimes become a point of contention. As an atheist myself who raised two great children without any religion, I know very well how religion can be a complicated issue. Take the story of this divorced father of two: a Hispanic immigrant who has abandoned Catholicism to become an Agnostic, or “almost atheist” in his words. His ex-wife is very Catholic and takes their son and daughter to Church every Sunday, as well as following in all the Catholic Church rites. Their teenage daughter recently was “confirmed” with a church ceremony. The father objected to what he called “indoctrination” of his daughter, with no success. He felt helpless and obligated to attend the service, where he was appalled at the “discrimination between middle class whites and poor Hispanic immigrants who ignored each other during the whole ceremony”. Furthermore, it pained him to see his daughter going through rituals that he understands as “based in lies and myths”.
The most famous case of divorced couples with opposed religious views is the Michael Newdow case. Michael Newdow is an atheist who opposed his daughter reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in school. In 2002, he filed a suit in behalf of his daughter against the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Even though the case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court, it was overruled because Newdow did not have custody of his daughter. For secular parents, the difficulty is that there is an added stigma to being non-believer in a country where religion is associated to “being good and moral”. Atheist parents are usually powerless against a religious parent who has a stamp of approval from society, school and other family members.
So what can a parent who is opposed to the religion their ex belongs to do? I think the best solution is to talk to your child as she or he grows up. Offer an alternative point of view. Teach your child about your religion or lack thereof. Tell them that you will let them decide what’s best for them when they grow up, and hope for the best. Engaging in battles with your ex over what religion or non-belief you will raise your children just adds to the tension of divorce and may alienate the child. Letting your child know what your position is and that they have a choice seems to be the most civil way to deal with a sensitive issue such as religious belief.
Popular culture has references to “evil stepmothers” and “the redheaded stepchild”, but few people discuss the difficulty it is dealing with stepchildren in today’s divorce riddled society. Nonetheless, message boards across the internet are full of stepmothers and stepfathers with horror stories of stepchildren who cause them immense grief, disrupt their lives, insult and steal from them and eventually destroy their parent’s relationships. I have personally heard stories of stepchildren or future stepchildren that made the lives of the mother’s boyfriend/husband or the lives of their father’s girlfriend/wife so hard that the stepparent-to-be could no longer deal with the situation.
Many parents feel guilty about their divorce and try to compensate by letting the children run their lives. Sometimes they feel hurt and lonely and lean on their children as confidantes, which is a lot worse. Children are not supposed to be burdened by their parents’ love lives. Not only they don’t have the maturity and experience to deal with these problems, they start feeling that the parent’s partner is their enemy, thus a feeling of competition develops. Moreover, throwing your child against your lover will only make this child have a very eschewed view of relationships in the future, affecting their capability to trust and have a good stable marriage themselves.
For younger stepchildren, the problem is usually establishing boundaries. These kids have been hurt by their parents’ divorce, and it is natural for them to dream that their parents will be reunited. Who doesn’t want that? The new girlfriend or boyfriend is an outsider, an imposter, a threat. Some smaller children do not even let their mother or father hold hands, sit next to or sit in the front seat of the car with their lover/boy-girlfriend/new spouse. What’s a parent to do? Establish boundaries and explain to their child that the GF/BF is their partner, but that they (the child) will always be their child, and will always be loved and protected. When a child sees that their Mom or Dad loves and respect their partner, they learn to respect that person as well, making them less inclined to oppose them or resent them.
Adult stepchidlren’s animosity towards their parent’s partner is often times related to money. They fear their parent will give the inheritance they feel entitled to to the new spouse. Some even resent if their parent spends any money on their new spouse. Some daughters resent if their father gives a nice gift to their girlfriends and wives. What a parent spends on their partner is their business, and not the child’s business.
Things are especially thorny with divorced men and women who only have one child. And things get a lot messier if the child is from the opposite sex. If you have watched the 1958 movie “Bonjour Tristesse”, with David Niven and the lovely Jean Seberg, you will see an example of a very unhealthy Daddy/Daughter relationship, where the daughter is able to completely manipulate and control her father to the point of driving his girlfriend to…oops, spoiler. There is also an Italian movie (I cannot recall the name) where a lonely divorced woman has a very “unusual” bond with her teenage son, who scared away every potential suitor his mother had.
Only children are not used to sharing their parent with anyone. When it comes to an opposite sex parent, they subconsciously see themselves as their parent’s romantic partner (“why does he need another woman/man, am I not enough”)? This situation is more complicated when a parents’ marriage breaks up very early in a child’s life. This child develops the “me and Daddy/Mommy against the world” syndrome. There was never a sibling to share the spotlight or the presence of a stable couple in this child’s life.
Enablers are parents who sense the child’s resentment of their new partner and feed into it, for several reasons. Sometimes, a divorced woman or man feels very lonely, and their attachment to their child goes beyond a normal father-daughter or mother-son relationship. They look to the child to supply all the elements of a full blown adult romantic relationship. That set up is a potential landmine when the parent finally starts dating or remarries.
Step parenting is a very difficult and thankless task. Many times the stepparents do what is within their power to treat their step kids well, encountering firm opposition and disrespect (or worse, the “behind the scenes” manipulation of their confused parent). In 90% of the times, the parent of the child is the person that can make this scenario better. If a child sees their parent and their new partner as a strong solid unit, their resentment will eventually turn into acceptance. As long as the child feels loved by their parent and has discipline and boundaries, problems between a step kid and stepparents are less likely to occur.
Finally, a parent whose child resents their spouse has to think: how can I love and protect my child and at the same time protect my relationship? After all, your child is going to grow up and marry someone else, and that person will eventually become their best friend and confidante. If you lost all the relationships in your life because of a jealous child, you may find yourself lonely. And sometimes a child never gets married because they don’t want to “have to” leave their primary relationship with their parent. Who hasn’t heard of those bachelors who never get married and still live with their mama (or talk/see mama every day), who disapproves of all their girlfriends? Kind of twisted, right?
There are some advantages on becoming an empty nester: you have more time for yourself, you can dedicate yourself to causes and new hobbies, you have less dishes to do, less garbage, less mess in your house and you can travel during the off-season, with cheaper fares and hotel deals. Sure, you miss your children, but when they come home it’s always a joy. On the kids’ side, they get to become much more independant, responsible and less spoiled.
So what’s the downside?
The downside is the loss of the sense of family very early in the short time you have with them, before they become full adults with spouses, jobs and kids of their own. Additionally, in America, kids sometimes go to Colleges away from home, in another State and sometimes on a different coast. Many after graduating do not come to their original area, and end up marrying locals or finding jobs near where they went to school.
The consequences are deep and affect the bonding and cohesion of a family, and what will become an extended family. Brazilians often criticize Americans for seeing little of their children and how kids seldom visit or call their parents (“only at Thanksgiving and during the holidays”). The truth is that when kids leave their parents’ home at 17, the bond does get less strong over time, and they get used to being on their own, which is good and bad.
With the high divorce rates, many parents do not have the original family structure and lifestyle to accomodate grown kids and a new boyfriend/girlfriend, and seeing the kids go away to College provides them with the necessary freedom and privacy to start their new lives. Children in that situation lose their primary family which probably pushes them even more to become independant.
Young women and men in Brazil only leave their parents’s home when they get married. It is odd for me now to see 30-somethings living with their parents. One of the main reasons is how expensive apartments are for someone who is starting their professional life. The advantage is that adult kids can care for their parents when there is a need.
My adult kids are in College and Grad school. They often visit, which is wonderful, but I know they might never live with me again. I have told them that I would prefer them to live within driving distance from me. No California please, no matter how nice it out there!
I left my parent’s house at 23 and went far, far away. I spent my whole life missing being with my family during holidays, birthdays and celebrations. I’d call my parents and hear the happy chatter in the background while I was alone with my husband during those occasions and feel some sadness. My children grew up without having grandparents around, and of course the bond between them is not as strong. I also grew up far away from my own grandparents, and when they died, I did not feel an intense sadness. They were people I saw every now and then.
I was talking to my brother recently and he told me he had discussed a certain issue with his kids over lunch that day. That hit me: wow, it wasn’t even a weekend day, but a work day.
Something almost forgotten these days is the family meal. This is a great habit that bonds parents and kids and provides an opportunity to have important talks with them. In Brazil, they are more common for 2 reasons: parents still come home for lunch, and many families still have maids preparing the main meal of the day, which is lunch. In the US, harried mothers and fathers fix some dinner and many times everyone just grabs their plate and sit in front of the TV, or the computer.
But even in Brazil the family meal is in decline. Less people have maids and more mothers work full jobs. I confess that I only did that with my children on special occasions. Who wants the trouble of setting up the table after working all day? You’re lucky if you have a home cooked meal, as many busy moms just get some ready made food from some supermarket, or even worse, fast food on the way home. Unfortunately, a good opportunity to talk to them without distractions is gone. Maybe we should all use Thanksgiving as that one time a year where we can restore the family meal, a wonderful practice.
Another difference that comes to mind between the USA and Brazil is the way mothers and fathers transport their babies. Brazilian mothers still carry their babies in their arms a lot. American mothers prefer strollers all the time. I could guess that that is a matter of economics: strollers are too expensive for the low income population in Brazil.
I remember when my kids were babies, I carried them a lot. I also used the “front-pack”, where they could actually listen to my heartbeat and feel the warmth of my body. Even though I could afford a stroller (and owned one), I loved carrying them in my arms. I felt that the touch they received from me was important. I also felt that the closeness made them feel safe. I never though I was spoiling them. Dr. Spock theories about “spoiling” babies did not feel right to me. After hearing a lot about “training your baby by not picking it up when it is crying all the time”, I once let my older child cry herself to sleep in her crib, breaking my heart in the process. It felt terrible. I wish I did not make her more fearful and distrustful in the process.
American parents use the strolller all the time (strollers in busy malls and sidewalks are very annoying). Maybe holding their babies more often could be better for their babies’s overall health. Touch, as it has been documented by various research, is fundamental to babies’ development and emotional well being.
I heard recently that every American man who marries a Brazilian woman should be weary, since she might want to go back to her country one day. I know numerous cases of Brazilian women married to American men who are stable in this country and would not think of going back. Those who have no kids with an American man have no problem to deal with, and there are those who want to go back but would not separate children from their father, so they wait for the kids to grow up.
The David and Bruna Goldman story teaches us a lesson, and this can occur between different countries and nationalities. Some people have a harder time adapting to a new country. Some have very tight ties with their families, or feel their lives would be better or easier in their mother country. When children are part of the equation, things are much more complicated. And this applies to most divorces where one parent feels the need to move to another state or city, or is transferred because of their job: how to share the kids. Invariably, kids live with their moms and visit with their Dads. This seems to be the most common arrangement, but there are all kinds of arrangements. Mothers who abandon their children, fathers who abandon their children. Fathers who do not conform in being weekend fathers, mothers who think they are entitled to have full custody, etc. But sometimes couples from different countries face a bigger challenge: the vast distance betweeen both countries.
In Bruna’s case, she did not want to stay in the United States and decided that her son would stay with her no matter what, and screw the father. She wished the father would just disappear magically, but he did not.
My advice to men who marry foreign women, or Brazilian women such as this case: talk to your bride about what would happen if she wants to return to her country. Even have some kind of agreement made in advance about what would happen in that case or in case of divorce. Know what you are dealing with and what to expect in case anything happens.
This is a very sad story. Dateline made a story on it, showing the father in a favorable light. Here is a summarized version of the story:
1) Male model meets nice girl from a well to do family from Brazil during his modeling stint in Italy;
2) They get married and have a son; former male model settles down in New Jersey and becomes a loving father and husband;
3) Husband thinks everything is all right. In-laws from Brazil come to visit and wife and son go back with them for a 2 week vacation. Husband takes family to airport and plans to join them later;
4) A few days later, he receives a phone call that shocks him. His wife is saying she is saying in Brazil for good and wants full custody of the young son. She also tells him to not even try to prosecute her criminally or else;
5) Wife gets a divorce in Brazil and gets remarried. Later, she dies. Father tries to get son back and the grandparents and the stepfather, protected by the slow and inneficiant Brazilian judicial system, stall the possibility of father and son being reunited.
5) David Goldman, the father, has been in a 4 year battle with Brazilian authorites to recover his son.
This is a sad and unfair story. My opinion, as a Brazilian and as a mother, is that Sean should be returned to his rightful father as soon as possible! He will adapt well to his new life, will have his father’s attention and love and he can have visitation with his grandparents (say summer vacation).
My analysis of what might have caused Bruna to do what she did:
Young woman from wealthy Brazilian upper middle class family, raised with maids and privilege, goes to Italy to study. Falls in love with handsome American male model. They come to America and she soons realizes that the handsome male model is just a regular guy. The glamour and glitz are gone. She lives in the suburbs, feels possibly isolated and homesick. She has to take care of her son and do housework, whereas in Brazil she could have maids. She misses the human warmth and warm climate of festive Rio. She decides on impulse, or maybe planned with her parents, to go back to Brazil. She possibly felt disillusioned by her marriage and no longer wanted to be married to David, so instead of urging him to move back to Brazil with her, get a civilized divorce with visitation and vacations, she decides to run. Apparently she met the second husband during her trip there and fell in love very quickly, or maybe he had even been a former boyfriend. Since he was from an influential family in Brazil, her parents might have approved the relationship. For Bruna, the new guy represented a great opportunity to live the good life, since he was a successful lawyer from a well to do family himself.
This decision was the worse possible. If she was afraid of losing her son (she might have heard stories of American citizens being granted custody of children when a foreign parent decides to move back to their original country), why did she decide to do something so cruel to her husband and to her son? Why did she decide to do something illegal? Why didn’t she try to get a divorce and settle on a visitation pact with the father? Was she wrongly influenced by her parents? Was she ignorant of the law? Was she just plain selfish or clinically depressed? The more I learn about Bruna, the more I see a selfish woman who had no empathy or respect for the man who clearly was a good father and loved his son.
I hope this case resolves soon, and Sean goes back to his father. After all, Sean was born here, so he is an American citizen first.
President Lula, you’ve got to do something about this! This is not acceptable and a shame for us Brazilian internationally! I also hope Obama tells Lula very firmly to stop Bruna’s family from being so dishonest!
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One thing that caught my attention in my last trip to Brazil, and that I had somehow forgotten, has to do with fathers showing their sons,(manyTEENAGERS) physical affection in public . I am not talking about baby boys, but boys over the age of 7.
You see it a lot. In Brazil, parents usually are very affectionate with their kids, of both genders. That comes naturally, as Brazilians are usually affectionate people. White America, more especifically amongst those of anglo-saxon and teutonic heritage, is not very confortable with touch, especially in public.
However, I started observing fathers and sons in particular and I noticed that in America, you do not see a lot of physical affection (hugs, kisses) between fathers and sons in any racial group. It seems that it is now ingrained in the American culture and I suspect it has to do with the intense homophobia in this country. I find it beautiful when I see a Mom or Dad hugging their kids.
I have already written in this blog that I can foretell which couples are happy and which are not by their body language and the amount of touch between them. Some do it, some don’t. What I don’t see however are many fathers hugging or kissing their sons, and I think this is a grave mistake. I also suspect this can cause the mysoginism and anger I see in some young Americans lads, and maybe even cause some coldness towards people and also women (just like child abuse can lead to name calling, wife beating, marriage avoidance and the need for sex as escapism). I am not a psychologist, but the lack of affection may well have some influence in a young man’s future behavior.
If these boys do not have enough coddling, enough touch and enough demonstration of affection, can they develop a hard crust to cover up the sadness?
Any readers who kiss and hug their sons? Please prove me wrong! (I have received some emails from fathers who do hug and kiss their almost grown up sons…thank Zeus)
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