Kate Winslet has been in the news lately, threatening to sue Fathers4Justice over an ad campaign criticizing comments she made in the media indicating she does not believe in shared parenting.
None of this 50/50 time with the mums and dads – my children live with me; that is it.
The comments appeared in Vogue magazine, and Ms. Winslet does not deny that she uttered them.
Winslet, who has three children by three different fathers, may or may not be handling her family dynamics well, ensuring that her children continue to enjoy the undeniable benefits of a continued relationship with their fathers. That is a moot point. Winslet’s personal circumstances are irrelevant. What IS relevant is her assertion that shared parenting, this “50/50 time with mums and dads” – is negative and detrimental to children’s well-being.
“Oh, my God! Those poor children! They must have gone through so much”.
Says who? They’ve always been with me. They don’t go from pillar to post; they’re not flown here and there with nannies.
Winslet’s first husband, Jim Threapleton, agrees with Fathers4Justice, and said he went months without seeing their daughter, Mia, but even so, the point is not how Winslet is managing her own circumstances – the point is that as a public figure, she is explicitly encouraging custodial parents to reject shared parenting.
And for that, she deserves to be called out.
Winslet makes her living as a public figure. Her words were not taken from a private conversation she had with friends. She made her statement in Vogue magazine, which she clearly understands will be read by millions of magazine subscribers and buyers. Total average circulation for Vogue magazine is 1.2 million, which only includes direct purchases. The number of shared reads (you read my copy) increases the circulation number even further. Indeed, that is the point of appearing in Vogue: it keeps her in the public eye and bolsters her value as a performer and public figure, allowing her to charge high prices for her services.
No one cast Winslet as a vindictive, alienating shrew. She did it to herself, so crying foul now is a bit rich.
The simple fact is that divorce, and separation from children is a critical public health issue. Divorced men are 39% more likely to commit suicide when they are separated from their children. The complete article is behind a paywall, but here is the citation:
Daniel S. Felix, W. David Robinson, and Kimberly J. Jarzynka. The Influence of Divorce on Men’s Health Journal of Men’s Health. September 2013, 10(1): 3-7. doi:10.1016/j.jomh.2012.09.002.
It is unconscionable that Winslet would promote separation as being good for her children, or good for her ex-husbands. She deserves every ounce of opprobrium she has generated.
I am the adult survivor of parental alienation following divorce, and I would like to spend the rest of this article addressing fathers who find themselves in this terrible situation. You can read the story of how the alienation played out here.
Christmas was always the worst time of year. My father was rarely a full participant in the celebrations, but he would drop off gifts, or have them mailed to us, and then be on his way. We had no idea at the time that he was in violation of court orders when he showed up, and that my mother would only permit him to stay for a few minutes. He considered himself lucky to have even that.
We hated him for thinking that being a father meant spending some money and then taking off at the earliest opportunity. Whatever presents or gifts he brought, it was never enough. We showed no gratitude. The words “thank you” were never uttered. We glared at him sullenly and perhaps begrudgingly conceded that some presents were “okay”.
We were utterly miserable and angry and ungrateful and terrible to him.
We had no idea that everything my mother had told us was a lie. I feel so wretched now, as an adult, looking back at how my brothers and I behaved towards my father, who, bless his courage and strength, never lashed out at us, and never gave up. I have no idea where he found the heart, but he did.
My father was no angel. He embraced a particularly violent form of Christianity that encouraged, interesting, shall we say, disciplinary techniques. He believed in the value of physical labor, and took that to extremes, sometimes. He believed in the character building value of hardship. He was not always the best father.
From those flaws, my mother built a careful psychological cage around her children and taught us to hate him. Not just dislike, but to actively despise and hate him. And she succeeded. He faced that hatred and never wavered. It is often said that women grow up to marry men who remind them of their fathers, and I have often said in the past that I am so glad I married a man nothing like my father.
The poison runs deep, and bleeding it out takes a long time.
The truth is that I married a man who has all the strength and character and goodness of my father. His cheerfulness is exactly like my father’s unwillingness to ever abandon hope. They are both relentlessly optimistic that things will work out, eventually. I was blind to that for a very long time.
I cannot imagine the pain I have caused my father, and I take some responsibility for that. As I child, I was more or less helpless against the lies my mother told. I could not understand how I was being manipulated, and I therefore could not resist. As an adult, I have fewer excuses. My father was the one who reached out to me. I cannot say if the day would ever have come that I would have looked for him. The truth about my childhood came as a complete shock, and yet, once I knew, it was all so obvious.
This is the hardest part. All across the world, there are countless fathers, facing down a Christmas season with children who hate them. Who resent them. Who are ungrateful, unappreciative, sullen, unpleasant and just generally unlikeable.
Their minds have been poisoned. They have been subjected to a kind of psychological torture called “parental alienation”. It is an extreme form of child abuse and the goal is to deprive both the children and the alienated parent of love.
And it works.
Oh, how it works.
It is bitterly unfair that both the alienated parent and the alienated children are condemned to missing one another’s lives while the children are young and being subjected to extreme brainwashing. And the devastating truth is that the effects can last long after childhood.
In most cases of parental alienation, it is fathers and children who are victims of vindictive mothers – women who are fully prepared to destroy their children psychologically for their own twisted desires.
I am by no means suggesting that alienated parents give up the fight to have their children rescued from the psychological abuse that is parental alienation. Absolutely not. This is an issue that must be understood as deeply harmful abuse with long lasting effects.
I’ve lived through both physical and psychological abuse – the psychological was far more difficult to overcome.
And that is the heart of my message. My father was not perfect. And neither was I. I held on to my irrational anger for a long time. Much longer than I should have. I know that. My unwillingness to confront the truth means I lost my father for ten years. Ten years I should have had, but didn’t, because I was not willing to see the truth.
And believe me, this is no attempt to garner sympathy – “oh, no, JB, you were just a child, it isn’t your fault”. That’s bullshit. It violates the central maxim of my life: you don’t get to choose your childhood, but you do get to choose how you respond to it.
I chose badly.
My children have an adoring grandfather, my husband has a father-in-law he loves, my neighbors have a man who can fix almost anything mechanical, my friends have a conduit into my past and the stories that made me who I am, my community has a watcher who keeps an eye on the pets and children – and I have my father back.
Not because of anything I did.
Because my father never gave up hope.
What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.
To every Daddy without his babies this Christmas season: Our hearts are with you.
May that give you the strength to never lose hope.
All the love,