My Ex-Husband Kept Our Daughter From Me in a Move Known as “Parental Alienation”—And Now She Wants Nothing to Do With Me
One mom explains her plight to HelloGiggles and shares how she wants to help others in a similar situation.
DISCLAIMER: This is an as-told-to, written by one of HelloGiggles’ editors and based on a series of first-person interviews with the subject. The names of identifying parties have been changed in order to protect the privacy of those involved. If you or someone you know is experiencing parental alienation, you can seek help through custody-peace.org.
It’s hard to put into words the feeling you get when they place your baby in your arms for the first time. The overwhelming wave of emotion, unconditional love, and admiration as you gaze into your baby’s eyes for the first time is something a mom never forgets.
But, what happens when that bond is broken due to the purposeful actions of your co-parent? This is a phenomenon known as “parental alientation,” which Social Work Today defines as “the efforts on the part of one parent to turn a child against the other.”
According to a 2019 research paper published in Children and Youth Services Review, more than 22 million adults in the U.S. have been the targets of parental alienation. “Of these, 6.7% of the parents had children who were moderately to severely alienated, which is at least 1.3% of the US population,” the researchers state.
The repercussions of experiencing parental alienation include depression, trauma, or worse.
Loretta Smith* knows this all too well.
The mom-of-two in New York never expected divorce to be easy, but what happened after she split from her husband 19 years ago was something she’d never anticipated… even in her wildest dreams. In fact, the events that unfolded next quickly became her worst nightmare.
“In 2004, when my eldest daughter was 5 years old, I was divorcing her dad due to years of emotional and physical abuse and expected some sort of standard custody arrangement,” Smith tells HelloGiggles.
Instead, her ex-husband decided to take her to court for sole custody.
“He was a police officer and used his power and badge to make false claims about [our daughter’s] safety, involving child protective services and issuing an order of protection against me after an event that, I believe, he orchestrated,” alleges Smith. “Basically, I was set up.”
One night, while Smith was driving her young daughter back home after a weekend visit with Smith’s ex, Smith noticed her daughter seemed nervous and wasn’t acting like herself. “I finally asked her what was wrong and she told me that my ex’s girlfriend had slapped her in the face for talking back,” she recalls. “I was outraged, as any mom would be.”
“I was pretty angry that someone who isn’t even her parent thought she had the right to lay her hands on my child,” Smith says. “Show me a parent who wouldn’t be upset.”
Smith went to her ex’s home that night to confront them, and things took a turn for the worse — there was a physical altercation between Smith and her ex’s girlfriend. “This is a very crucial part of the story because, according to him, I attacked her in front of our daughter, which was not true, as she was inside watching TV.”
Smith admits she did get into an argument with the couple and attempted to slap the girlfriend — but her ex intervened. She claims that, after the altercation, both parties walked away unharmed.
The following morning, a police officer showed up at Smith’s door with a restraining order in hand. “I was shaking. In it, it said I jumped his girlfriend and tried beating her in the same room as my daughter,” Smith says. “I had no witnesses and it was two against one—one of them being a cop. My daughter was a minor and he knew that without his approval she couldn’t be a witness. That was the beginning of my long, long nightmare.”
During their marriage, Smith alleges that she endured multiple incidents of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her ex-husband (including one incident during which she claims he held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her). Smith says she tried reporting it to police, but because her then-husband was an officer himself, she was thwarted every time.
This series of events led Smith to begin cutting herself and go into bouts of depression, she says. According to Smith, she was even admitted into a psychiatric facility and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, although she believes that it was a misdiagnosis.
To make matters worse, Smith says her family and friends abandoned her. “My parents, sisters, even my best friends turned on me. I of course was a mess during this time of my life, but they just didn’t want anything to do with ‘crazy,'” she says.
“He knew what would hurt me, he knew how to get everyone to love him—as a clean-cut, fine-mannered officer of the law, what’s not to love—while I was looking like the delusional crazy person that he created,” Smith alleges.
“He blamed everything on my ‘mental illness ‘ saying it was creating paranoia. So, you can guess how easy it was for him to use all of this against me when it came time for a custody agreement.”
“I was alone and had no money. He bought the best lawyers and I had a public defender. It was over before it began. Though I never stopped fighting in court… no matter how much worse it got for me each time. I was humiliated, stripped of dignity and respect as my story spread its way across town like the plague,” says Smith.
Smith ended up losing custody of their daughter and was relegated to supervised visits for one hour per week.
“After six long years, and with a new lawyer and judge, I finally won,” she says. Only, at that point, it was too late to mend the relationship with her daughter.
“What followed broke my heart more than I thought I had left to break,” says Smith. “My daughter wanted nothing to do with me. She was scared and didn’t know me anymore. She even stopped calling me ‘mom.’ Instead, she calls my ex’s new wife ‘mom.’ That hit me so hard because I didn’t know what I was doing anymore.”
“I was depressed for years, ” adds Smith. “We just stopped seeing one another.”
This led to her journey of discovering parental alienation and just how prevalent it can be.
As Smith defines it: “One parent gaslights another to the point of depression and then uses the kids to make them hurt more. The awarded parent doesn’t stop with custody, they continue to hurt the other parent by erasing all of the positive memories of the other parent and planting seeds of abandonment instead. Basically, they turn the child against the parent without being obvious about it.”
Now, Smith’s daughter is 18 years old (she was five at the time of the divorce). Smith thought she’d finally be able to reconnect with her due to her adult status, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
“It’s been years since seeing [my daughter]. My parents were invited to her high school graduation and I wasn’t. That was the most recent pain… She has me blocked on all forms of social media. She’s ashamed if we talk. I did see her once about three years ago at my sister’s wedding and we danced, laughed, and talked! But since then, she’s been scared. I know she does love me, she’s just torn,” says Smith.
But, through this pain, Smith has realized her life’s purpose.
“I was so used to ignoring this excruciating pain that I now realize not facing it has been the very thing holding me back from forgiving myself… from healing and having a better life that I know deserve,” says Smith. “More importantly, this is my purpose: to help other women stay strong through their suffering.”
Smith is channeling her energy toward helping others who are experiencing parental alienation by starting a podcast on the topic. She is also giving motivational talks on social media and joining masterclasses — not as an expert, but as a survivor.
Smith says she holds past memories of her eldest daughter close to her heart. She also finds joy in caring for her 10-year-old daughter whom she had with another man years after her divorce from her ex.
“I hope that by sharing my story it will show my daughter that I never, ever, stopped loving her,” says Smith. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.”
*Name has been changed.