The Scorpion and the Tortoise; Ancient Life Lessons of Character

“The scorpion was hamstrung, his tail all aquiver;
just how would he manage to get across the river?”

The scorpion had a problem, a big problem; he wanted to get across the river and can’t swim.Tortoise_and_Scorpion Luckily a tortoise is nearby and the scorpion tries to entice the tortoise to cross the river with the scorpion on its back.

The tortoise wouldn’t think of it. “You’ve a less than ideal reputation preceding: there’s talk of your victims all poisoned and bleeding.”

The scorpion cleverly replies that stinging the tortoise would also kill himself, and who would be so foolish? After some hesitation the tortoise agrees to bring the scorpion across. The scorpion certainly had a perceived sensible argument, so the tortoise ignored his inner voice.

But just a few moments from when they set sail,
the scorpion lashed out with his venomous tail.

As the tortoise was drowning he asked the scorpion: “Why?” Now they are both going to die.

“I don’t know!” cried the scorpion. “You never should trust
a creature like me because poison I must!

I’d claim some remorse or at least some compunction,
but I just can’t help it; my form is my function.”

“It is better we should both perish than that my enemy should live.”

I was thinking about this ancient story while driving to a meeting with the parenting coordinator and Ex. From Sanskrit to Aesop, children throughout history and all over the world, have been taught that one is, and always will be, true to their nature. It’s your character, your personality.

Only eight days prior to this mandatory meeting, Ex had yelled at me that he was never going to sit face-to-face with me, yet I was on my way to exactly such. This could be interesting and I was certainly going in with mixed emotions.

Part of me knew exactly how this was going to go; Ex has something to gain with maintaining a favorable impression with the parenting coordinator, so he was going to be exceptionally charming and I would have to calmly bring to light his manipulations and hope the parenting coordinator is smart enough to see through them. The scorpion wants to get across the river and so he did, at least he attempted.

I walked away from the meeting thinking about a high school history lesson;

“Franklin, you have some GREAT ideas, let’s form a committee about it” – Stalin to FDR

Despite Churchill’s warnings, FDR said “… I have a hunch Stalin is just not that kind of man…”. FDR felt a lot was accomplished, yet Stalin plundered Eastern Europe while the US essentially single-handedly rebuilt Western Europe.

That is exactly how our meeting went. Superficially it seemed a lot was accomplished, but when you look deeper that sense evaporates. Committees were formed; “I’m working on it,” “I will look into it,” Ex said. If this wasn’t about the well-being of the children, the parallel would have been amusing.

“I’m working on it”

Yes, this was what he said about facilitating a relationship with the mother. For healthy psychological/emotional people this would be appalling!

Early on in the divorce proceedings things are highly emotionally and every (healthy) parent will admit they could have handled certain situations with the children better. We all make mistakes.

However, if this behavior continues 2 ½ years into/after the divorce it becomes deeply disturbing. That parent is either still consumed with hate for the other parent, or has severe psychological problems and never gained the developmental ability to share or form secure relationships.

It takes a village to raise a child. Children have many relationships; with parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, teachers, friends and spouses/children later on in life. So many people make a contribution to a child’s life. When a parent has trouble with ‘facilitating a relationship with the other parent’, they need to have control over the social and emotional life of the child, with the subsequent long-term consequences and abilities for that child to form (future) relationships.

When a parent is secure in their relationship with their child, they welcome the relationships they have with others, and there is no need to control and possess the child like it is property. There is no need to be ‘working on it’. Because that is really deep down what it is; control, possession and insecurity.

My guess is that Ex is still ‘working’ on it, as the solutions discussed have as of yet not materialized. Realistically, he can be ‘working on it’ for a long time.

“Looking into it”

My jaw dropped, I couldn’t believe my ears. I was at a loss for words. He couldn’t seriously be saying ‘that‘, it had nothing to do with reality.1150946_605933376125603_910446225_n

This discussion was one of the most blatant examples of ‘externalization of blame‘ I have ever seen. It left me speechless for a moment. The evidence was so crystal clear, like 1+1=2, yet he came with, very weak, arguments that it was ‘my fault’ and could not possibly have happened during his access time.

The Parenting Coordinator stepped in and Ex agreed to ‘look into it’.

In reality it was a really small issue. A psychologically healthy person would have said something along the lines ‘let me fix that for the well-being of the kids’ and it would be done.

This response is an ingrained defense by Ex, he literally can not help himself, like the scorpion couldn’t help stinging the tortoise. Current research is very clear that ‘externalization of blame’ is positively correlated with aggression and lack of empathy, it is the core of psychopathy.

Now why is that so harmful to (young) children? Kids rely on their parents and adults to teach them about the world, about morals and values, how society works. When an adult, or even worse a parent, distorts reality through externalization of blame, it fundamentally undermines their self-esteem and perception of the world around them. They learn not to rely on objective observations and factors, but on the distortions of the person of authority, who are asking them to “smell the color 9”.

And psychopaths are charmingly good at distorting reality. At the end of our meeting I told a funny story to the Parenting Coordinator. Ex jumped in and made himself part of this story. Even to me it seemed plausible he was around when it happened, while I knew he hadn’t. I started doubting myself. I had to go back and check the records to be sure, and sure enough, Ex could not have possible been present during the incident. I now utterly understand that the DSM requires the diagnosis of psychopathy to be made based on records, not on interviews. Or that the FBI requires a computer analysis of the words used, not rely on the interview itself.

From committee to action?

So now what? These issues were raised with the Parenting Coordinator for a reason. I will have to raise them again after some time and hope ‘for the best’.

People don’t change unless they really want to change. A person with a personality disorder can not change, as they do not accept that anything is ‘wrong’ with them, and if nothing is wrong with you, why would you want to change?

Am I disillusioned? No. Belief in human goodness may want us to believe that somebody will change, but I accept that is not going to happen. I accept that Ex is what he is. Now it is about managing the situation.

We will have to see if the committee has ‘sprung into action’ on at least 1 subject.

5 Things I Want to Say to My Ex-Husband

Girls night out. Yes, one of the benefits of visitation, you actually get to do things for yourself. I get to go places, study, write and do things, no need to find a babysitter, they are with the other parent.

Photo credit Jason Short @Flickr

Photo credit Jason Short @Flickr

Over a lovely dinner my girlfriend asks me: “So, Ostara, if there are 5 things you could tell Ex, what would they be?”

“Uhm…….. Hello and Goodbye?” Laughter.

Driving home I thought about this a little more. This wasn’t fair. I really don’t have much, if anything, left to say to Ex, but it is not that all in the marriage was bad. And you don’t just erase 14 years of your life as if it was meaningless. That would say more about me, then about the marriage or Ex. So here it goes, my 4 things, as I really can’t come up with a meaningful 5th.

Thank you for the kids

Yes, it takes 2 to tango. The beautiful, gorgeous, wonderful, intelligent, well-mannered, funny, delightful (I’m the mother, of course I’m going to gush and be biased!) kids are a product of you and me. And I would not want to have missed out on them for anything in the world. Let’s always celebrate their uniqueness and cherish them. We may be divorced, but we are still parents.

Thank you for the good times

Psychopaths are frauds, and perhaps the good times were just illusions. Whether they were or were not doesn’t matter any longer and I’d like to keep the good memories. Questioning whether it was all make-believe or not, would not only take away from the past, but also from the present. It is not worth my emotional energy. The marriage was a life lesson from which I hopefully have learned, both good and bad.

Thank you for filing for divorce

Yes, I may have had the courage to throw you out of the house, I could never have mustered up the guts to actually file for divorce. Early on in the divorce proceedings I re-read my diaries. I had started when I was 12 and my last entry was 31 December 2004

“Ex doesn’t want me to write to you any longer, it makes him uncomfortable, he thinks I only write bad things about him. “My husband is bad”. I’m sorry to let you go, you have been a source of release and reflection, but in a marriage you don’t do what hurts your spouse. So goodbye.”

The ultimate mind-control.

20 years of writing and my sole support network with my family being overseas had to be taken away because it was a thread to you.

But that is not me any more, divorce has set me free.

Free to pursue my dreams again. Free to love. Free to be loved. Free to cherish and be cherished. Free to (re-)connect with my friends, and I have some awesome friends out there. Free to enjoy life.

Without the divorce, my life would not have been where it is now. Had you not filed, this all would not have happened, and I’m grateful for that.

I wish you happiness

A happy father makes for happy kids. As a mother, want the best for the kids, so I really hope that you are happy. It is really that simple.

Yes, it is a short list.

Splitsville goes Online; Facebooking, Tweeting, Instagramming and Blogging through Divorce

Earlier this week I received an email from Google+ “Ostara, do you know Attorney Ex, Your Attorney or Your Attorney? “.

Do you know......

Do you know……

I burst out laughing. So that is what my social media life has become? ‘Do you know the attorneys involved in your divorce’?

Forever curious, I clicked on the links, only to find my attorneys are boring and do not disclose anything. Ex’s attorney had a most interesting profile though. His YouTube channel revealed he ‘likes’ sexually semi-explicit videos. We all know YouTube doesn’t allow porn, but these ‘likes’ certainly makes me look differently at Ex’s attorney.

Throughout the divorce proceedings I just regarded Ex’s attorney as this friendly older man who was vigorously defending his client. He was doing his job, it was nothing personal against me, he was just earning a living. Not so anymore. Not after I saw his YouTube channel. No way!

And so your online presence and profile can determine how you are perceived in real life and obviously in court. Anything you say and do online ‘can and will be used against you‘ in Divorce Court. A survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in 2010 revealed a whopping 81% of Family Law attorneys have used evidence from social media in their recent cases. Facebook was the most often cited with 66%. So how is evidence gathered from social media used in divorce cases?

A person’s state of mind

A string of tweets or Facebook postings can be used in custody evaluations to show a parents’ ‘state of mind’. They, your ex, the custody evaluator or mutual friends, see your ‘ranting and raving’ or making disparaging comments about your ex, not very conductive to the strived for co-parenting and not making you a good joint custody candidate.

On some FB pages I see ‘anonymous’ posts by the page owner with questions relevant to a followers specific divorce. It is great to have support and not have to reinvent the wheel so to speak and being able to do so anonymously. However, when you read the comment section, the actual questioner replies with updates. That entirely defeats the purpose!

Evidence of communications

In fault states social media, who you follow, who follows you and are your friends could be a clue to extra-marital affairs. Not relevant anymore in most states, but from your friend list attorney can gather who you associate with and whether that is a good environment for the kids.

Evidence of time and place

Your posts and pictures provide a timeline of where you are and what you do. The husband that claims he is too poor in court to pay alimony, yet post pictures of him skiing in Switzerland a week later. Pictures of the mother at a social gathering drinking and smoking while the kids are supposed to be in her care.

Evidence of actions

Brian McCurk took his ex-wife back to court after he found pictures of her belly dancing on Facebook. Dorothy McCurk was awarded a lifetime of alimony because she claimed disability after a 1997 car accident. Apparently she was also running a belly dancing blog where she stated she had been dancing daily for the past 3 years. Oops!

Your social media and online activity is both public and permanent. My Ex requested in discovery all my FB posts. Make sure you have your privacy settings to the max, but still don’t post what you don’t want the world to know, whether it is through official discovery or leaks by mutual friends. Who knows who took a screenshot of your posts? When in doubt, just close your online accounts for a while, pick up the phone or talk over coffee with your friends.

The Importance of Documentation; Email Forensics in This Day and Age

Or how to communicate with the personality disordered ex, during and after divorce.Computer-w-email If you have kids, there is no way around it, you have to communicate and the problems arise. False allegations are common and 1 of them often is that you ‘don’t communicate‘ with regards to the children. Another is that you are verbally abusive over the phone.

It is important to counter these false allegations and to document what you are doing.

Early on in the divorce proceedings the oldest was showing signs of depression. Per direction of the attorney of the children, after discussing the issue at a pre-trial meeting, I scheduled an appointment with a therapist. I informed Ex via email of the upcoming appointment. I already through Outlook had a ‘read receipt’ request and knew that Ex had read the email. Same with all further emails with regards to the oldest seeing a therapist. And then sh!t hit the fan. Ex had a meeting with the therapist and the therapist told Ex about his ‘disturbed’ relationship with oldest and wanted to make a plan to improve the bond between father and child.

That was such an insult to Ex, he turned around and started the false allegation that ‘he was never informed‘ and he was ‘going to report therapist to the licensing board‘. Typical behavior for a personality disordered parent, but of course it stirred up a lot of controversy. I provided the court with the read-receipts, settling the issue. Outlook’s read-receipts are not perfect and Ex found a way around them, so now I had a problem. With the history of denying receiving communications, the task was to protect myself against further allegations and continue to communicate.

So how do you communicate and gather evidence? The problem with internet communications is that it needs to be authenticated in order to pass the ‘rules of evidence’.

Text Messages

Some court allow text messages if the sender can be authenticated. And there lies the problem. Often litigants have a ‘nickname’ associated with the phone number; ‘Nick’, ‘Mom’, ‘BFF’. You can essentially name each and every phone number what ever you want, so this does not proof the text message was actually sent from the phone number associated with your ex.

So for text messages, whether printed or as a screen shot, to be admissible, the actual phone number of the sender has to be visible and authenticated as being from the ex-spouse.

Our Family Wizard

Personally, I’m a big fan of OFW (and no I’m not affiliated with them). Unfortunately they come with a fee of $99, however discounts are available for low-income families.

They offer a great SECURE platform to communicate through email and provide tools for financial accountability, sharing information, calendar etc. Not all information is shared with everybody. They have children’s accounts, which are sheltered, but also ‘professional accounts’. Giving the ‘parenting coordinator’ or ‘attorney for the children’ access can be very beneficial.

All entries are time and date stamped and are admissible in court as evidence. And there lies the crutch. A personality disordered parent does not want their actions or in-actions documented. In ‘normal’ conflicted or emotional divorces, neither parent would object to this form of communication, but a personality disordered parent will ferociously object and you may need to get a court order.

There are other online programs available, and please post links in the comment section if you know of them with a little review and tell us about your experience with them.

Email

So you’re stuck with email and documenting that your ex actually received and read the emails. Gmail is notorious for preventing sending read-receipts and many Macs do as well.

There are several email tracking services out there; Gmail Boomerang, ReadNotify, MSGTag just to name a few. They are work in essentially the same way. Each email you send will have a ‘tag’ attached to it that registered whether the email is delivered and when it is opened. Some services also register how often it is opened and at which IP address.

Now if you have a particularly deceitful ex you can use the paid service of RPost. This service is used by large insurance companies and law firms to not only proof delivery, read-receipt, but also content of the email sent.

Documenting your communications can provide the court with the evidence of who is more credible and protect you against false accusations. If 1 parent says ‘no email was sent’ the other parent can ascertain not only it was sent but also read, taking much of the ‘he said, she said’ out of the court room.

Email is a permanent record, so be careful what you actually write. Topic for another post and another day as this permanent record can beneficial for you, but an angry slip of the keyboard can also heavily count against you.

Hug Me! Or What Makes Post-Divorce Child-Parent Relationships

RING RING” Phone Ringing!

(substitute with any fancy ringtone you desire)

Ostara: “Hello”

Ostara’s Mom: “Good morning. Listen, let me get right to the point. I just spoke with your Dad and he is trying to reach you. He just wants to know how you are doing, you should give him a call.”

Ostara: “Uhm, I’m 40, and supposedly an adult. I think I can manage my social agenda.”

Ostara’s Mom: “Well yes, but we are your parents, regardless of how old you are. Your Dad has not spoken to you for 1 week. Go call him.”

OK. I laugh.

If you had told me 14 years ago my parents would call each other on the phone to talk about their children, I would probably have thought you were crazy. Their divorce had just started and of course emotions ran high.

Ok, REALLY high. let’s not minimize it.

Fast forward to today. My parents each have their own lives and have successfully recovered personally from their divorce. It’s in the past. The present and the future holds their children and grandchildren. My parents support the child’s (although adults now) relationship with the other parent. Did they make mistakes? Of course! They are normal humans, not saints.

This phone conversation made me reflect about my relationship with my parents. Did it developed rather typically? Or did divorce change how I feel about each parent?

If I thought I would find an answer to this online easily, I was delusional. Enter the complicated research area of post-divorce social science. There 2 things I find problematic with a lot of the ‘popular and often quoted’ research; most studies do not take into account the developmental stage of the child and the emotional/psychological stability and health of the parent.

Both of these factors would influence the outcome or conclusions. Toddlers and teenagers act differently. As a toddler I worshipped my mother, as a teenager I did anything to defy her, which by the way, is completely normal  and healthy way of teenagers separating their identity and individuality from their parents. I would have skewed the data had I been a research subject. Children growing up with emotionally/psychologically unhealthy parents have a harder time with (maintaining) relationships too.

Ahrons and Tanner researched the child-parent relationship 20 years post-divorce and their findings are most interesting. They found that 62% of the now adult children reported the relationship with the father was better or stayed the same and 73% reported the relationship with the mother was better or stayed the same.

Gender had no influence on the change of relationship with the mother, but father-daughter relationships changed after remarriage of the father. The type of custody, joint/sole/split, or whether there had been a change of type of custody did not matter.

But wait. These numbers look familiar!

And they are. They are similar what attachment studies tell us about the child-parent relationship! Basically, about 61% of how an infant is bonded to a primary caregiver (non-gender specific!) is how they are bonded 20 years later if they had 1 or more traumatic life event.

These studies recognize that traumatic events like divorce, child abuse, loss of a parent and emotional/psychological health of the parent can change the level of bonding, or the child-primary caregiver relationship, but not in the majority of children/adults. It is the quality of the relationship prior to the traumatic event that is the determining factor.

Well, I guess my relationship with my parents is normal. That’s a relief. I had a good relationship with both prior to their divorce and today I still do. I love you Mom & Dad!

This topic is not done. While most children maintain a good relationship with their parents after divorce, there are children who do not. Emotional/psychological health may play a role, but what about Parental Alienation?