Monday, July 23, 2012

Okay... now that I've caught up-- a post on empathy and judgmental comments

Last week, my husband and I were in Virginia.  He was on business and I was tagging along, because we happened to be in a city I know intimately.  Because I had my iPad with me and have had varying results with using a portable keyboard with it, I didn't get much writing done last week.  However, it seems that people were reading my blog.  For some reason, my entry on Jessica McCord has attracted a lot of hits, especially from abroad.  In that particular blog post, I wrote about a woman named Jessica McCord who, along with her second husband, murdered her first husband and his second wife because they had just won custody of Jessica McCord's oldest daughters.

I had first heard of Jessica McCord when I watched a television program called Snapped on the Oxygen network.  As I listened to her story and then followed up by reading a book called Death Trap, by M. William Phelps, I couldn't help but notice that there were similarities between McCord's ex husband's story and my own husband's story.  And so I blogged about it.

A couple of days ago, I came back home to the following comment:

I think it's terrible that your husband would give up on his children and leave them with an unstable mother and a "weird" stepfather. Any good parent would risk their own life to keep their kids out of harm's way.  

This comment, left by someone calling themselves "nanny braun" reflects the ignorance of someone who's never "been there, done that".  I will admit that I don't like these kinds of comments for many reasons.  For one thing, it really reflects a knee-jerk response of someone who hasn't really given much thought to what they're writing before they write it.  For another thing, it shows that "nanny braun" hasn't really taken the time to look around this blog and therefore isn't too well versed on my husband's situation.  Finally, it's just a very judgmental and ignorant comment that sounds as if it comes from a person who watches too many Lifetime movies.

The Internet is a wonderful thing, but it sure has made it a lot easier for people to be mean and rude to one another.  I would bet money that "nanny braun" would never make this kind of comment to someone s/he was talking to in person.  And yet s/he has no problem being uncivil on the anonymous Internet, not realizing that there are real people behind the words she reads.

I left "nanny braun" the following rebuttal:

Thanks for your input, nanny braun. I agree with you that it's "terrible" that my husband had to let his ex wife and weird husband raise his daughters. I wish he had been able to take them from her and give them a fighting chance. Actually, I mostly wish he'd had those kids with me instead of her. I guarantee that if he had, he would have been able to be a proper father to them. Unfortunately, fathers in the United States often don't get a fair shake in court and end up spending thousands of dollars with no positive results. 

How dare you judge my husband's situation? You make it sound like it's an easy thing for fathers to do, getting full custody from their children's mother. It's not. I don't know where you come from, but waging a legal war costs a lot of money that my husband didn't have because--like a GOOD and RESPONSIBLE father-- he was paying court ordered child support to the tune of $30,000 a year. And taking time away from a new job to fight in court for his kids in a state on the other side of the country would have prevented him from being able to support them. Which would you prefer? A dad who spends all his money on pointless court battles or a dad who spends his money to support his children? And tell me, if he did get custody of his kids, would you be one of those idiots who would berate him for taking them away from their mother and making them live on the other side of the country? 

Your comment is very judgmental and ignorant. You clearly know nothing about Parental Alienation Syndrome, which is a very real thing. If you are an actual nanny, I'd recommend that you spend some time researching PAS. You need to educate yourself. Moreover, since you know nothing about PAS or our particular situation, I'd appreciate it if you kept your uninformed comments to yourself.

I will admit that I was pretty pissed off when I wrote this, but this is actually the third or fourth version of my response.

Folks, let me be real.  If I didn't know my husband the way I do, I would probably agree that he should have just taken his kids from his ex wife.  And that agreement would have come from a place of extreme ignorance because as a childless, previously unmarried woman, I didn't have the foggiest notion about how divorce, child custody, or court systems work, especially when you're the father, broke, and divorcing in a state that strongly favors mothers.  I didn't know about any of this stuff, even though I have a master's degree in social work.  This is not something that social workers necessarily learn about in school, even though they often end up working with kids involved in divorce situations.  I just assumed that courts consider both parents and their rights to their kids equally.

I also didn't know anything about parental alienation syndrome, which I know is a controversial subject.  Maybe if I hadn't seen firsthand the eerie commonality we observed in my husband's daughters' behaviors with others who have experienced this phenomenon, I might agree with certain feminists that it's just a myth.  But I've seen it with my own eyes and I know that parents use their kids as pawns, which is a most unloving act.  It's as if there's a script that these kids and their alienating parents use against the targeted parent.  I am thoroughly convinced that PAS exists. Aside from living through it and reading countless accounts of it, I've also read scholarly books about PAS.  And I can recommend an excellent book-- Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties That Bind -- about parental alienation syndrome for any readers who also want to learn more about PAS and how it affects adult children who have lived through it.

But whether or not PAS actually exists is not really the focus of today's post.  Today's post is really about smug, self-righteous, judgmental jerks who think they know better about our situation than we do and act like our decisions affect them personally.  Life is hard and everybody struggles.  The process of living is a learning process and hindsight is always 20/20.  Unless you've never made any mistakes and actually know the people involved in this story, you aren't really in the best position to judge and run the risk of coming off like an uninformed asshole.  

Just for the record, my husband loved his daughters very much.  He still loves them.  But they have rejected him... and they rejected him without knowing anything about his side of the story.  They simply took their mother's word for what happened and have never bothered to ask him what his side is and now they have grown into adults who are strangers.  When they were children, I wouldn't have expected my husband's daughters to think about what their dad's side of the story was.  But they are now grown women who apparently just take other peoples' words for things without using their own brains.  I shouldn't blame them for that, I guess.  It's how they, and so many other people, were raised.  They don't question information that came from their mother, the person who is mostly responsible for the fact that they exist.  

That being said, even though my husband's daughters have apparently never been taught critical thinking skills, they are now adults and are fully responsible for their actions and/or inactions.  This is true for everyone who goes from being a child to an adult.  That's why I support teaching children about responsibility, empathy, and accountability when they are still children.  Because if they don't learn these things when they are children, when will they learn and how will they prepare for the day that others start holding them accountable?  So I hold my husband's daughters responsible for the pain they have inflicted, even though I know that they too are hurting.  They don't know how much they've hurt their father and the rest of his family, whom they had no qualms about flatly rejecting.  They might not even care about anyone else's pain but their own.  But, just like nanny braun, they judged... and they were unfair.         

Folks, being rejected by your children HURTS.  If you have never been through such a thing, you can't possibly know how painful it is.  My husband adored his daughters.  He would have done anything in his power for them, given the chance.  His marriage to his ex wife did not work out.  They never should have gotten married in the first place, but again, hindsight is 20/20.  Lots of people get divorced because they made the wrong decision.  That's no reason to spend the rest of one's life being punished by one's own children or others who think that children must come before everything else in the world.  Again, childhood is the time to learn responsibility, accountability, and empathy.  It's a time to learn that the world does not revolve around one person's wants and needs.  

Moreover, I had nothing to do with my husband's decision to divorce, so I don't know why people repeatedly blame me for the failure of my husband's first marriage.  I wasn't in his life when it was going on, nor was I the cause of his divorce.  My presence in his life is no reason for my husband, who was a perfectly good father, to lose contact with his children.  Had the situation been reversed and my husband had custody of the kids, he would not have cut his ex wife off from seeing them.  That would be a cruel thing to do.  And what she did to him was CRUEL... but most of all, it was cruel to the kids, who have missed out on their wonderful dad.  There is NO WAY their mother's third husband loves them the way my husband does, and yet they call him "Daddy" instead of the man who helped create them and has worked so hard to provide for them.  He could have provided so much more than financial help, but apparently his ex wife felt that punishing her ex was more important than giving her children access to both parents.    

Losing your kids to PAS is so painful... My husband's daughters are not mine and I barely know them, but I do know their dad intimately and I have seen his significant pain over many years.  I can't even know how much he really hurts; I just know that the pain I've actually seen is just the tip of the iceberg.  So when some asshole comes on my blog and shames my husband for the tough decisions he's had to make, I want to defend him.  I want to defend myself, too, because even though I am his second wife, I am not a home wrecker.   Our lives are not a Lifetime movie.  This shit is real and it's deep and complicated.  

Someone had to go to work and make the money to support those two girls (and their older brother, who was not even my husband's legal responsibility).  It's certainly admirable when men are able to go to court to wrest custody from exes who may be unstable.  In my husband's case, it just wasn't feasible.  He simply didn't have the money or time to do it.  That doesn't make him a bad person or even a bad father.  Those who say otherwise are just wrong.  That might work on Lifetime, but it doesn't work in real life.  You can't pay court fees or lawyers if you don't have a job.  You also can't pay child support, which my husband did generously every month for over ten years without fail.

So... nanny braun and anyone else with nanny braun's narrow views, allow me to preemptively advise you to STFU if you feel compelled to judge my husband for the way he's handled his situation.  Just be glad you're not in a similar predicament.  Before you post a comment, take a minute to think about it and decide if it's really constructive, truthful, or kind... and consider how you would like it if the same words were directed at you.  


  1. I was a friend of the victims of this crime, which is how I landed here. I also grew up in a...challenging...environment and my parents had a tumultuous relationship.

    Let me say this, as a husband and father. If anyone out there thinks that in 2013, a father can just "take off" with his kids because in his view, their mother is a monster, well, you guys are living in dream land. In reality, the father would immediately (within 24 hours) be put on a high profile FBI list for "abducting children," the story would be all over the news, and all his accounts/credit cards shut down and/or monitored. Where would "Dad" go? Here's what would happen:

    1. Authorities would find him or he'd turn himself in.
    2. Children would be returned to the crazy mother / ex wife.
    3. Father would be convicted of child abduction and regardless of prison time, would lose visitation rights with his children until each of their 18th birthdays.

    Yes it's true, as much as our society thinks ex-husbands should pay alimony and child support, we think relatively little of a father's judgment or paternal instincts to protect his own children. In fact, we dismiss it.

    It's horrible that it is so....but it is very much so.

  2. And for anybody who thinks, "Well, the courts would handle it," you obviously have never closely followed a case like this. In all but the most liberal states, judges are extremely hesitant to remove children from the mother to place them with the father.

    The assumption is that the worst that a mother can do is better than the best a father can do.

    Of course it's a ridiculous assumption. But a few quick google searches of similar cases will show you that the "Dad with good intentions" is out of luck in our legal system unless he has endless money (for lawyers), endless patience (for continuously delayed court hearings), and allows himself to forget that years of his life are passing in the meantime....with very little hope of a potentially positive outcome.

  3. Kirk River Mud, thanks so much for commenting. You definitely get it.

    I turned off the comments on the Jessica McCord post a couple of weeks ago because I kept getting outraged comments from women who blame my husband for not taking his daughters from his ex wife. I kept explaining and explaining, but they just weren't getting it. The last person who commented professed to be an "academic" and was trying to tell me about how my husband's decisions harmed his daughters. Believe me, he KNOWS his absence harmed them. He NEVER wanted to be absent from their lives.

    The realities of my husband's work and financial situation did not allow him to go to court to fight for his daughters. Even if he had fought for them and managed to win, as Alan Bates did, he very well might have ended up a crime victim... or she might have taken off with them. We know that she did visit Mexico with them after the divorce... that was before passports were required.

    At the very least, maintaining custody would have been an uphill battle, because every time they would have had contact, my husband would have been fighting against the constant negative programming because he would not have kept them from seeing her. Despite the fact that she is crazy and mean, my husband recognizes her as the mother of his children and he knows they love her.

    Anyway, thank you again for leaving those comments. I am very sorry about what happened to Alan and Terra Bates. From all accounts I've seen and read, they were fine people who were trying to do the right thing. That case chilled me to the bone, because Jessica McCord is so much like my husband's ex wife in so many ways. I'm sorry my husband had kids with her, but I'm glad he's alive and well. I wish Alan and Terra Bates could have had the happy ending they fought so hard for.

  4. I too have viewed the episode of snapped of Jessica McCord. The story is so familiar to my husbands. He met his ex at a company xmas party while she was still married to her first husband and had 2 girls with him. One was 18 months and the other only 9 months.
    They hooked up that very night. And began an affair. She told him that her present husband abused her, cheated on her and treated the children awful. As soon as her divorce was final, they were married. And like Jessica told him that she was on the pill. They had their daughter together soon after their marriage began. After a year the girls biological father was out of the picture and my husband adopted the two girls to raise as his own. They were married 6 years when she met someone else and the cycle repeated itself. Only there was another daughter.
    I came into the picture about a year after the divorce. The ex was already married to husband number 3.
    She was already denying my husband visitation rights, And there was a lot of drama going on. At first she wanted to be my friend. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and tried to be her friend.
    But the day that we were married , She seemed to declare war on my husband. We had to take her to court to gain visitation rights to the girls. I have seen my husband crumble, All he has ever wanted to do was be a father to those girls. But she has fought him every inch of the way. She even introduced the biological father back into their lives, she has manipulated those girls, and now 13 years later they do not even claim him as their father. He worked hard and supported two children that were not even his. He has fought hard and lost. His biological daughter is now 17 and never comes around. I have two children from a previous marriage who he has raised as his own, and has done a pretty good job. The oldest of his girls is 22 and has 2 children of her own. The first child she had, She don’t even know who the real father is. She has since given up custody of both children. And like her mother jumps from man to man. All 3 girls were raised to hate me. I have tried my best with them but no matter what I do its all my fault.
    My husband’s ex is now working on her 5th marriage. I wish these women would realize that when they keep their children from their fathers that it only hurts the kids. They continue to put their selves in front of their children and by doing this they teach their own children to do the same. I could go on and on with my story and tell you things that would make the hair stand up on the back of your head. But there isnt enough time in the world to tell you everything. I just wanted to let you know that you were not alone with dealing in this situation.
    And for the jerk who left you the bad comment; I hope she never gas to actually go thru this kind of situation. Often there is nothing a father can do to prevent the mother from doing this to her children. Even after taking my husband’s ex to court three times we were granted visitation, which angered her, she then set out to condemn the children for wanting to see their dad. Often ridiculing them for coming over. She would tell the kids to tell my husband they had already made other plans. Knowing that he would not demand them to come to his house. Now he never sees any of them. It’s a sad situation for the children and for my husband. I would not wish this on my worst enemy. I can only pray that in time they will see their mother for who she really is and come see their father.
    Best of luck to you.

  5. P.S. i have just downloaded the book, Death trap by Phelps to my kindle. I plan on reading it tonight. And I love your blog!! Keep up the good work!!

  6. Hi JoAnn,

    Thanks for posting. Your husband's ex sounds eerily similar to my husband's ex, only she has more ex husbands. We didn't take the ex to court... and reading about your situation makes me think we were right not to. Also, ex tried to be "friendly' to me, by inviting me to my own father in law's house for Christmas. I basically told her to buzz off and then we REALLY saw her true colors.

    The Jessica McCord post gets a lot of views and now has 19 comments, none of which come from people who have been through what we have. I got tired of explaining to people who refuse to understand that not every guy with kids who gets divorced is an asshole. Sometimes, it's the woman's fault.

    I'm glad you like the blog. I often wonder how people take it, but I do have a lot of lurkers who keep coming back for more. I hope you'll stick around. I think we have a lot in common.

  7. I have just finished reading the Jessica McCord story, Death Trap on my kindle. Must say she sure does sound a lot like Hubby’s ex. I especially found the part of her alibi funny about her driving around in town eating all the fast food before she went home so that she didn’t have to share with her children. That right there tells you the type of mother or even person she is. A lot of her story sounded so familiar to hubby’s ex that it was uncanny. It’s a control thing for most of them. That is about all I can figure out, And the part about taking them out of school to be home schooled sounded familiar too. Lol Hubby’s ex never took them out completely, but she would just switch schools all over the place so he couldn’t even find out where they went to school. Often the school would be a good hour drive away from home. Why she did this, I don’t know. She has even went as far as to have the human resources show up at our house countless times saying our home was unfit for her children. Even thou she has never been in it or had never even been there. (we always had to have a public meeting place to switch off the kids) I do feel sorry for the fathers like Alan Bates and as our husbands and many more dads out there that actually want to be a father to their children and can’t because of a woman who likes to hold all the cards,
    In court, on the last time we had to take hubby’s ex, the judge did look straight at her and told her that it was mothers like her that makes fathers want to give up, Because they feel it would be easier to stop seeing their children then to have to deal with over powering mothers like herself. Needless to say, she didn’t like his comment very well.
    I have 2 children with my first husband, and although he never sees them, It’s not because I won’t allow him to. He knows exactly where we live and how to get a hold of them if he wanted to, He just chooses not too. I have never denied him that right. I have always left the decision of seeing their father up to them. A child does need a mother and a father in their lives. It’s just such a shame that these type of women don’t see their children as anything other than property. It’s just a sad situation all the way around. I wonder how Jessica McCord’s children are dealing with the fact that their mother had their father killed? And what about the other 3 she had with the cop? Does anyone know what ever happened to them? Those poor children. My heart goes out to them also. Because they are also Jessica’s victims.

    1. "Those poor children. My heart goes out to them also. Because they are also Jessica’s victims."

      That's very true. And a lot of times, when these kids get older, they realize they have been used and really resent it. Did you happen to read about the woman whose children wrote a hateful obituary for her when she died? It sounded to me like their mother was a narcissist who treated her kids as extensions of herself. You can read about it here...

      I dislike my husband's kids because they have been hateful to him and his family for no reason. But at the same time, I know they've been used and are victims. Part of me has a lot of compassion for them, even as angry as I am for what they've done.

  8. The story of Jessica McCord which I saw on the TV series "Snapped" is captivating, horrific and instructive. This and other stories that are detailed in these type of shows illustrate the need to be very careful of the persons with whom one becomes involved. What surprised and pleased me at the end was that her mother was held accountable for her role in the caper. Kudos to the prosecutors.

    I like your blog, but one word of advice from one who writes as well. If you're going to write opinion and commentary you should develop a thicker skin. Many people will not agree with your point of view despite how well reasoned you believe your argument to be. Ignoring their posts is not the way to go about it. Engaging in the discussion respectfully and strengthening your point of view based on their perceptions is the better way to go. Who knows, in the end you may learn something from the exchanges that you might not have previously considered.

    By the way, it is my view that if I were your husband I would have sought ways to utilize the system to legally expose the ex-wife and gain more access to the children no matter how long it took. Win or lose, in the long term I have no doubt that they would appreciate it.

    1. Hi William,

      Believe me, I do have a thick skin. I turned off the comments on the Jessica McCord post because it was being inundated with personal attacks that had nothing to do with Jessica McCord. While I appreciate your advice to "develop a thicker skin", as someone who also writes, I'm sure you realize that this is my personal blog and I have the right to run it the way I see fit. That was the one and only post on which I have ever turned off the ability to comment and I did so after enduring nasty spew from the peanut gallery for well over a year. Anyone who actually wanted to comment and/or discuss Jessica McCord with me had over 18 months to do so.

      Magazines, message boards, and newspapers reserve the right to moderate commentary. I think it's only reasonable that I exercise that right on my little visited blog. I am all for sharing ideas and opinions, but when it degenerates into personal attacks, I think it makes sense to simply put a stop to it for my own sanity. You are free to disagree, of course.

      As for your comments about what my husband did or did not do, it's now water under the bridge. His daughters are legal adults and have been for years. But, for the record, I happen to agree that he should have tried to go to court, even though it's unlikely that he would have prevailed. It wasn't my decision to make, though, and having been with him during that time, I realize that it was neither financially nor physically feasible for him to fight in court. We lived in Virginia and she lived in Arizona and, as I wrote in my post, he had to work so he could continue to pay child support. At the time of their divorce, my husband had just started a new job and was flat broke. As his finances improved, he did look into going to court, but ultimately decided not to.

      I realize it's easy to armchair quarterback what people should or shouldn't do when you're reading about their problems. I have found that unless you actually know the people involved and their particular situation, it's hard to really know what they should or shouldn't do. In fact, even when you are in the situation, it's hard to really know. I monitor who visits my blogs and tend to notice lurkers. I haven't seen you around before, so I'm guessing your opinions about my husband's situation are solely based on reading my post on Jessica McCord and this post. There's a whole lot more to the story… but rest assured, others have said the same things you did and even today, it's not particularly helpful.

      My husband did what he thought was best and is now living with the results, which I must admit are pretty positive. I'm happy to report that we have a happy marriage and, despite his not having contact with his daughters, life continues to be worth living.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.


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