Tied to the Whipping Post

Yesterday a blog I posted on OpenSalon, originally called Mother and Child Un-Reunion, ran on the regular Salon site, in the “Real Families” personal essay section. I was honored to be showcased alongside truly exceptional writers such as Eilene Zimmerman and Adina Giannelli.

My post discussed issues relating to my adoption and the odd parallel of that experience in my life currently, as my ex-husband and I are in the midst of a custody battle and I am faced with the prospect of “losing” my son.  I wrote about the pain of being separated from Luca, who for complex reasons has lived with his dad full-time since June.

The Salon editor warned me that some of the comments could get “rough.” So I braced myself for some garden-variety snarkiness–but I was almost blown out of the cybersphere by the torrent of Molotov Cocktails hurled my way.

Of the so-far 60 responses to my post, probably ten were reasoned, thoughtful, and insightful reflections on the thorny issues of divorce, custody, and strained parent-child relationships. There was some excellent advice from a family law attorney about owning my role as my son’s mother, whether or not I lost custody. And there was a hopeful, poignant account from a father who has repaired the relationship with the daughter he lost after her mentally ill mother gained sole custody.

The majority of the commenters, however, decided on the basis of a 950-word essay–that many of them did not read carefully–that I was a terrible mother and my son would be better off with his father. Much of the basis for their opinion seemed to come from the fact that I wrote about my own feelings and needs (what good mother has any of those?), which made me “whiny” and “self-serving.” Some of these people were so incensed by the Salon blog, that they went to this blog site to read the rest of my posts in order to gather further evidence of my unfit motherhood. By the time they had their way with me, I felt like Carrie, Hester Prynne and Madame Bovary rolled into one.

I share with you, here, some of my favorite zingers. :

“You are…a ‘pathetic’…’drama queen’…”

“You acted poorly and selfishly. You were self-absorbed when you should have been a mother. Look in the mirror. “

“You sound like a confrontational and high-maintenance individual who sucks all the air out of the room with your neediness…your kid got tired of you leaning on him as your emotional crutch.”

Excuse me, but at what point did I reference using my son as my therapist?

“The author should read up on Axis II Personality Disorders and focus on ‘histrionic’…if she’s really interested in getting better.”

Um, that would be you thinking I’m crazy and need to get “better.” And, no, I’m not impressed that you have a DSM-IV.

“Unless you get serious, non-supportive, challenging therapy you are likely to remain a weekend mom to your son. Trust me, your son will feel abandoned.”

Not satisfied with bashing me alone, this guy decides to aim his blow-torch at all women:

“It’s hard to be empathetic with a divorced vaginate…Feminists make sure that laws don’t burden sistas’ ditzy heads…more misandric mewlings from the gender that claims to be men’s moral, emotional, educational, and relationship superiors.”

Yet another who has a very slight issue with the female gender:

“Your feminist colleagues have played a role in the massive screwing you are about to get. Enjoy your equality, at last.”

Clearly, this reader is clairvoyant:

“She’s already on Husband #2 and no doubt once her court battle is resolved and she’s exhausted her hate against Husband #1 she’ll target Husband #2 and move on to Husband #3.”

And this from one who is convinced Father Knows Best:

“I feel nothing but pity for her son and hope he ends up living with his father.”

Per an earlier blog in which I described my genuine mortification and remorse when my ex heard me complain about him in a therapy session when I accidentally speed-dialed his number:

“Gaines poured out her hateful feelings for Prince in a therapy session that she ‘accidentally’ broadcasted on her cell phone. (Sinister drumroll…) I don’t believe this was an accident.”

And while you’re at it, why not take a swipe at the entire Salon editorial staff for their low standards?

“There is a chance that her son doesn’t like her because she is a horrible mother…even the ‘bad guy’ can write a self-serving blog for Salon.”

Those of us who blog about our personal lives–particularly when those lives involve lightning-rod topics like divorce–should expect to be raked over the coals occasionally, but do we really deserve to be fileted and broiled? Am I old-fashioned to think that Miss Manners has a place even in blogosphere? That if you have only venom to spew, then perhaps you should spew nothing at all? Does it seem to anyone else that the cyber-world is a modern-day Wild West in need of a Sheriff?

Bloggers, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Poor Pauline, this is all that was left...


About perilsofdivorcedpauline

I am a survivor of a world-class gnarly divorce. My dastardly ex-husband is suing me for full custody of my son, and more time with my daughter. He’s super-rich and I’m super-not. You get the picture.
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17 Responses to Tied to the Whipping Post

  1. Kalpana Misra says:

    Dear Pauline,
    You are incredibly brave to blog so honestly about your life and your feelings. I don’t think its unreasonable to expect comments on your blog to be reasonable and polite. People perhaps forget that thats a person who wrote that blog, not a nameless faceless machine. This gives them the courage to be less than moderate in their reaction to what you write. Not that knowing that is any help.
    My blog about divorce in India (where divorce is pretty much a taboo topic) invites a good deal of nasty responses, some of them of a very personal nature that unleash many emotions in me.
    I’m not sure what to do about it. Just know that its going to happen if we go public with our private lives. And hope that our stories give courage to those who need it, even if we have to deal with the barrage of insults.
    And sometimes we can laugh, the insults can be funny!!
    Good luck

    • Thanks for weighing in, Kalpana. I bet you have received some outraged responses, given that you have been brave enough to go against the matrimonial grain in your country.

      I think you’re right, that some people shout into the wind. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to disagree with a writer’s point, I just disagreeing should be voiced with respect.

      I appreciate hearing your thoughts!

  2. If you believe in something, and you are good at expressing yourself as a writer, than I suppose you have to expect your words can have a profound effect on others.
    That is what good writing is all about. Making people think. Making people feel.

    Your experience on Salon has scared me a little, Pauline. It made me wonder if I’m doing the right thing by blogging and telling my story, from my own perspective. I don’t think any of us go into blogging anticipating an online stoning.

    Even though your words have struck an obvious chord with some people who might have little going on in their own lives and feel self righteous and superior enough to be anonymously cruel and rude, my bet is that you also struck a chord with others who relate to you. Your writing shows courage and grace shimmering through pain. I admire you for honesly and eloquently expressing your deepest feelings and most profound life experiences. It is brave to bare your soul to the world. But how refreshing! You have made me realize that it is more important to be true to myself, then to be afraid of what other people think. No matter what, I want to live my life in alignment with what I believe. Even when what I believe is not what everyone else is used to.

    Our critics don’t live our lives anyway, we do.

    Keep telling your story.

  3. Dear Pauline,

    I read your story first on Salon.com, and the title pulled me right in, because nearly 13 years ago I, too, lost custody of one of my daughters and couldn’t figure out how it happened. One day she accompanied the rest of our family on a pick-your-own-strawberries expedition, and the next, she called me from her father’s house and said, “I’m here now, and I’m going to stay here, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

    As it turned out, ours was an extreme case of parental alienation syndrome (which, although still not recognized in medical or legal circles, I firmly believe exists, and destroys countless families) at the hands of her stepmother. My daughter was nearly 15 when she left, and for four and one-half years, by her choice (and, more significantly, that of her stepmother) we were completely estranged.

    Her father, my ex, is a weak man who let his abusive wife call all the shots. Eventually, when she was 19 years old, my daughter, who had been in sporadic contact with her younger sister, came back to our home. At that point she chose to estrange herself from her father, and did not reestablish contact with him until last year, when he finally left his alcoholic, mentally ill wife. Both she and her sister are now working to create a meaningful relationship with him, but they were both badly hurt by his failure to stand up to their stepmother when she became abusive toward them.

    It has taken some time, but now, more than eight years after her return, our relationship is solid. Each year has seen us grow easier and less awkward with each other, and now I can finally say that we treat each other as if the breach had never happened–which is to say, with humor and emotional honesty–no more walking on eggshells.

    I will never get back those years of her life, and I will never know everything she went through. I still second-guess my choices during that time, wondering if, despite her repeated requests to stay out of her life and leave her alone, there was anything more I could have done. But I believe that the reason she did come back, and the reason we have such a good relationship now, is that I never stopped loving her, and she never stopped knowing it–even when she wouldn’t let me tell her.

    My heart aches for what you may be in for over the next several years, but I also know that, even when you are convinced your son is completely closed off to you, some part of him hears a lot of what you say to him. I, too, was horrified by the vitriol of many of the comments (!) but there were a few bits of encouragement tucked in among the self-righteous rants: “Maintain a constant presence in his life, even when he doesn’t want it.” “I’ve seen kids behave worst toward the parent they know they can trust, the one who will be there no matter what.” “Say all those lovely things to him, no matter how much eye-rolling greets you. Keep it up, no matter what.”

    Take the bits of gold and throw out the rest. Do the same thing in your relationship with your son. Good luck to you.

    • Reading this made me tear up for so many reasons: how quickly Parental Alienation can kidnap your child; how little therapists, schools, and family courts understand PA; the utter destruction to children and targeted parents and often the targeted extended family; the pain of knowing your kid is basically in a cult and there is not much you can do to get him/her back except reach out, meditate, write a blog, or whatever else you need to do to keep yourself sane.

      I am so happy to hear you now have a relationship with your daughter — for your sake and for hers.

      Thank you so much for writing. It means A LOT to me.


  4. Don’t ever stop loving him and don’t ever stop letting him know that you love him. I remember as a young adult when my teen-aged brother chose to live with my father. It was hard on my mom but it was also a relief because she was having such a hard time with him. By the time he hit 18, he was back with my mom with eyes wide open. To this day (he’s now in his 30’s), he tells my mom what a knucklehead he was back then and how he always knew that she loved him. When we get together, he often tells her, “Mom, I didn’t see it back then but you were right.” and it makes her smile.

    Harriet, I love your comment, “Take the bits of gold and throw out the rest.” I think we all need to remember to this.

    Pauline, wishing much love and strength. Please don’t let these fools stop you from writing. You have a gift and you need an outlet.

    • Thanks, TK&F–I know adolescent boys sometimes just need to be with their dads, or at least I tell myself that. Every time someone tells me a story about an eventual reunion, I feel just the tiniest bit of hope.

  5. AA says:

    Hi, I’m one of those people who saw your piece on salon.com and came to your website to read more, as I like your writing. I just went back and read some of the comments on salon.com. I’ve never been divorced and I don’t have kids, so I can’t say I’ve lived through either and would not presume to offer you advice. I think the people who advised you to keep trying and continue to be a presence in his life are on the right track. I do feel for you as a fellow human being, something that the “people of the Internet,” generally speaking, have a problem with. It actually scares me sometimes, which is why I don’t usually read comments on articles – that there are people out there harboring such hatred, and they feel free to hide behind a computer and spew it. So, in response to your question about whether we need a sheriff – we need something. Maybe a lesson for all of us about “walking in somebody else’s shoes,” and although I am in no way religious, judge not lest ye be judged (and if there are any religious fanatics reading this ready to tell me that is not the correct wording of the verse, I know that already).

    I just wanted to give you some words of encouragement to keep writing and doing what you need to do, and try to ignore those who somehow feel better about lashing out and making you feel worse about a terrible situation. Would they prefer you walk away? Because you would be excoriated for that, too. You can’t win, essentially – so try to stay in the positive. Best of luck to you & I will keep reading.

    • Thank you for you comment, AA. When I posted a follow-up piece on OpenSalon, about how crazy the responses to the other piece were, I got 50 comments from other bloggers about similar experiences!! It’s just so weird that people feel the need to eviscerate other people on the internet.

      I now have more of a sense of humor about the whole thing and will definitely not stop writing.

      Thank you for reading my work, and for writing in!


  6. Salonista says:

    Salon readers (let me re-phrase….Salon commenters) are some of the most vicious, loathsome people in all the internet. I always wondered if the editors warned writers how ugly the comments section could get. I doubt this is any consolation, but the letters re: your column on Salon are pretty standard fare for anything involving parenthood on that site.

  7. Jenny Heitz says:

    Pauline, I think you’re a wonderful writer, writing about a topic that most people don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole. I guest blog all over the place, and I get horrible comments sometimes even when I’m humorously discussing fairly innocuous topics like private school. People are nasty and it’s easy to spew when you can be anonymous. I’m sorry that your ex feels so vengeful: there’s nothing like a man scorned. My ex is currently trying to “claw back” support money through that “fair” 50/50 split routine for school, etc. Fair and equal are often not the same thing. Going after custody, however, is a terrible thing to do to kids. It’s too bad your ex can’t work with you instead of against you. I wish you luck.

  8. Goosey says:

    Pauline, I found your blog through my daily Mamapedia emails. I rarely ever click through to read the rest of the featured article, but I was compelled to finish reading your post. I was touched by your frankness. While I am not in the midst of a divorce or custody battle, I am a child of divorce, and what maybe should have been a custody battle. My father never fought my mother for custody, and as an adult, I now wonder if my life would have been different. After reading the comment on PA, I find that it may be what I have been dealing with my entire life, as my father and I have only recently developed a relationship — one that I always needed but never knew I did. Only at the age of almost 35 and the birth of my second child did I find the voice to stand up to my mother, and put an end to what most would refer to as emotional abuse (this is the first time I write that, and it saddens me deeply) – at the hands of my ‘loving’ mother, who reminds me a little of Prince, minus the money. I could go on and on, as I have been trying to put words to my feelings for too long, and still find myself at a loss. Bringing it back to your blog, I just wanted to tell you that your family struggle has touched me, even though our situations are different. It’s amazing how relationships can morph into things that we don’t recognize. I’ve read all of your posts and intend to come back to read more, and cheer you on! Keep writing!!

    • Hi “Goosey”:

      Thank you for clicking through to my blog site, and for your kind words about my posts. That is one of the main reasons I write about this stuff, in hopes that it will resonate with people and in some small way be helpful, at least if people realize they’re not alone.

      It does sound like you’re a PA survivor; I am really sorry to hear what your mom put you–and your dad–through. I’m glad you’ve found the strength to stand up to her though–she sounds like a formidable woman.

  9. Chanda says:

    Dear Pauline,

    I think you are a strong brave woman. Motherhood is hard, and relationships with Ex husbands can be very hard. You are speaking your truth, so others may learn from it. There is no drama in that.

    When the negative people post, they are projecting themselves on to you. People see what they hold in their heart. So if they say ugly hurtful things, that is their heart, not yours.

    You are your son’s mother. You always will be, no matter what happens. Hold him in your heart, hold him in your mind, always love him. People do not have to be physically with us to be a part of our life.

    I wish you peace and love,

  10. Cablegirl says:

    Dear Pauline,

    Oh my dear lady, I too am in your shoes. For me, it is my two daughters that are alienated from me. Like you, I am adopted. I know of another woman in our position. I would like to talk with you on a private level. If you could, email me.

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