One of the most powerful things we can do for one another is to be present to one another as Christ is present to us.
The amount of mentally ill people around the world being abandoned by their families is unbelievable. Actually it is very believable but too horrible to contemplate.
Sarah is one out of millions of people around the world who has been abandoned by her family, due not only to the symptoms of and behaviors brought about by her mental illness but because of her mother’s obliviousness.
Over the years the National Association of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) has taught us again and again to see the person rather than the illness. Sarah’s family and past associates have not been able to do this or understand that she is not her illness. And after her husband passed away from cancer in 2006, she presented her situation and needs to me with a sort of urgency and a clarity I could not refuse, and in turn I became more present to her out of that same urgency.
Just as Sarah Ford has suffered, her children, Michael (now 19 years old) and Megan (18) have suffered too, without a voice. They continually have to sacrifice their lives for their grandmother, to make things easier on her.
Michael and Megan were taken from their parents when they were two and three years old, because Sarah and her husband Roger turned to drugs and alcohol (as most people do when coping with mental illnesses.) During the court proceedings, Sarah’s Mom made a choice, after a myriad of phone calls to the police and CPS from Sarah’s sister (who didn’t have children of her own) to take guardianship of Sarah’s children. However, unfortunately, as Sarah’s Mom sacrificed her life for these beautiful children, she also cast major amounts of guilt upon her daughter, Sarah as well as upon her grand-children for being “burdens” and “ruining” her life.
In turn, these poor children (Sarah’s biological son & daughter) have never had normal lives. They have never been to the doctor’s office to have regular check-ups; they haven’t been to a regular school as Sarah’s Mother pulled them out of school when they were in third grade; they have no friends outside the Internet and they care for Sarah’s Mom and sister (and her sister’s children) full time and do all the caregiving in and for the family. They never got to be kids or have any kind of normal lives… and to make matters even worse, they’ve been completely alienated from Sarah and their father, Roger.
Parent Alienation Syndrome occurs when adults handle conflicts among themselves by constantly speaking negatively to children about one of their parents and discouraging the child (ren) from having contact with that parent. It’s becoming recognized more and more often as a real phenomenon by psychiatrists and family therapists, and can be triggered by jealousy, insecurity, mental illness and/or anger over issues that have nothing to do with the children. Some children grow up hating one or more of their parents and refusing to have anything to do with them, or even believing they were abused by that parent. When, in fact, that parent loves and cares for them and they are internalizing negative things they’ve been told their whole lives by other family members about their loving parent.
You may read more about the Parent Alienation Syndrome here:
Sarah’s Mom has made herself into such a victim that she pretends not to be able to function at all and doesn’t do anything around the house anymore. She has Michael and Megan wait on her (and her sister’s children) full time. It’s so bad, that even when Sarah’s Mom (Megan’s grandma) gets out of the shower, Megan gets the blow-dryer out and dries her hair! These children do all of the cleaning, the dishes, all of the laundry and care for four adults (Sarah’s Mom, sister, her sister’s convict husband and their two children (ages 8 and 2). Sarah’s grandmother is not crippled or handicapped in any way, other than pure martyr-ism, and just doesn’t feel she should have to do things for herself.
Hiding this away like a dirty secret, our society does little to support or acknowledge the kids who grow up in such a home. In the family setting, the grandmother’s martyrdom and narcissism is ignored or disguised because of embarrassment or fear the children could be taken from the grandmother’s home as well. In this case the sickness spreads throughout the home placing the heaviest burden on children, always.
Both Sarah and her children have been raised by a mother and a grandmother who is a narcissist (which is an extremely self-centered person), who feels imposed upon by the thought of giving to others and never sees herself as wrong in any circumstance. She is always a victim. Being a child in this environment, you are never as important as this parent (or guardian) – the parent and “protection” of the parent comes first. Personality problems have a resounding component of selfishness. Children are born selfish however and it’s a natural survival trait so what happens when children lose that God-given right and privilege? Fear, guilt, and shame take over the children’s thoughts. [Fear of things-getting worse or losing the parent or grandparent’s love… guilt over having natural selfish feelings and needs of their own… and shame because your family is different]. Mental illnesses surface in these children, due to the inability to cope. No one knows if Sarah’s illnesses are inherited or if they are a byproduct of her environment.
Sarah’s life has been hell all her life, and being an adult and moving away from her mother hasn’t made her life better. She was manipulated into giving guardianship of her children to the same mother who abused her throughout her own childhood. Sarah made the worst decision in her life when she trusted her mother and looks back now with complete shock that she made that decision after everything she had been through as a child. When the court was deciding where the children would be placed after Sarah wasn’t able to complete their requirements for family reunification within the allotted time, her mother told her that if she turned the children over to her, she would always let Sarah stay a part of their lives. Her mother warned she’d never see them again if she gave them to their father.
So, naive or maybe just very hopeful, Sarah asked the courts to allow her mother to have guardianship. And she has regretted that decision from that moment on, as her relationships with her children continued through the years to worsen more and more. Today the children won’t even speak to her. They’ve been completely conditioned to hate Sarah and alienated from their own mother.
Sarah keeps hoping for some kind of support but doesn’t know who to turn to or what to do. She waits every day, hoping her children get out of the guilt ridden and abusive environment they’re in. To do that, she knows they must somehow come to believe and understand that they deserve to have their own lives. Although she knows it may never happen, more than anything she wishes that her adult and estranged children would go to counseling with her and give her a chance to try to explain her side of things and how much she loves them.
But she knows that the only way this could ever happen would be for them both to move out of her grandmother’s and younger sister’s selfish, poisonous environment. Sarah says as long as she has a roof over her head, her children are always welcome to come and stay with her as she will always be waiting and hoping they will return to her loving arms, where they have always belonged in the first place.
Sarah and her children very unfortunately have never been allowed to be alone together even once since they were four and five years old. She has been shoved away from them and not allowed to come around to visit for many years. Naturally, Sarah longs to know her now-adult children better and to re-establish relationships with them, but she must wait until hopefully they find a way to break free from the hostile environment they’re in. Then, optimistically, she hopes they can start over after no longer being programmed to hate their mother. Sarah dreams of sharing stories, consolation, and hugs; to have relationships where guilt and labels fade away and they are all as one. Sarah prays for moments where there is no diagnosis other than “human” and no remedy other than “love”.
Sarah longs to teach her children the most elementary principle of caring: we are all one, we share so many needs, wants, likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams. She hopes that they all will learn that we need not to create barriers out of labels. We need only to find ways to be present to one another, to simply be with each other.
Being present to one another is the first step toward breaking down stigma or prejudice. What is prejudice but pre-judging and what is pre-judging, but jumping to conclusions without getting to know a-person? I like to call this problem prejudice rather than stigma, because it puts the responsibility where it belongs—with the one doing the judging. There is no mark to erase, only judgments to suspend.
No matter how much of an advocate we think we are, we can still work harder to practice this presence with one another. This is the core of life and of love.
Sometimes it’s not easy for either party. Sometimes it takes great courage for all involved. Sometimes we have to wait for an opening. Sometimes we have to create the opening. But in the end we can celebrate together. Let me end on that note then: Let us: Celebrate Life! Celebrate our Father God, in the precious name of Jesus! Celebrate Courage! Celebrate New Beginnings! Celebrate Love!
Sarah Ford welcomes letters of support and encouragement, and donations and help towards caring for her children, including family counseling. You may contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org. Messages received at that address will be personally given to Sarah Ford.