Group targets divorce fallout
PARENTAL ALIENATION AWARENESS DAY: 'It's a sad situation when your children are turned against you in family court'
Posted 7 hours agoSharon Mawhinney hates to see her children upset. Unfortunately, as a result of her divorce, that's exactly what has happened.
But the Barrie mother of four said her children aren't the only ones hurting. The process and the mud-slinging have been hard on her, too.
"I'm a victim of parental alienation, and two of my children have been alienated," said Mawhinney, a member of Parental Alienation Awareness Ontario.
"My stage of alienation is severe and it's a sad situation when your children are turned against you in family court."
Mawhinney's personal experiences within family court motivated her to create an awareness event --
Parental Alienation Awareness Day (PAAD) -- to speak out against parental alienation and the emotional strain divorce puts on children.
The city's first PAAD event takes place Sunday at Centennial Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"A lot of people don't take the high road in family court, and the children get caught in the middle," she said.
"This event is about creating a public awareness about stopping this alienation of parents and kids. I'm fighting for parents' and childrens' rights.
"We're also encouraging people to speak up when they hear a parent bad-mouthing their ex-partner in front of their children," Mawhinney said. "Parents shouldn't be putting their hatred and their attitudes about each other on the kids."
Dr. Ken Marek couldn't agree more. The Barrie clinical psychologist said often when families split up, children will be affected on some level.
"There's often an incredible amount of emotion that comes with divorce and the kids do get caught up in it all or they become collateral damage," said Marek, who specializes in individual, couple and family counselling.
"The reality is, as much as divorcing parents attempt to make it an easy transition, it's always going to affect the kids somehow.
"Children often blame themselves for their parents splitting up, or try to think of ways to get them back together, or they'll start acting up," he added. "The more communication and civilized action there is between the parents, the children will adjust faster."
Mawhinney said she received approval from Barrie Mayor Dave Aspden to proclaim Sunday as Parental Alienation Awareness Day in Barrie.
The event is open to parents, children, grandparents and friends affected by alienation through divorce.
An information table will be set up with relevant books for sale, and children will be invited to blow 'bubbles of love' at noon during the event.
The bubbles symbolize a child's freedom to love both divorced parents, without feeling like they must chose a side, she said.
A similar event will be held in Alliston on Sunday, at 11:30 a.m. at Riverdale Park, near Stevenson Memorial Hospital.
Organizer Paulette MacDonald has been promoting the day for the past five years, and this year's event will include testimonials, singing and those same 'bubbles of love', which will be blown at noon all across Ontario and the world at these events.
"Those bubbles signify the ever rising love of our children and you can't contain the bubbles, just like they can't contain their love for their family," MacDonald said. "We're letting children know it's OK to love both parents."
MacDonald said even through her own divorce, that was the message she gave her children.
"I'm a divorced parent, and we decided to put our children first and didn't set foot inside a family court room," she said. "I just assumed that's the way all parents did it, to keep their children from getting caught up in everything."
After meeting her current partner in 2005, MacDonald was introduced to the more common way of divorce settlements.
"My partner's ex-wife began dragging them, and myself and my children, through the whole process," she said. "That's when we were all introduced to parental alienation and the emotional impact it has on children.
"Parental alienation usually occurs when there's an ugly divorce," MacDonald added.
MacDonald felt so strongly about this issue last year, that she scaled the water tower of the Cookstown Outlet Mall, dressed in a Batman costume, and hung a flying banner promoting parental alienation awareness.
"I also held a pre-event last year, before April 25 and we had a bunch of people come out to celebrate," she said.
The goal of both MacDonald and Mawhinney is to end this type of alienation among families, and have family court laws changed to prevent this from happening.
"The biggest problem is not enough people know this is happening in their own communities," she said. "It's going to take us years to get family laws changed, but we have to start somewhere."
MacDonald said character lessons at Simcoe County schools are helping prevent this problem.
"The school boards are doing a great job with character education," she said. "I want to see that bumped up."
ncruickshank @ thebarrieexaminer.com