My ex has turned my son against me – I haven't spoken to him in over a year

My ex has turned my son against me – I haven't spoken to him in over a year

May 3, 2023

Sitting in my car, I spotted my teenage son walking out of school, backpack slung over one shoulder, his shirt slightly untucked out of his trousers. I couldn’t help but smile.

Then, he looked up and for the briefest of seconds, our eyes met. My smile froze on my lips as he quickly looked down again and hurried off in the opposite direction. I took a deep breath, tightened my trembling hands on the steering wheel and, blinking back my tears, I pulled away.

I haven’t spoken to my youngest son in over a year, not since he moved in with his dad and my ex poisoned him against me. The grief sometimes leaves me choking for breath.

I was with my husband for 14 years and we had two boys together. The eldest, now in his 20s, was the sporty one, always kicking a ball about, while the youngest preferred music – he wanted to learn to play the violin at six, then moved onto drums.

Then, around a decade ago, I discovered my husband was having an affair with a friend of mine. Looking back, it probably wasn’t his first. He moved out of the family home and in with her, and I did my best to keep myself from crumbling for the boys.

For the next six years, I gave them the best life possible. I let them have huge sleepover parties with their friends, took them to their clubs after school, to the cinema on weekends. And my youngest loved nothing more than cuddling up with me in bed to watch one of his favourite Marvel films.

It wasn’t easy though, as my relationship with my ex was fraught. He never paid any child maintenance. We agreed he’d have the children every other weekend, but he’d confiscate their mobile phones when they were with him so I couldn’t speak to them, and would often keep them for three or four days longer than agreed.

I was a nervous wreck, not knowing when I’d get them back.

Around two years later, I got a new partner, which only made things worse. In 2017, one Sunday night, my ex burst into my house, demanding I pack our oldest son’s things. ‘He’s coming to live with me,’ he snarled.

Our oldest seemed to want to go, so I didn’t want to stop him but it broke my heart to hand over his clothes and watch him walk away.

Parental alienation is a real, very terrifying and serious problem, one suffered by thousands of people in the UK

Thankfully, after three months, my son decided he wanted to come back to me – something my ex punished both our boys for by refusing to see them for the next four months. It devastated them, so I wrote to my ex and his mum, pleading with him to see them. But it was only when my youngest kept crying so much in school and the headmaster contacted his father that he relented.

We struggled through the weeks until 2019, when my grandmother became seriously ill. My youngest spent half term with his dad, as I maintained a bedside vigil, waiting helplessly for the inevitable to happen.

‘He wants to live with me now,’ my ex told me on my return. This time, I was prepared – I filed a court order within three days.

In June, the court ordered that my youngest return to me and see his dad every other weekend, as previously agreed. But in July, it returned to court and this time, he was put into his dad’s care – all because his attendance at school had slipped to 87%.

I was devastated and looking back now, I wish I’d appealed straight away. At the time though, I just couldn’t afford it.

I saw my son sporadically and I did what I could. But I could tell my ex was turning him against me, feeding him lies.

When he did come over to mine, his dad would talk to him over the Playstation, asking what he was having for tea or doing that day. ‘Urgh, I bet that tastes awful,’ his dad would reply. Or, ‘That sounds so boring, you’ll have a rubbish time.’

Since then, I’ve written him a letter every week, I always buy him birthday and Christmas presents. I will never give up on him

As my son started to come less and less, a judge threatened my ex with jail if he didn’t allow me to see him – but then we went into lockdown. I wouldn’t see him for sometimes as long as six weeks and even then it would only be if I got my solicitor to write to my ex. 

Then, in May 2022, the school called me up. They told me that my youngest son no longer wanted to see me and I was no longer allowed to pick him up.

Collapsing onto the floor, I sat shaking for about three hours. I had nowhere to go for help. Social services wouldn’t pick it up, as there were no safeguarding issues with me and because he was 14, the courts gave his opinion the most weight – and he was saying he didn’t want to see me.

So, I haven’t seen him since then – not for 12 long months. The closest I get to him is when I arrive at the school in the taxi I drive to pick up other pupils. It breaks my heart, being so close, but so far from him.

Since then, I’ve written him a letter every week, which I pass onto the school to give to him – I try to keep the conversation light, telling him when the dog had a litter of puppies and sending him pictures. I always buy him birthday and Christmas presents. I will never give up on him.

I don’t blame him – it’s not his fault.

Parental alienation is a real, very terrifying and serious problem, one suffered by thousands of people in the UK, as I discovered when I started looking into it. I joined Facebook groups to get – and give – support. I’ve even become an admin for one of the groups, mostly as a distraction from my pain. Last year, we had 240 members, now there are 700 of us – and the numbers are growing daily.

Because every day, I – and many, many more people – are living with devastating grief. As we awake every morning, we are aware it is another day slipping by with no contact, another day we will never be able to get back.

And it’s not just me who is suffering. My eldest son – who still lives with me and has only seen his father, and therefore this brother, three or four times in the last year – often breaks down in tears about his lack of contact with his sibling.

My father, who used to bake cupcakes with my youngest son and take him prawning, says he wakes in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, wondering if he’ll ever see his beloved grandson again.

People say to me, ‘Don’t worry, he’ll come round eventually.’ But I don’t know that. I don’t know the damage that has been done.

Yet, while I have no idea if I will ever be able to reconnect and rebuild my relationship with my son, the one thing I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that I will never give up fighting for him.

Degrees of Separation

This series aims to offer a nuanced look at familial estrangement.

Estrangement is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and we want to give voice to those who’ve been through it themselves.

If you’ve experienced estrangement personally and want to share your story, you can email [email protected] and/or [email protected]

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