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Oh, sure, now they make up a name for it

May 4, 2010

When my parents got divorced in 1982, they each immediately set about embracing their new hobby: badmouthing each other. My two brothers and I were the main audience. My father (according to my mother) was an emotionally distant, inconsiderate, inflexible mama’s boy who drank milk straight from the carton. My mother (my father repeatedly told us) was an irrational, needy hysteric who used the the dish sponge to wipe up things from the floor–and he worked in the city, he explained, where homeless people puked on the sidewalks, and then he walked on that kitchen floor with the same shoes; why, it was like eating homeless puke. In 1982, trying to turn your children against your ex made you an asshole; now, there’s a name for it: Hostile Aggressive Parenting (or HAP), and/or Parental Alienation. April 25th was the 5th annual Parental Alienation Awareness Day

I’m all for protecting kids from the less noble adult instincts (of which there are so, so many), but isn’t this slicing the onion a little thin, as they say? It didn’t take me very long to realize that what my parents were doing was mean, vindictive, immature, thoughtless, and any number of other things (in their defense, I think they may actually have been practicing the lesser-known HPAP, or Hostile Passive-Aggressive Parenting; I made that up). But child abuse? I don’t know.

On the one hand, giving it a long, capitalized name brings awareness to something many adults might not, in their post-divorce bitterness and resentment, even realizing they’re doing. On the other hand, doesn’t this minimize the many, much more serious forms of child abuse? Further, the name is so vague (I actually might have liked it if my father had showed as much pep as I think it generally takes to be aggressive) that it could apply to any number of other parental misdeeds. My father, for instance, buys Archway cookies. Have you ever had Archway cookies? They’re definitely hostile, and possibly aggressive. In any event, telling his children that their mother sucks because she washed colors in hot water fits the description of HAP, but  have trouble believing it did any lasting damage to my relationship with my mother.

I think I might just prefer to call them assholes. It’s pretty direct, and much more descriptive, and it leaves little room for my being a victim. In closing, I leave you with the great George Carlin, who said it all better than I ever could with this rant on euphemisms (my apologies, but it refuses to be embedded).

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