In the series Separated & Sharing several portraits will be depicted of people who have experienced a divorce or separation.
This time in the series Separated & Sharing a portrait of Nathan, a young man and a child of divorced parents. His parents had already separated when he was only 11 months young. He always knew that. There was a situation of continuous conflict which resulted in a court case. This court case started from his birth until he was eight years. That was his reality, he was aware of it.
Nature of the conflict
Initially it was about custody, desired by his father. His Italian mother had moved recently to The Netherlands after staying in London for study purposes for a period of 6 months twice. The Dutch language was somewhat new to her, which caused her not be able to defend herself well in court. His father on the other hand did know the Dutch language to a greater extent. Eventually an organisation came in between: a psychological research institute MWKJ.
The MWKJ doesn’t bring him beautiful memories. In order to find satisfying answers with respect to this period in his young life, he started a research three years ago to find out what MWJK actually was all about. MWKJ happened to be an organisation of a group of psychiatrists who were part of the council of child protection. MWKJ often approached vulnerable people, which they often labelled with incorrect diagnoses. Nathan does remember that this also applied to him and his mother. His mother meditated a lot and visited meditation retreats, which the council of child protection considered as some sort of sect.
Nathan remembers social worker Miss de Boer who invited him to draw his parents when he was 7 years. At that time the movie Jurassic Parc ruled the world. Nathan was asked during an assessment without his parents around: ‘If your parents would be animals, how would you draw them?’ Nathan loved drawing dinosaurs. He was allowed to that; he was allowed to draw them just the way he wanted to. His mother is a vegetarian, so he drew her as a Triceratops and his non-vegetarian father as T-rex. In the end the conclusion was made that his mother was with a crazy sect and that based on his drawing he saw his parents as horrible monsters. A conclusion which led to him being removed from his home and placed in care.
Being placed in care
Eventually his mother did the court case with respect to custody, but due the diagnoses he was put to observation at the P.I. ( Paedological Institute), in expectation of the PI’s advice to court. From the start young Nathan slept at the institute for 8 months, hereafter he was allowed to sleep at his mother’s during the weekend. Subsequently he was allowed to be at home in the evening and sleep at home until he was 12 years. At a later age Nathan found out that authorities like these could receive money, subsidy this way. Children of parents who were not or barely able to defend themselves were recruited. For Nathan this was the worst part of the divorce. Being able to see the bigger picture and the reciprocal connections clearly, his faith was damaged for a great part. Life in the institution just went on. They wanted to keep him and kept on going.
For example, Nathan didn’t know the Dutch word ‘tevens’ (means also). He was raised in a multicultural neighbourhood, where various languages were spoken. At home he spoke Italian and Dutch with his mother at his dad’s Dutch and English. Nathan spoke broken Dutch, but did speak various other languages. His speech impediment and an in their eyes limited knowledge of the Dutch language was an extra reason for the institution to keep him there. It broke his trust.
At the paedological institute in Duivendrecht Nathan’s class was assigned to make a mask. They were real children. All the children needed to grab a note from the grab bag. Nathan got “cat”, others got elephant, monkey etc. His drawing talent made Nathan very popular in school. Nathan made a great cat mask, including the sharp teeth a real cat has. Those sharp teeth needed to be removed. In vain Nathan tried to explain that cats have sharp teeth. At that same moment he was taken and placed in a room to cool off. When he resisted the social worker took the courtesy to sit on top of him. This seemed to be applied to autistic children. This happened shortly after his 10th birthday.
Mother in the picture
During the first three months, when he stayed day and night at the PI for observation, Nathan was allowed to speak to his mother for on only ten minutes on Wednesdays. Afterwards he was allowed to sleep at his mother’s during the weekend. After eight months he was allowed to live with her again while visiting the PI during the day. This happened until his thirteenth. For his birthday she was allowed to pay him an extra visit. During a precious moment like this Nathan’s mother was informed about the possible challenges Nathan would have and that because of this he needed to stay longer at the institute. His mother was more devastated because of this than Nathan himself. She felt powerless. His father started the court case, but this was not his intention. Nathan does believe this. However, his mother has her own view on this.
After his own research and conversations Nathan had had, everything fell into place.
Father in the picture
His father only visited him in the institute on his birthday. Nathan was always given the choice who to give a call. Every now and then he was allowed to call both parents. He does remember those moments when he was allowed to call both his parents.
Being institutionalized and disconnected from his parents
For a period of time he was disconnected from his parents. Hereafter, he was transferred to another ward, where he could leave and be home in the evening. During the day he was supposed to be present at the PI. This was possible after the social workers convinced his mother that Nathan had certain challenges, which needed daily treatment. Nathan was being labelled with autism, though he didn’t have autism. This diagnose was not written, just a presumption that he was slightly autistic. ‘But hey, how are you supposed to react to such announcements as a kid? When you see these kinds of strange things and see really crazy people, you start to shut yourself out for these kinds of things. And on top of that , you’re being labelled ‘autistic’.’
Lack of emotional security
Nathan was capable of seeing the bigger picture and putting his situation in a perspective. His mother always preferred to disclose the situation, like his drawing giving the impression and leading to a conclusion that mommy and daddy are monsters. She taught him three languages before he went to primary school. She taught him mathematics, he was already able to count making him the best of the class with counting. His communication skills were also very developed compared to his peers. His mother communicated to Nathan in a very realistic and transparent way by explaining to him the consequences of the courts custody case.
Anger about it still tangible
He can still get upset about this situation. However it might be a bit too late, but he wants to do something about it. He only doesn’t know what steps to take yet. If he could only go back in time, he might have known what would have been necessary. At the time he was a child, clearly aware that something was wrong, but not knowing what he could do. He was just taken away. Because he ran away together with some other kids at the PI and his mother could put forward that the PI did not provide the security Nathan required, he left the PI at the age of thirteen. Subsequently the PI returned custody to his mother. He was forwarded to a special continuation-school, where special children with need for special care were being treated. There were fewer students, mostly under his level, which demotivated him. This resulted in decreased interest for school, eventually to not feeling the need to collect knowledge. By nature he is a studious person, who loves education, is ambitious and future focused. But the special education for special children has put a brake on his development. He could have gotten so much further. ‘It feels like they could just get away with it. It has affected my trust in people.’
Placed in care and under supervision
There was a psychologist who had become his guardian because of him being placed in care and under supervision. She was not always present and he hardly saw her. He got the assessment from her and afterwards the results were discussed with his mother rarely in his presence. This happened all the time.
Development with respect to relationships.
His parents’ divorce has made a huge impact after the first seven years of his life. Basically he was relatively aware of the foundation he was given during his first seven years. In the period 7 to 14 years a child develops itself with respect to relationships. This development did have an impact on him. At the institute there were many children who had been through something, from small to extreme situations. He has learned to tolerate and to accept people. There were various kinds of children. He did have friends there, mostly with the same background and coming from a similar neighbourhood. He has considered the instituted a well subsidised project. Other families also started to speak up for themselves. He believes it is not enough yet. That’s why he also wants to say something about it.
Fatherless at an early age, mainly raised by his mother
Before all of this happened he did see his father every two weeks for a weekend. That’s where he also saw his younger brother. He was always looking forward to it. At that time his father was together with the mother of his brother. She was like a stepmom to him. In a positive way she was a stepmom involved with his development. She would correct him when making mistakes with the Dutch language. She was nice. During the court procedure she seemingly was different, but he was not aware of it. Only when he became a teenager, the concept relationship became interesting to him.
He would meet girls through the internet and chat with them. An unknown world to his parents; technology passed by without them noticing it. His definition of a relationship is not per se positive. A relationship to him was always related to fight and divorce. He does admit to have had a certain fear of commitment. He had no fear of affection. But he had no positive image of steadiness. He would instantly think of his parents, who were always fighting, the divorce and the court’s case. Meanwhile he has worked on this and has adjusted his image of relationships. As a child and as a teen a relationship was more an experience. Now he is able to express it in words, ‘Before I was taught in a way, that when you get married you’ll get divorced, followed by a court’s case just like my parents.’
The impact of divorce on his life’s course and his ambitions
‘These authorities have determined more than my parents. Would my parents have a fair trial, I would have been with one of my parents. But this company came in between to take advantage and not to sincerely take care of me but to get as much subsidy at my expense. Which indeed has put my life to a different course.’ He was aware of what was going on, which demotivated him to go to school, to do anything what is good, what is normal to do. ‘It has actually stolen my teens.’
Only three years ago he was able to decipher what had happened. Until then he had certain insecurities about whether or not being autistic or whether something was wrong with him. ‘I didn’t know whether or not it was real. During my entrepreneurship as an importer of chocolates I had a mentor. He explained to me how health facilities like MWKJ work. I got all kinds of flashbacks about what had happened to me and started to do a research. When I read the article, I knew this was nog okay. ‘
Impact intervention social workers
The custody conflict has influenced his life and its course he would like to follow. He wants the truth to come out. For sure the situation with his parents has given him another perspective on relationships. But the social workers who have entered his childhood don’t refer to a pleasant period in his life. Those social workers could have approached his situation differently. Should his parents have been treated equally, visiting rights could have been established without social workers intervening.
As of the second half of that period there were visiting rights. Initially he stayed at the PI. It took about a year that he had to stay there. Thereafter there were visiting rights, he was picked up and brought by a taxi daily to attend the institute’s daily program. This way he could eat and sleep home with his mother. When his mother regained custody she did not obstruct his father’s visiting rights.
His father lived in the same street, so he could visit his dad and his brother whenever he felt like it. During the day he was in school.
Some resistance to share his story
Initially he was somewhat reluctant to tell his story. He doesn’t want to be stigmatized and prefers to stay anonymous. In his experience sharing his story would make a psychologist an authority, which could make people believe that there was actually something wrong with him. Talking about it is like accepting and releasing a part. ‘Once has come out that MWKJ, that group of psychologists and psychiatrics, functioning as an authority and an organ of Child Protection, are a bunch of swindlers, I won’t stay anonymous anymore. As long as the research has not provided proof I prefer to stay anonymous. People believe in their reputation, even in when a disclosing article has been published in Trouw (Dutch Newspaper). I have experience the absolute power of that institute. They can claim that you’re insane. When people do that, everyone will believe it.’
Could that be the reason why you are so easy-going with people? Having some kind of let it be-mentality, being social
‘I did notice I quickly got a sense of distrust, when someone for example would be very nice. On the other hand I am also not able to always give a sense of trust. I have never experienced such thing. My mother did love me a lot. I don’t have trouble loving, being kind, she taught me how to. That doesn’t by any means mean being trustworthy. When I come home and she would be crying, because she feels powerless, that’s not an example of trust.’
Talking with my parents about the divorce
‘I can talk about this with my mother. I am not in touch with my father anymore. My mother has always been very open about that period. She provides the facts I am looking for. She kept all the documents. I still have questions. The Paedological Institute in Duivendrecht doesn’t exist anymore, but I do know how to get there. I would like to know why they don’t exist anymore.’
What could change for children in such a situation nowadays?
‘I am worried about it. Recently I was at Bos and Lommer in Amsterdam and I noticed a mother with a child in a pram. This mother told that her child had a psychological challenge. She believed everything the psychologist would say. I wondered whether or not it was true and whether or not she was courageous enough to question that diagnose. I believe that nowadays many children are a victim of incorrect diagnoses. For children in similar situations it is important that their parents are being assisted by professionals willing to fight against the statements of such authorities.’
Creativity as a source to heal and restore
His mother’s family is a very artistic family. His creativity has helped him to express during that period of time at the institute. ‘It connected me with other children, it made me popular, which somehow made that time bearable’
What would you like to tell children going through a divorce battle?
‘Stay positive! When negativity happens, keep your head up and be creative! When things get nasty, enter your inner world and do something creative. Make sure you have something you love doing’
As requested by the respondent his real name has been replaced by a fictional name.
About Su Changoe
Su Changoe is the owner of Tara Mediation. Tara Mediation guides couple who are considering a divorce or separation, couples who have decided to divorce and already divorced individual. For these individuals Tara Mediation provides the workshop ‘Claim your spot! – from partner to single’. More information www.taramediation.com
For more information about Tara Mediation, interview requests or images you can contact Su Changoe by phone: +31 (0)6 8100 6515 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Also visit the website: www.taramediation.com