Submission of Alison Grenon to the Special Joint Committee on Custody and Access
To The Special Joint Committee on
Child Custody and Access
May 28, 1998
My name is Alison Grenon and I am appearing as a child witness at the Senate House Committee Hearings on Child Custody and Access. I am 18 years old and I will graduate this year from Grade 12 at Ecole Ste. Anne in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
In many ways, I have been very lucky. This year my soccer team won the Provincial Soccer Championship and I was my high school year book editor. In one month I will deliver the valedictorian speech to my graduating class. I am fully bilingual and I plan to attend St. Thomas University in the fall.
My interest in the subject of child custody and access comes from personal experience, but as someone who believes in fairness I think I would have been drawn to the issue even if I hadn't been at the centre of a custody dispute myself. In 1991, two months after I turned 11 years old, I left my mother in Quebec and came to live with my aunt, whom I have lived with ever since. In 1992, when I was twelve, my aunt got custody of me and I have grown up with her and my uncle ever since. I have access to both my mother and father at any time I want, so access has never been a real problem except for the distance and cost. And although I would have liked to see my mother more often, as things turned out, I did not.
In addition to having dealt with that experience, I am part of the so-called "blended families" that everybody talks about. In fact, in our house, no one has the same last name! This is my family: my mother had a child when I was just two years old (my step-brother who is now 15), my father married and had a child, (my step-brother who is now 10 years old), my mother had another child (a girl aged one and a half) and my aunt married a man in 1993 who had a child (a daughter now age 9) from a previous relationship. It's a great big family, but it is mine.
So, you can see, I really have a lot of experience in this area. And don't be surprised to hear that most kids are used to the idea of step-sisters, step-cousins, etc. etc. because that is the reality for most children. What the politicians, courts and parents do not seem to notice about us children is that we are observers, quiet listeners. Our early years in life teach us
how to act as an adult.
Please put yourself in this situation: you are a child, new to this whole life business and your needs and wants are not respected because everyone just assumes that you do not know what your needs and wants are. That is not true. We are very aware of what we want and need and it is crucial to our understanding of life, relationships and future parenting of our own.
A child does not know how to voice their need of seeing mom or dad. They do not have the words to tell them what they NEED from both their parents. They need complete love from both, they need to be taught HOW to be an adult. They are too young to voice our opinions so they cry, they scream, they stop speaking, they regress away from social activities that are normal for a child, we become more troublesome. This is a cry for the parents to pay attention to them, to see their needs, to figure out what they need and want. This becomes a strange guessing game between the child and the parent. What most forget is that parents do not remember what a child feels because life's experience has matured them, and they know the words to say to express an important need.
When a child finally does learn the words, they've become strangers to their parents. They do not have the same values, the same thoughts as their parents. They know that their parents love them but what makes them forget is the constant feud between the mom and dad. They find themselves in a small boxing ring with each parent in a corner but the child receives the punches because children are their weapon. Children become a way of emotional pain to each parent.
In some cases, when the custody of a child has been reversed to the non-custodial parent, they can become like the other. They want their ex to suffer the same way they have so once again, the child is used to hurt each other, they become a weapon of war used by both sides. When this happens, the child asks: Is this responsible parenting? Who's being childish and immature?
Our future is based by what our parents teach us. So are our relationships and the future relationships... Is this going to happen when we have kids? Are our parents going to argue over their grand children? How can children learn responsible parenting when all they remember are the arguments, the pain, the tears, the hate expressed by their parents? Why would they want children if all they've learned is that children can be weapons to hurt or children can bring misery? Why should they risk to make the same mistake their parents did.
You must understand that my generation is the one most affected by divorces, family courts and lots of changes and we learn to adapt but we are also the most confused, hurt and rebels of life. We want to understand why our needs and wants were ignored. Why could we not see them when we wanted to?
You must understand that I am not a lawyer and I am not a judge, but if I could speak to them in this situation I would say that there has to be a better solution to this particular but common problem: a child who wants and needs to be with both non-custodial and custodial parent without the law getting involved?
I know that there are other people who are saying the same thing, and I think we all have a few things in common - a true compassion for children and a will to stop them from being used, manipulated and forced to be weapons in a big battle in the Family Court. It's cruel and inhuman in my opinion. What has happened to our values? Our morals?
I think the root of the problem lies in the Family Courts, where judges decisions allow this sort of behaviour to continue. This is where it has to change and more focus put on parental responsibilities in a shared parenting framework.
Most of you sitting here today have had your children, and some even have grandchildren and great grandchildren. I am a member of the next generation of parents who will have children and raise them according to our values and experiences - experiences such as living in blended families or step-families with non-custodial parents who have been through hell.
We can't be sure that we will not make the same stupid mistakes as the last generation: we will try to teach our children new values and not ruin them by letting the system use them as a weapon in a custody battle. You can rest assured that I for one, will promote shared parenting for all in any situation.