Child Caught in the Middle: Cathie and Ronald

Parents at War

"Cathie is the woman who basically abandoned our son over 10 years ago," says Ron. "No birthday cards, no phone calls, no Christmas cards. Suddenly she appears as if nothing had actually happened. Now she wants to play mommy. His mother's reappearance has created complete havoc. Matthew's been throwing up constantly, just about every other day."

Ronald explains that when Matthew was 5 years old, Cathie was deemed unfit to take care of him. The court gave Ronald full custody. "When Matthew came to live with me, he didn't know his ABCs, the one, two, threes," he says. "Somebody asked him his name, and he replied, 'Snake.' That is what his mother called him."

He continues, "Three months ago she made contact with us like she'd just arrived, but the truth of the matter is she's been here 13 months. Cathie has repeatedly broken dates with our son, she hasn't answered his phone calls, she hasn't bothered to call him back, she never initiates calling him. Cathie is a mother of convenience: If it's convenient for her."

"Well, no matter how flat you make a pancake, it's got two sides," says Dr. Phil. "Cathie says it was Ronald who caused that separation, not her. She claims he did everything he could to get in the way of her relationship with her son, Matthew."

Cathie says, "Matthew has been told so many lies by Ron and his family, and I'm trying to set him straight and give him the truth, but Ron would be on the phone, and he would never let me talk to Matthew. He tells Matthew what to say, what to do, what not to say. I sent him Christmas presents. I sent him cards. I don't know if he ever got that. All I want is Matthew back in my life."

Cathie is back in the picture, but Matthew's having a hard time adjusting. In fact, the stress is making him literally sick.
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"My mother abandoned me," says Matthew. "She disappeared when I was age 5. She didn't even call me on my birthdays, Christmas or anything. I was always expecting a call, just waiting right next to the phone. I would just cry myself to sleep, but even when my mom was in my life, she wasn't really in my life. She would lock me up in a room, and she would give me a little plate of cookies, and then she would just disappear for the whole day. She would always have the cats there, and their bathroom was, like, in my room. Even on Christmas Day, I would still be locked up in my room. I was basically just living by myself.

"Now, my mother has come back into my life, and that's what is making me sick," he says. "As far as I can tell, my mother is a liar, a cheater. Everything she says is a broken promise. She always says, 'Honey, I'm sorry. Oh, Honey, oh, Honey, oh, Honey.' There's nothing else. It stresses me out so much it's hard to keep my food in my stomach. I've been throwing up for, like, 56 days and 30 to 40 times a day. Anything I put in my stomach, it just comes up. I'm still crying myself to sleep."

Dr. Phil explains that he agreed to speak with this family for Matthew's sake. Turning to Ronald, he says, "You don't particularly want to be here, do you?"

"It's not so much that," he replies. "The point of it is, I want both Cathie and Matthew to have a new beginning, a new start."

"Have you told him negative things about his mother?" Dr. Phil asks. "Because he knows things he just couldn't know if somebody didn't tell him."

"You know, Dr. Phil, without history, you have no future, I feel," Ronald says. "You have to know some things. We learn from our mistakes of the past to help us with the future." 

"He thinks he's gotten a lot of information," Dr. Phil tells him. "And I'm not saying it's wrong information. I'm just curious where he got it."

"It might have been from me," Ronald concedes.

Turning to Cathie, Dr. Phil asks, "Are the criticisms " and you know what they are that have been leveled against you " are they true?"

"No," she say, "they're not."

"Did you disappear for 10 years?" asks Dr. Phil.

"I was gone, but I did keep in contact with him " not too often," Cathie says. "I was married to a man back in Michigan which I " I'm not perfect. I never said I was."

Dr. Phil asks Cathie if she called her son on birthdays and holidays, and she tells him she only called him sometimes.
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"This is your child," says Dr. Phil. "If you love this child, how could you not even call him on his birthday?"

"I should have," Cathie begins, "and that's my " "

"But why did you not?" Dr. Phil probes. "Help me understand."

"Because I was married to a man who hated Ron," Cathie says, "and Ron hated him, and there was so much meanness on the phone, and yelling, and screaming, I couldn't take it anymore. What I've gone through with the divorce with him was horrendous enough."

Dr. Phil says he isn't talking about Cathie and Ronald. "Like I said, I don't care whether you like him or not, or whether he likes you or not. I'm talking about a mother and her son."

Dr. Phil raises another of Matthew's complaints, that when he was in the hospital he called his mother 20 or 30 times to come see him, but she never came.

Cathie says, "I did not know he was run over by a car until three days later."

"Did he call you 20 or 30 times and you said, 'I just can't get there. I'm sorry'?" asks Dr. Phil.

"No, he didn't," she says.

"OK, so Matthew's lying about that," says Dr. Phil.
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Cathie remembers another time when Matthew landed in the hospital and did call her. "But I'm a nurse, and I couldn't get away from the 30 patients I take care of," she says.

"I don't care if you've got 330 patients. If your child's in the hospital, wouldn't you be there?" asks Dr. Phil. "I'm just being honest. I'm not trying to take sides here. I'm just asking questions, because you can't change what you don't acknowledge. He said that you told him, 'I'm sorry, I could not get there, but I'll promise you if this ever happens again, I will be there. I don't care what happens.' Is that true?"

"That is true," says Cathie.

Cathie says, "Matthew asked, let me go to a movie with Mom. Let me go over to my mom's house alone. And Ron will not allow him to do this. Ron has told Matthew that 'If you contact your mother without me present off your cell phone, you will not ever have a cell phone.' I think Matthew is scared of him. I lived with him. I was scared of Ron."

According to Dr. Phil, one of the biggest mistakes parents make in a divorce is to commit character assassination against their former spouse, something Cathie says Ronald is clearly guilty of. She says he took advantage of her during the custody process and has turned Matthew against her.

"Ron said, 'I will keep you in court for the rest of our lives until I get custody of our son,'" says Cathie. "He wouldn't give me a divorce until he got Matthew. I said, 'Ron, I don't have any more money. Matthew is with me. I am not an abusive parent.' And he says, 'Well, I don't care. I want Matthew.' I had to give up my attorneys, and I didn't have the money, so I lost my son. I felt like dirt. I didn't know what else to do. I was just so depressed. I was so upset."

"I'm a real here and now guy, but it seems like we've got some bells to unring with Matthew and/or you have a lot of apologizing to do," Dr. Phil tells Cathie. Turning to Ronald, he asks, "Have you, in your mind, in the interest of giving him reality, have you poisoned him against his mother? Did you tell Matthew that she killed his dog, Shasta?"
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"I never said anything about Shasta, because I didn't even know the dog," Ronald explains. "In fact, Cathie got the dog, Shasta, just after I'd left Salt Lake City, Utah."

Dr. Phil turns to Cathie. "Well, you told us that he told Matthew that you ran over the dog and killed it," he says.

 

"That's what Matthew told me," says Cathie. "[He asked,] 'What happened to Shasta? What happened?' I said, 'The dog got out. What are you talking about, Matthew?' 'Well, Dad said it got out, it got killed, and maybe you ran over it.' I said, 'No, no, no. I never did that. I wasn't around.'"

Dr. Phil asks Ronald, "Did you tell Matthew that she terminated a pregnancy in the bathroom?"

Ronald pauses before speaking, fighting against his emotions. "I was at the market, and I received a call from Customer Service," he recounts. "I rushed home real fast, leaving the basket. I went into the bathroom. I comforted my wife. I helped her to get out to the couch in the front room, in the living room, and I walked back into the bathroom to clean everything up. I said I didn't know what happened, but it seemed that it was, you know, a little strange. And since she had aborted a previous pregnancy, our very first pregnancy, that this might have happened."

"And how old was Matthew when you had this conversation?" asks Dr. Phil.
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"Probably 11," says Ronald.

Dr. Phil turns to Cathie. "Did you?"

"No," she says. "I had a miscarriage." 

Dr. Phil explains that the point of this line of questioning is to see the situation through Matthew's eyes.

 

"This is so much ugliness visited in this young man, obviously a very sensitive, intelligent young man," he says. "I mean, we've got a young man here who has been so upset that he's throwing up 20, 30, 40 times a day. His body is screaming, his mind is screaming for help here. So, you've got to say, 'Look, obviously what we're doing is not working.'" Dr. Phil tells Ronald he has problems with what the father has chosen to share with Matthew, and tells Cathie he has problems with how she defines being a mother. "I don't care if you've lost custody or whatever, particularly if you're being invited into the situation, even if it's supervised by him, how you would be absent for 10 years. And I don't care if you've got 30 patients or 300 patients. If your kid's in the hospital, you go to the hospital. Am I wrong about that?"

"You're correct, sir," says Cathie.

"So you would do it differently today?" asks Dr. Phil.

"Oh, yes," she says, "I would."