|| Bad Moon Rising: A True Story
||Winston-Derek Publishers, Inc. © 1988
Winston-Derek Publishers, Inc.
P0. Box 90883
Nashville, TN 37209
In Bad Moon Rising: A True Story, a scenario unfolds akin to
the worst nightmare one can imagine having about one's child. It is written from
a parent's point of view. The child, Craig, is an adolescent turning sixteen.
had lived with his mother until he was four and one half. His mother then asked
his father to take him. His father and stepmother, both psychologists, had their
hands full when Craig first arrived at their house. He was diagnosed as
clinically hyperactive. During first grade, he was assessed as having learning
disabilities. He played tricks on his parents and others, such as feigning
illness by shaking the thermometer up, in order to get extra attention. But
through devotion, hard work and family therapy, Craig's difficulties began to
smooth out by the the time he was ten. Even his learning disabilities were on
their way to being mastered by the time he was twelve. Feeling satisfied about
a job well done, his father and stepmother were fairly sure that giving Craig the
opportunity to live briefly with his mother would not be harmful, especially
since it was suggested by their trusted family therapist.
But when it comes to the deeply buried feelings involving
loyalties between divorced parents, the most powerful and painful reversals can
occur. In this true story, Craig succumbed within two months to the emotional
demands of his disturbed mother that he change his identity and totally reject
his father and stepmother and their family. The betrayal was enacted first
through withdrawal of communication and later through his making allegations of
sexual abuse, accusing his stepmother of having molested him several times when
he was eleven and twelve. Although the allegations were not substantiated, they
wreaked havoc in the lives of the family.
The true story in this book becomes intense and interesting
because it poses a relevant issue: sexual abuse vs. emotional abuse. The
psychologist-parents, along with other family members, decide to defend
themselves and make a case for getting their child back by alleging emotional
abuse on the part of Craig's mother. We are told that she believes she has spiritual
powers, which she tries to impart to her children. She admits using
family group sessions, two hours per day, to have the children memorize the
details of the alleged molestations, using tape recordings as well as written
exercises. In the book, a consultant to the psychologist-parents describes these
sessions as a form of brainwashing, but this doesn't come until later.
A bureaucratic and legal nightmare ensues. Child Protective
Services will only investigate the emotional abuse charges alongside of the
sexual abuse allegations, so that both sides of the family are on trial. While
this is taking place, Craig, along with his younger sister, who was also making
allegations, are placed in a foster home. A host of professionals, lawyers,
social workers, psychologists, and foster parents, all of whom have their own
personal biases and limitations, wrestle with the issues of this situation.
are thrown by it, and cannot begin to sort out the complexity of the issues.
Some of the professionals are unable to maintain clear role boundaries or to do
thorough and careful work, and they act out themselves. Other professionals
overly circumscribe their roles and do very limited, short-sighted work.
From the point of view of Craig's father and stepmother,
their whole experience leads to increasing loss of control. They despair at the
lack of justice to themselves and to their child's well being. They must endure
not only the total emotional wrenching of their child from them, but also the
destruction of their child's sense of reality about them and about other people.
This is a powerful book, in which the personal story of one
family is told in all of its horrifying detail. Written like a novel, it is
fast-paced, suspenseful and easy to read. It is commendable that having lived
through it once, Dana Ferguson was willing to relive it by writing this book, thereby allowing others to know of her
experience from the inside.
Her child is lost. How is it possible to lose a child in this
way? As portrayed here, it is the estranged mother's severe emotional
disturbance which affects the course of life for this entire family. The whole
scenario happens because as yet there are no means through which to effectively
counter sexual abuse allegations (even flimsy ones) with a convincing
conceptualization about where these allegations could truly be coming from.
Dana Ferguson does not advocate a point of view. She simply
presents the narrative story as she experienced it and saw it occur. She does
not tell us what conclusions to draw. Yet the facts of what happened are
Only recently have mental health professionals been able to
recognize in more depth the nature of extremely unhealthy alliances that some
"protective" parents (mothers and sometimes fathers) have with their
children. It is reasonable for parents to vigorously protect their children
against all kinds of "bad" influences in the world, including
suspected sexual abuse. But it is not reasonable for a mother or father to
suspect abuse because of their own paranoia or other difficulties, with views
that are not based on reality. The parent's belief system may be based on
unconscious needs arising out of very problematic experiences as a youngster,
possibly extreme neglect or some kind of abuse. Or the parent's mental illness
may originate the allegations in some way. Some parents need to use their
children as the external focus of their internal conflicts, insisting that there
is something wrong with them that needs treating. This is similar to Munchausen
syndrome by proxy where an illness of the child is posed by the parent, who
fabricates a medical history and allows the child to undergo repeated invasive
or otherwise injurious, unnecessary medical treatments.
The drama of this story contains some important and
meaningful ideas. There is extreme psychopathology at the heart of some
allegations of sexual abuse. Oftentimes this psychopathology is not perceived by
the professionals involved, particularly those who are not trained in depth in
mental health. This book helps us see that when such severe psychopathology is
involved, the mental health and legal system can become disorganized and split,
and ignore strong signs (such as daily, two hour family group sessions) and
symptoms of severe stress that are occurring for the children, as well as the
The book reinforces the need for comprehensive and thorough
evaluations of sexual abuse allegations that occur within the context of hostile
divorce situations. Most evaluators (hopefully) already ask the question, "Are there possible unconscious (or conscious)
motivations on the part of the parent supporting the sexual abuse
allegation?" Craig's mother had the need to get Craig completely within her
control and influence; undivided in his loyalty to her.
In a divorce situation, one parent's wish for extreme, total
abnegation of the relationship with the other parent and that parent's family
can also be a form of child abuse. Mental health professionals need to define
more clearly the long-term effects on children of having no contact (even
supervised) with the allegedly dangerous parent before issues are settled in
court (which can take years) as well as during treatment. Clearly, Craig could
have benefited by having a dialogue with his father and step-mother while these
crucial events in his life were occurring.
By sharing her story, Dana Ferguson has let us in on her
personal pain, the loss of her child. This could be a healing book for her and
for those who read it if the tragic, human mistakes made in her story are not
repeated, or even not repeated as frequently.
Reviewed by Marjorie Gans Walters, Psychologist in Private
Practice, San Rafael, California