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Moms Fight Back: Rising From the Shadow of Abuse

“You’re a greedy b—.” The low and intense tenor of my ex-boyfriend’s voice conveyed a deep contempt for me. I was in my car waiting for my daughter to come out of his house so I could take her home. But he wasn’t letting her out. He was crouched down at the driver’s side window with his face disturbingly close to mine, berating me for my “bad behavior” as if I were a child.

The father of my child has never physically harmed me or my daughter. His onslaught takes the form of control, manipulation, intimidation and verbal and emotional abuse. Over the years, he has used threats of lowering her child support or obstructing her medical care when he doesn’t get his way. In order to mitigate conflict, I’ve had to pick my battles.

Several years ago I told our court evaluator my ex had anger issues and was controlling but he did not believe me. I thought if I told the truth I’d be believed. I put my faith in the system. I was naive. It was gut-wrenching to see the judge’s order in which he believed the court evaluator. 

His most recent attacks are through the court system – using litigation to harass me and financially drain me. For almost two years he has been filing motion after motion to which I must respond or face losing time with my daughter. While my financial resources are finite, his are unlimited and my legal fees are spiraling out of control. Anxiety spreads like vines creeping through my daily thoughts, affecting even my physical health. After many months of litigation abuse, I have suffered with stress-induced flare-ups of reflux and shingles.

Recently, I learned that coercive control is part of the domestic violence spectrum. I also joined online support groups and have found other women subjected to this type of mental torture. It was through a Facebook group that I found an inspiration to all protective mothers being dragged through the broken family court system. Her name is Maralee McLean.

A post about a rally in the United Kingdom called “The Court Said” featured Maralee’s speech advocating for domestic violence victims internationally. I connected with her and I was thrilled to learn she lives close to me in Colorado. She spearheads Mom’s Fight Back, a group of dedicated mothers fighting to keep their children safe from abusive fathers.

Maralee McLean is a warrior – not because she wants to be, but because she must be. After losing custody of her daughter to her ex-husband despite mountains of evidence he was sexually abusing their child, she never gave up the fight. Protective mothers can lose custody of children when fathers claim parental alienation syndrome (PAS), a debunked theory that labels the mother as dangerous and trying to alienate the father from the child. Psychiatrist Richard Gardener coined the concept PAS, which blames mothers for interfering with their children’s attachment to their fathers. He believed reports made by mothers of violence against children by fathers were mostly false. Although organizations such as The American Psychological Association and The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges have discredited the theory, judges still cling to this dangerous assumption.

She was given one hour supervised visits in a small room for eight years while the father had full custody – and license to continue sexually abusing her daughter. After she went public with her story, she helped organize a rally at the Denver State Capitol for protective mothers and spoke on CNN about her ordeal. Eventually, at age 12, her daughter was able to speak to the judge about the abuse and Maralee was legally reunited with her daughter.

I first spoke to Maralee on the phone about creating a fund to help women pay their legal fees when the abuser persists in litigation harassment. We soon realized there were too many issues to discuss over the phone so we set up a meeting at a restaurant. I arrived first which gave me time to organize my thoughts. A tall raven-haired woman dressed in a conservative pantsuit walked through the door. She walked over to my table, and although we’d never met in person before, we hugged.

I was in awe knowing that across from me was a woman who, despite gag orders and threats of jail time, told her story on major media outlets such as CNN. She also fields hundreds of calls and emails from other mothers turning to her for help. With everything on her plate, she took the time to meet with me. She praised me for the research I had already done on family court and ideas I proposed for Mom’s Fight Back. She listened and I clearly understood why this woman is so special. The depth of her commitment to helping mothers and children has no limit.

To survive the nightmare of losing your child to an abuser and then empower other women to fight for their children’s lives is a testament to her inner strength. When her daughter was taken from her, she felt she had nothing to lose anymore. She chose to give back to women and children rather than hide in the shadows. She took her private fight to the halls of Congress, the podiums at rallies and stages of conferences around the world on child abuse and judicial accountability.  

For decades she has been educating the public on the corruption in our family courts and the destruction caused when court evaluators, child protective services and judges make dangerous decisions. Unfortunately, Maralee’s case is not uncommon. Family courts throughout the country ignore evidence of abuse and sometimes accuse the protective parent of brainwashing the children, as if the abuse was planted in their minds or imagined.

She has also written a book, Prosecuted But Not Silenced that touches the lives of so many women going through this heart-breaking process. The title of her book aptly describes her struggle and reaction to it. She wants to let other women know they are not alone and it is not their fault. The family court system can be unjust. 

Her advocacy impacts not only women going through a custody battle with a sexual predator, but any woman facing personal obstacles in which authority or legal figures try to obstruct the greater good. For mothers navigating the legal process, it is vital to have a hero like Maralee McLean.

Because of Maralee, I have a support network and I’m part of a movement for family justice. Our struggles are unique, but we are bonded by the resolve to make our family court system truly committed to the best interest of the child. I’ve joined other Mom’s Fight Back members to meet with state legislators to provide new legislation that makes the child’s safety the first priority and to require family court judges receive training on domestic violence, coercive control, child abuse and child sexual abuse.

Every small action can make a difference. We’ve banned together on a letter-writing campaign to investigate a magistrate that gave custody to father with a history of domestic violence. There is power behind a group of steadfast women.

Maralee’s resilience and fortitude are an inspiration to me. When she was going through her quest to save her daughter, social media didn’t exist. At that time she felt alone and scared, but never gave up on her child. Now with social media, we have the ability to reach out to other members of Mom’s Fight Back for advice, resources or simply to vent.

My court battles are far from over, but embarking on this journey with other mothers is comforting. Because of Maralee, I am not alone.

-Casey Smith

Helping Colorado’s Most Vulnerable Kids

During a pandemic, trauma does not take a break. In fact, for children and families at Tennyson Center, trauma has increased exponentially.

Parents are faced with layoffs, rents are due; the economic uncertainty is often unbearable. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children face a heightened risk of neglect and abuse as coronavirus-related school closures keep them at home and away from hotline tipsters like teachers and childcare providers who are no longer carefully watching children in their care. In fact, Colorado’s Child Abuse and Neglect hotline saw a 40% drop in calls in just one week since schools closed in March. That does NOT mean that cases are decreasing—again, it means that these sometimes-invisible children, whose safety lay in the stability provided by their community of caregivers like teachers and doctors, are once again invisible in isolation.

At Tennyson Center for Children (Tennyson Center), we continue to support the most at-risk children and families during the COVID-19 crisis. We have served Colorado’s most neglected, abused, and traumatized children and their families since 1904, and we don’t plan on stopping. We are here for our children and families no matter what.

On-campus staff are providing daily therapeutic treatment to children living in our residential cottages, which are staffed 24 hours per day. Additionally, in order to provide stabilization to residential children – who are also deeply isolated from the outside world during this time – our staff have shifted to a 7-day-per-week school schedule.

Clinicians who would normally work in homes throughout Colorado communities are conducting virtual therapy sessions and have provided families who lack access to technology with laptops and WiFi hotspots. In addition to ensuring continuation of services, Tennyson has also provided families with supermarket gift cards and other resources to help them maintain access to basic resources.

Frontline supporters of children in child welfare also include many grandparents, who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Over 48,000 Colorado grandparents are primary caregivers for their grandchildren. Our clinicians are finding new and innovative ways to support these elderly caregivers during this time. For example, a Tennyson clinician helped a grandmother raising her young granddaughter in an assisted living facility reset a phone and access a computer and WiFi connection. They are now connected to the clinician, to their broader family, and to their doctor.

Finally, as we all struggle with stress during this unprecedented time, our amazing clinicians offer a few thoughts of advice for parents and caregivers on coping – and teaching their children to cope – during this time:

  • Make sure to regulate activities and focus on what you can control. You can control the amount of news you consume and what you do to take care of yourself. For example, if you watch 10 minutes of the news, then spend 10 minutes taking a walk, talking to a loved one, listening to music, or doing something for others. Practice gratitude for the things you have and can do right now. 
  • Structure helps! Try to create a loose schedule to include activities like playing, making healthy meals, exercise, outside time, screen time, schoolwork, and chores. Try to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time. Having a good sleep routine can be soothing and helps everyone relax.  
  • Offer children the opportunity to ask questions and share their thoughts. Let them know that there are no “wrong” ways to feel. Kids are sensitive to your anxiety and fear and it’s okay to be honest with them. Use “I statements” like, “Yes, I’m scared sometimes too about what is going on. I am focusing on what we can do right now: washing our hands and staying at home.”
  • Know that your child may be more clingy right now or show oppositional behaviors. You might see regressed behaviors (more baby talk or tantrums). This is normal. They are communicating that they need something from you, even if they don’t have the right words or understand why they are acting this way. Focus on soothing them: gentle eye contact, rocking them, offering a hug, or talking quietly together. Do your best to be present to your child’s feelings and needs. Engage in an activity together or separate activities near each other. Keep options short and brief. For example: “Do you want to play Legos with your brother right now, or do you want to color with me?” 
  • Be gentle with yourself as a parent or caregiver. Know that you must take care of yourself in order to be present for your children. It is okay to take a break, ask for help, and to make mistakes. You are doing a really good job.

Social workers and clinicians are on the COVID-19 frontlines, thankfully.

Please consider making a contribution in any amount to support Tennyson kids, families, and staff during this difficult time!

-Lauren Dartt, Director of Marketing & Communications at Tennyson Center for Children


National Camp-In: Go camping (in your backyard) for a great cause!

Whether in your backyard or in your living room, join families across the country live on Facebook on Saturday, May 2 for a day of fun virtual adventures from the Boy Scouts of America. From camp-style cooking and friendly competitions, to special guests and campfire singalongs, this virtual event will bring the best parts of Scouting to life. This National Camp-In is free and open to all families – including families whose children are not currently in Scouting.

Tune in all day or jump in and out for particular activities. As the National Camp-In draws closer, check back for event times so you can plan your day, or provide your email in the form above and get the updates delivered to you!

Our schedule will include:

Camping tips and tricks

  • Camping hacks from adventure pros
  • Easy camp-style recipes you can make indoors or out

Physical Fitness and Community Service

  • Virtual 5K benefiting Feeding America
  • At-home exercises led by a 2021 Olympian

Skill development

  • STEM fun and a Q&A session with Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Inc.
  • Moviemaking merit badge for all! Make your own movie outline and storyboard and get a behind-the-scenes virtual movie-set tour from Hollywood costume designer Jessica Pazdernik. Live Q&A with Jessica and Hollywood director Francis Lawrence.         SPECIAL ADVANCE OPPORTUNITY: Scouts are invited to submit a story outline by April 27 for a chance to have a Hollywood pro turn it into a storyboard during the National Camp-In! Be sure to watch the instructional video in the submission form before sending your outline.
  • Camp-In campsite competition. Build your camp-in campsite ahead of time or do it with us during the event.
  • Hear from a NASA astronaut

Virtual Campfire

  • Skits and songs from Scouts across the country

Participate in the National Good Turn Virtual 5K Hike benefitting Feeding America

It’s all the best parts of a 5K – the outdoors, fitness, supporting an important cause, and even a fun race bib – with the benefit of social distance since we will each start the race from our own neighborhood block.

We can’t wait to see your warm-up routines, finish line photos, and of course all the ways you’ll show off Scouting pride as you walk/run/hike through your neighborhood. 

Go here for more information. 

COVID Diaries Colorado: A day in the pandemic

A teacher greets her students. An imam counsels his congregants. A firefighter reports for duty. New parents take their baby home from the hospital.

These are routine moments in the lives of Coloradans. But the coronavirus has transformed the routine into the remarkable, upending how we live and interact with each other.

As a heavy spring snow blanketed the state on Thursday, April 16, journalists from news organizations across Colorado set out to chronicle a day in the life of the state’s residents during this extraordinary time.

The Colorado stories of April 16 show how much has changed in such a short amount of time. Teachers now instruct students over screens. Doctors speak to patients through masks and face shields. Newborn babies are quarantined from sick parents.

But the journalists also chronicled how, even as Colorado stares down uncertainty, death and illness, life goes on. Birthdays are celebrated. Prayers are said.

And in what feels like a dark hour, there are moments of hope.

Keep reading this compelling article which follows a day in the life of a preschool teacher, a doctor at St. Joseph Hospital, a U.S. Senator, the Denver City and County Building, an elementary school, the parking lot of El Jebel Laundromat in Eagle County, a self-storage locker in Grand Junction, the home of Arapahoe County coroner, the road from Steamboat Springs to Oak Creek (and this pregnant mom), Masjid Al-Shuhada in downtown Denver, Fire Station 52 in Brighton, and a family home in Aurora. We’re all in this together.




Eric Gorski, Chalkbeat

The New Now

Remember: This pandemic is not the “new normal,” this is just the “new now.”

My 13-year-old Bode has always been a deeply intuitive child.  He recently taught us an important lesson on perspective during our little graveside service for our beloved pet.

Bode was 3 when we adopted Fat Kitty and it was his earliest memory. “I remember when we were driving home with him for the first time that it was Dark outside,” he shared. “But then today when we were driving home with him for the last time after putting him down, it was Light.”

I was struck. During one of the saddest moments of his young life—when that car felt silent and dark—all he saw was light.

A month ago, I listened to a podcast by Boyd Matheson about perspective and this “New Now” we’re all living. It’s so easy to overreact but we don’t necessarily know if something is good or bad in the beginning. We just know it’s hard, discouraging or frustrating.

Boyd shared the story of an incident in high school that altered his course as a collegiate athlete…and the wise community member who shared the powerful Sufti tale. A certain farmer had a series of potentially devastating events to which his friends empathized about the unfairness of each tragedy but the farmer’s response was always the same, “This isn’t so awful, we just don’t know.” The outcome at the end of a series of unfortunate events was a miraculous, life-saving one. (It’s a short but wonderful lesson and worth a listen:

The Farmer’s Judgment .. A Sufi tale

Once upon a time there was a farmer who had some land a ways outside the village.
He had a son to help him and one good horse. Indeed, it was a magnificent horse.
So magnificent, that when the King passed through the village, he heard about the
horse and asked to see it.

The King was so impressed that he offered the farmer a considerable amount of
gold for the horse. But the farmer would not part with his horse, and the King went away.

The next day, the horse ran away!

The villagers rushed to the farmer and exclaimed, “Oh, how awful. Your horse
is gone and you don’t have the gold! What a bad thing has happened to you!”

The Farmer replied, “Well, I don’t know that it’s a bad thing, but I do know
my horse is gone and that I don’t have the gold.”

A few days later, the Farmer’s horse returned. And, not only did the horse come back,
he brought six wild and beautiful horses with him. Each would be worth a great
sum once they were broken and trained.

When the villagers heard, they rushed out to see the horses and to say to the
Farmer, “Oh, you were right! It was not a bad thing that your horse ran away.
Now he has returned and brought you six more fine horses. It is a good thing!”

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not,” the Farmer said. “I just
know that my horse has come back and brought me six more horses.”

The following day the Farmer’s son was trying to break one of the wild horses and
he fell off and broke both his legs. Again the Villagers visited the Farmer and
they exclaimed, “Oh, you were right! It was a bad thing that your horse came
back with six more horses. Now, your son has broken both legs and cannot help you
with your crops. Surely you will suffer great losses. Oh, what a bad thing!”

And the Farmer said, “Well, I don’t know whether it’s a bad thing or not. I only
know that my son was thrown from a horse and that both his legs are broken.”

The next day the King returned to the village. He was leading his soldiers to the
border where the kingdom was engaged in a terrible battle with a neighboring country
The enemy was fierce and most of the young soldiers were marching to their death.

As the King passed through the village he rounded up all the young men to join in
the fighting. Of course, the Farmer’s son, with his broken legs, did not have to go.

After the King and his men left, the Villagers rushed to the Farmer and exclaimed,
“Oh, you were right! It was a good thing that your son fell off the horse and
broke his legs. Now he will certainly not die in this war as will so many other young men.

The Farmer replied, “Well, I don’t know if it’s a good thing, or not. But I
know that my son did not have to go with the King to fight this battle.

And so the story goes….

All these things that are seemingly crumbling around us? We don’t know if this is so awful. I’m trying really hard to resist the urge to host my own pity party, remember that perspective matters and always look for the Light.

P.S. We’re in this together, Mamas. 

Emotional needs, instructional support top concerns for Colorado school districts doing remote learning

Many Colorado school districts say their biggest struggle right now is providing social and emotional support for children who are learning at home, even as tens of thousands of students still don’t have home internet access.

These findings come from a school district needs assessment carried out by the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Education Initiative, a nonprofit. Released Monday, the survey highlights the challenges faced by educators and families as schools have closed for weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19. Officials and advocates hope that the results help guide both government response and philanthropic efforts.

“Before we act, we should ask,” said Landon Mascareñaz, vice president for community partnerships with the Colorado Education Initiative. “What are the challenges? What are the regional differences? What are the bright lights? Where are people struggling?”

During the initial survey period, many districts were working to meet basic needs, such as meals students might otherwise eat at school, and technology students and teachers require to do remote work. By April, however, many districts said tech access was no longer their biggest concern. Rather they were worried about the emotional impact of loss of routine and family struggles.




Read the full Colorado Needs Inventory report here.

-Chalkbeat Colorado, Erika Meltzer; Photo: Kevin Beaty, Denverite

Sesame Street to host a town hall about coronavirus with CNN

CNN is partnering with Sesame Street for a special town hall Saturday at 9 a.m. ET about coronavirus, focused on kids and parents.

“The ABC’s of Covid 19: A CNN/Sesame Street Town Hall for Kids and Parents” will tackle issues including education, anxiety, screen time and playdates.

The 90-minute town hall will feature experts and Sesame Street characters — including Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Rosita and Grover — answering questions submitted by families.
Big Bird will join CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and CNN anchor and national correspondent Erica Hill to moderate the event.
How to watch: The town hall will air on CNN, CNN International and CNN en Español. It will stream live on’s homepage and across mobile devices via CNN’s apps, without requiring a cable log-in. You can also watch on CNNgo, and subscribers to cable/satellite systems can watch it on-demand.

Enjoy date night at home with this “Dinner and a Movie” series

Hard times call for community, and nothing says community like a “shared” meal. Starting Friday, April 24th, the Flatirons Food Film Festival will offer a weekly dinner and movie series to enjoy together, while physically apart. With a streaming featured movie, “paired” takeout dishes from recommended restaurants, recipes for dishes related to the film, and expert speakers, each Dinner and a Movie event will offer an exciting and interesting online Festival experience from the comfort of your own home.

“Much of the Flatirons Food Film Festival’s success is due to the participation and generous donations of Boulder and Denver restaurants and food businesses,” said Festival Director Julia Joun.  “Dinner and a Movie gives a fun, tasty and community-building way to support these restaurant friends and neighbors.”

General information

Each Dinner and a Movie event will consist of:

  • A featured food film available to stream online
  • Specifically recommended meals related to the film that viewers can order, pick up or have delivered, and eat while watching the movie 
  • For home cooks: suggested Savory Spice Shop recipes for dishes to be made and paired with the film 
  • Speakers for a film introduction and post-film discussion via Zoom
  • A $5 viewing fee

We’ll stream a movie every Friday, including some past favorites from previous Festivals. The Festival will send out an EventBrite link at least 10 days before each event, with recipe links and participating restaurants. Approximately one hour before the event, all participants will receive an email with access information for the streaming film, live film intro, and post panel discussion by Zoom. Participants will start watching, and eating together, at 6:30 pm. Those who can’t join the live presentation can still access the film and recorded post-film discussion until 12:30 am the next morning, Saturday. 

 First Dinner and a Movie event!

WHEN:                        Friday, April 24, 6:30 pm

FILM:                          Tazzeka, a dramedy about a Moroccan boy who wants to become a French haute cuisine chef*.

“SHARED” MEALS: Moroccan-influenced takeout/delivery meals will be available from Blackbelly Market and Café Aion in Boulder, Eat at Community in Lafayette, and Fruition in Denver.

SPEAKERS:                 Peggy Markel of Peggy Markel’s Culinary Adventures and Sara Brito of Good Food 100 Restaurants


*Tazzeka screened at the 2019 Flatirons Food Film Festival. More film information, including a preview, is available through the Flatirons Food Film Festival website at

Second Dinner and a Movie event

The second Dinner and a Movie event will be Friday, May 1 and feature East Side Sushi from the 2015 Flatirons Food Film Festival.  East Side Sushi is a drama about a young Latina single mother who is determined to become a sushi chef despite cultural and gender barriers. Full details to be announced soon.

Check the Festival Facebook page for the latest information on Dinner and a Movie events.

The Year Without Graduation: A Letter to My Daughter and the Class of 2020

As a parent, I’ve had to navigate hundreds of unanticipated situations. I’ve uttered scoldings I never thought would be necessary, including “Don’t lick street signs,” and “We always wear underwear to school.” I’ve offered support as they changed schools and sustained concussions. I’ve even seen them through a divorce in which we all demonstrated great resiliency.

Parenting a high school senior through COVID-19 has been the greatest challenge yet.

I’m more familiar with public health than the average layperson. My undergraduate coursework included microbiology, epidemiology and immunology. I spent years volunteering with the [email protected] campaign, lobbying on Capitol Hill for global vaccine access. I have observed public health days in Uganda, where mothers who are two weeks postpartum walk kilometers with their children to receive health care services.

But I have no answers where it comes to how and when the current public health care crisis will resolve. I can offer my children no perspective, no wisdom gained through my own experience, to help them navigate their current circumstances. I’m flying blind on the decisions I make, both for them and for myself.

My struggle is compounded by the fact that my eldest child is no longer a child. She turned 18 this month, and she was supposed to graduate next month. She is part of the Class of 2020, which will go down in history for this abbreviated school year, for all the “lasts” they will miss, and for the future plans that are now suspended in a holding pattern. Nobody knows what college, military recruiting, gap year programs, or even the workforce will look like.

I’m lucky that my senior has been surprisingly blasé about missing prom and graduation, her final season of high school sports, and the traditional Senior Sunset gathering. We don’t know when her graduation party will take place. We don’t know if there will be a panoramic photo of the Class of 2020 to hang in the main hallway of her high school.

At the same time we received word that kids wouldn’t go back to school after spring break, she was waitlisted by her top choice college. She feels as if all of her hard work has been for nothing. She doesn’t do her schoolwork, and I’m hard-pressed to force her to do so. What should have been a triumphant sprint has become a half-hearted crawl toward a finish line that’s disappeared. It’s cold comfort to her when I remind my senior that she has a lifetime of firsts and lasts ahead.

For now, I will continue to do what I can to keep my kids and myself safe, just as I’ve done since they were born. I will also accept, once again, that much as I love being a parent, it’s also confounding. I don’t have all the answers. I can’t make everything better. What I can do is ensure my kids know how much they are loved, and celebrate my senior while we are all safe at home.

-Julie Marsh


Don’t miss:

‘We wanted to spread joy’: Parents start local Adopt a High School Senior groups

‘We wanted to spread joy’: Parents start local Adopt a High School Senior groups

The buildup to graduation starts when Class of 2020 seniors are just little kids.

“Those 12 years lead up to this kind of big ending, and to miss out on that big ending is definitely really sad,” said Ponderosa High School senior Shaye Springer.

Ponderosa High School is located in Parker near Parker and Bayou Gulch roads.

Springer said she thought her final semester would be special right now. Instead, it’s over.

“On my way to work, I just started crying,” Springer said. “I was so upset, just one thing on top of another, you know.”

That feeling is why Sheli Silvius, a mother of a senior at Ponderosa, started her own version of an Adopt A High School Senior Facebook group in Parker.

“We really wanted to spread joy and happiness for seniors,” Silvius said.

-Nelson Garcia, 9News



Also, don’t miss:

The Year Without Graduation: A Letter to My Daughter and the Class of 2020