Friday, August 21, 2009

Post-Abduction Reunification and the Abducting Parent

Parenting In A Post-Child Abduction Environment.

By no means am I an expert on how to advise on a child's re-entry into their community post-parental abduction. Nor do I profess to possess all of the needed wisdom on how a parent should act once a reunification successfully occurs concerning ongoing ‘prevention' with respect to potential acts of future abduction. There are no easy solutions; however, there is one goal: to be able to allow your innocent child to, well, be a child.

Clearly, each international abduction case is remarkably unique regardless of the common elements that may be attributed to these types of cases and the individuals that commit these crimes.

Additionally, in situations where there existed no acts of abuse, why and how do you allow and facilitate an abducting parent who committed the horrendous criminal act of abduction against your child back into both of your lives? And how do you actually deal with a person who more than likely did everything possible to slander your name and your reputation in order to stage a defense against their criminal act of international child abduction? Further, if you agree to do so, then in what capacity?

Unquestionably, there is great risk involved.

On one hand your greatest responsibility as a parent is to ensure your child's safety, which includes preventing any threat of abduction from occurring again. On the other hand, what you fought for when you recovered your child was for your child's rights to know the love of both parents in an environment that empowers their sense of identity. And on top of all of this is the reality that you, a successful Chasing Parent, must deal with the very real possability that your former spouse still may be very bitter and resentful toward you; there does exist the possability that this person may attempt to cause you harm whenever the opportunity arises. In between the lines trying to determine your child’s best interests are the judges, mediators, and policymakers.

Did I mention that none of this is easy?

In writing this article, I thought perhaps parents may find some useful straight-talk that may benefit your child's short-term and long-term happiness and stability.

Now, first let me say that I am fully aware that not every situation will or should call or allow for both parents to be a part of a child's life. When there exists grave concerns of a re-abduction or any other type of danger, then it is critical to protect your child from that danger, and any notion of dual-parental re-entry should be avoided at all costs. In cases where there is great concern and mistrust, mediation can provide much needed intervention – ideally there should not be one single child that should have to endure a parental abduction.
If it is realistically safe for you and your child to allow a post-abducting parent who is desirous and capable of re-entering your lives to do so, and you wish to support your child having both parents in their life, then your decision to travel down the path of careful reconciliation in the name of your child -may be a very wise one. It is here, in a structured re-entry, that hope exists. The trauma your child experienced during their abduction can eventually fade, with professional intervention and healing. These, children can have a normal life filled with magic and wonderment may be obtained. Surely, this is what you desire: a magical harmonious life for your child. Again, it is not going to be easy, and there are many situations where one parent's re-entry will cause more damage than good. Perhaps these discussions can begin to take place with a professional mediator, who has experience and knowledge in the area.

Be forewarned: do not act blindly and do not forget the past events; make sure that if you allow re-entry to occur, that every step is made to remove any form of re-abduction or abuse. All jurisdictional legalities should be first addressed and you should careful craft any Access Orders before the children leave the jurisdiction. Once these steps are taken, the custodial parent can begin to encourage the child to have access with the abducting parent.

Dialogue and visits with the abducting parent can assist the child and fully allow for the healing process to continue. This can empower the child which in the long term will help their growth and development. After all, we do not want our children to take on the role of a victim but the role of a survivor .This will strengthen their spirit and empower them, teaching them the future does not have to be like the past.

I imagine you might be wondering why I think I have some authority to write this article. Well, the answer is simple: I am a Chasing Parent who successfully recovered, reunited, and re-entered my community with my son, and along the way, have created an environment that has made it possible for him to receive and understand the love of both of his parents. Openly, it is not easy, and I do live with daily concern that my former spouse may attempt to hurt me if ever given the opportunity.

It is a risk that I have presently decided to take for my son's sake.

You may take what you want from what I share, but I thought certain individuals might benefit from the lessons I have learned personally and also educated on by other Chasing Parents who have previously addressed the issue of re-entry.

Before I go any further, I want to reinforce my position that I strongly support the full and complete enforcement of all criminal laws created to prevent parental child abduction in all forms and arenas.
When one parent chooses to deny a child their rights to the other parent by breaking the laws that govern their child's welfare, purposefully removing or detaining their child from the country of origin in a foreign country without consent of the other parent, this cruel criminal act of kidnapping places the child, along with all other parties, in a position of grave and severe risk. I also believe that our court system and the lack of knowledge and education by judges in the area of international custodial jurisdiction is a significant reason why there are so many international child abduction cases. Our legal system does not work the way it has the potential to. What I mean by ‘our legal system' are the courts, generally, worldwide, and how they handle both incoming and outgoing international child abduction cases. Training and research in this area can bring about immediate and much needed change. An un-informed and uneducated judicial system plays a heavy role in the cruelty our children face, and there are many other problems that must be addressed, however prevention must first start with creating a highly trained judicial system supported with heavy research and people with hands on experience. One highly regarded suggestion with respect to overhauling the legal system is for nations to form a body of judges and mediators solely trained to serve in a "Parental Abduction Tribunal Unit". This tribunal would consist of judges, mediators and helping professionals aimed to address and handle parental abduction cases. This Unit would be responsible for hearing international child abduction cases. This idea has been borne from the United Kingdom; the only country that has highly informed and trained judges overseeing international child abduction legal proceedings and has been very affective.

Back to re-entry post child abduction ... here are some suggestions I have implemented that appear to be working for my child. None of them have been easy to do, but due to these efforts, my child lives in a worry-free, safe environment filled with the love of both of his parents.

1. Lose the ego.
Let's be frank about certain realities. First, you probably do not like or trust the other parent; and obviously for good reason - you were forced into the deadliest of storms by the act of utter abuse - the abduction of your child. You may still view your child's other parent as your enemy, and you may still have great fear of that person's capability, however, your child probably doesn't view that parent as their enemy, and if they do, then you better stop whatever you're doing and help change this perspective because it will cripple any sense of security and identity she/he may have. What you need to know is your child needs you both as parents to stop being enemies. In order to do that, you both need to take a giant step forward and lose your egos. This doesn't mean you need to be that person's friend, but you need to compartmentalize certain parts of your painful history with that person in the name of the best interest of your child.

2. Forgiveness.
After you decide that you're going to do your best to lose your ego and compartmentalize your anger, the next critical step in being able to facilitate your child's re-entry is probably the most difficult of all things you will be required to do: the act of forgiveness. Okay, now trust me; I know how hard this issue is. That is why you need to first lose your ego. Once you've tossed it, remember these words: Your child needs you to act in forgiveness. If you fail to do so, then you are creating an environment filled with hostility and fear, which will cause potentially irreparable and severe psychological damage to your innocent child. So if you want your child to grow up a mess, then hold onto the anger and the hatred. Alternatively, you can set an example for your child that will be one of the greatest gifts you can ever share: teach the powerful act of forgiveness.

3. Create an open environment of expression.
Regardless of whether you want to believe it or not, once a child is wrongfully removed or detained by one parent from the other, the child lives in a perpetual state of fear and worry. This precludes them from being able to share openly their feelings or emotions. In every conceivable way, your child previously lived in a psychological prison where true freedom of expression caused great anxiety. Whilst held in this state and with each passing day, a part of their spirit died. You do not want to create another spiritual prison! Critically, you must create a nurturing and free environment that fosters open communication filled with empowering support and understanding of your child's desires, concerns and views. To put it bluntly, you need to allow your child to feel safe and unencumbered in being able to talk about anything they desire without concern of a backlash or retribution in the event you disagree with their views. Similarly, your child may desire to bring up a subject (such as the other parent) that you may not want to speak about. Remember, the more open and supportive you are of your child's views and perspectives, the more trust you will build. Trusting is everything.

4. Trust.
Probably the most difficult of all the things an abducted child must learn to live with is the task of determining how to live with a lack of trust created by their abduction experience. Trust needs to be rebuilt for your child, regardless of your perspective on what occurred and who is responsible. Remember, from your child's perspective, the system that they counted on; the love and support of both mother and father, failed. Right now is probably a good time to remind you of the first golden-rule: get rid of your ego. The only perspective that really matters is the view of your child, and clearly, your child's trust was breached. So, a few suggestions for you to consider to restore trust include doing what you say you're going to do; never speak poorly about your child's other parent; never discard or hinder your child's right to the other parent; reinforce the idea your child was not responsible for the trauma that has occurred; make sure you actively reintroduce you child to the community that is part of their identity; and finally, tell the truth.

5. Family.
Remember your child's family includes the both of you. In being significant parts of your child's family, both parents may provide critical components of your child's identity (I am aware that this is not always the case, and there are individuals out there who should never have been parents in the first place). What you need to guard against is creating a platform where your child's identity is associated with anger and hatred. Isn't it better, in the very least, to have cooperative distance? If that is the case, then perhaps the most helpful idea I can provide is this: don't go out of your way to hurt or be unfair to the other parent when it comes to their interaction with your child. If you do, what you're really doing in the end is punishing your child.

6. A safe place to disagree.
There are going to be times when the two of you will not agree on certain issues. What you need to do when this occurs is to remember not to talk poorly about the other parent in front of your child, and, make sure that there is a mechanism (perhaps mediation) in place that can assist each of you through difficult issues.

7. Follow the law.
With everything that you do, make sure that you follow the laws of custody you are governed by.

8. Be demonstrative.
Hugs and kisses and the words "I love you" are just as important to your child as you being an active part of their day-to-day life. So, take an interest in what your child is doing, participate in those interests as much as you can and remember, when you do, a hug and a kiss followed by the words such as "I love you" or "I am so proud of you" will mean a great deal to your child long after they have grown into adulthood.

9. When in doubt, act on the side of caution.
As a Chasing Parent, you and your child would not be in the position you are in unless a well orchestrated conspiracy to abduct your child was not carried out by the other parent. Do not forget how clever that plan was and how you were perhaps caught off guard. One simple rule to live by: if something doesn't seem right, it probably is not. If that is the case, act with great caution and always ask the advice of a good lawyer familiar with international child abduction jurisdiction law on how to act. If you can't afford a lawyer any longer, there are plenty of smart individuals that work in the trenches of international child abduction that can give you some insight based upon their own experiences ... they are called ‘Chasing Parents'.

10. Let your child be a child.
Remember your child has the right to be a child.

11. Be ready for an attack.
The reality of an abducting parent's situation once they are ordered home is that these individuals are typically angry, bitter, and hostile. In addition, there has been much said about the fact that in the vast majority of cases, abducting parents do have serious mental problems. So, you must remember that there is a chance that revenge and the desire to cause the Chasing Parent left behind in the wake of an international child abduction - which is cited by most leading authorities as the primary reason why a parent abducts their child - may now exist in a post-reunification world even more than during the time your child was stolen.

I know - none of this is easy!

Now that you've read a few of my suggestions, you might think I must have fallen on my head a few times. Perhaps, you're thinking that what I am suggesting is to have you forget whatever happened in the past or it does not matter. Well, I'm not saying those things at all. What I am suggesting is that you need to look at things from your child's perspective, needs, and best interests (both short-term and long-term). In order to do so, anger and resentment fueled by ego, pain and fear must be compartmentalized, not discarded. In its place must be an enforceable set of expectations and boundaries that both parents are accountable to uphold in the name of your child. And you must be mindful that revenge and anger probably still exists.
There are a few simple things that some parents have found to be effective tools in helping children heal from a parental abduction. Allow your child time to play, laugh and sing. You might want to join them too. This too, is very therapeutic.

In reality, international parental child abduction remains very easy to accomplish due to failures by judges to realize that their court orders mean very little if anything at all once a child is removed to another country, and, the incomprehensible failure by police-keeping officers to uphold the laws of the courts with respect to a child's rights of access, visitation, and custody of one of their parents.

I also want to be very specific and state that this act is a grave crime against children. Unfortunately, many abducting parents do not fear criminal prosecution while planning and implementing their criminal conspiracy (I know of no act of parental child abduction whereas the abducting parent did not breach numerous criminal codes or rules of court). Clearly, a collective effort by highly educated judges willing and able to enforce the laws they are duty-bound to oversee will significantly reduce the number of planned or actual abductions.

Ultimately, your child needs a loving, safe environment that allows them to be a child. What your child needs is to trust again while embracing love without fear of retribution. Remember, nobody said any of this is going to be easy, however, if you're in a position to think about the issues I have brought up, there is a good chance the difficult part of the journey you, your child, and the abducting parent have traveled on may be over . . . but that depends on how you both as parents interact with one another.

The level or degree of dysfunction, the threat of re-abduction, awareness, legal prevention established to prevent another abduction from occurring, self reflection on the choice and consequences to allow or not to allow the abducting parent re-entry, are all issues that must be considered. This, re-entry, will impact the child and parent and are all variables that must be discussed, especially when dealing with mental illness. However, issues will surface for a child when the abducting parent is capable of having a loving bond and this, is taken away forever from a child. When children are not allowed or forbidden to have any access or visits after re-entry with the abducting parent this can also hinder the child’s development. In the same manner, when abducted children are forced to return to re- visit an abducting parent via a Court Order, before a healing period, this too can have long term consequences on the children as it prolongs and continues the abuse. The justice system is not fair however, parents can choose to practice fairness as this is in the best interests of their children.

One last piece of advice: keep your eyes open at all times, whilst creating the best possible open, loving and supportive environment of your child. Remember, there was a time when you may have thought you would never see your child again, so make sure you celebrate each day.