Advice for Parents Reconnecting with Children

Here are some tips we have come up with for parents. These are common questions we get from parents of children who they are disconnected from

Q: I am the parent of an abducted and alienated child. How can I best reconnect with my child?

A: Keep it simple. The pressure on both of you to bond can be intense and even traumatic. Your child was missing in your life but his or her life went forward, and the experiences and relationships your child has built in the time apart are precious to your child. Allow your child to be who they have become. It is important for children to know that you want to share love and support but that you are not out to change who they are or alter their positive feelings for their other parent. Focus on creating positive memories, on having good times, on creating a non-threatening atmosphere of acceptance and interest. Take the initiative from your child and keep it light. Don´t burden your child with the heavy details of the divorce or abduction and your suffering. There will be a time and place for that, but the pain can chase a child away if it becomes too intense. It can be overwhelming to children to feel guilty and responsible for your suffering. Take good care of yourself as you navigate the new parent-child relationship with your child. Focus on building love and joy together, and provide the priceless gift of unconditional acceptance. You will create a beautiful new bond with time. Allow it to unfold naturally and easily.

Your child cannot and should take upon himself or herself the responsibility for making up for your pain.

If your child´s name, religion or culture has changed, respect who your child has become and embrace it. These identity markers are very real important to your child and integral to their new lives. If you are not familiar with them, inform yourself about your child’s culture, learn the language your child is most fluent in, and remember not to condemn an entire culture because of your pain.

Our heroes are the parents who maintain dignity through the challenges they face in divorce and the custody arena. Keep in mind that it is often impossible to arrive at perfectly “fair” custody agreements in all cases of custodial dispute. The bottom line is that children cannot be cut in two, and both sides must compromise and sacrifice in order to make things easier for their children.

Here are words some of our parent heroes….

–the Belgian dad who learned Swedish so that he could speak with his children who were abducted to Sweden by their mother. A decade long custodial battle ended with his reconnection with his three daughters, who also maintained warm relations with their mother. His motto, “Two parents, Two countries, two cultures.” He writes:

Most left-behind parents talk about getting back “my” children, punishing the other parent; they have the same paradigm as the abducting parent: the other parent is an enemy, he does not deserve to be a parent anymore; the child is an object Thanks to you and (very) few other people, I learned there was another way, another paradigm: to see things through the children’s point of view: they love both parents, they want to have both parents. And it helped me a lot: no need to waste my energy with dreams of revenge against the mother; I saved that energy to build patience and numerous ways to rebuild the former link with my children.

–The Norwegian mom with a young son who was abducted to Turkey by his dad. Her son eventually came back to Norway to live with her. Despite the pain, she learned Turkish, cooks Turkish food, visits Turkey regularly, and makes a point to never denigrate Turkey. “My son is part Turkish and there is no way that I will denigrate an entire culture because I had a bad experience with one person who is Turkish. I taught myself to love Turkey and the good people who helped me reconnect with my son.”

We also salute the divorced mom who accepts that her kids need or want to change visitation plans at times, and the dad who does not denigrate his ex-wife or pump his kids for information about her life.

It takes time to create or recreate bonds that have been weakened. Your child may feel overwhelmed or threatened by your need for closeness. Give yourself and your child time and space. The healthier you are, the healthier your bond with your child will be.

He or she may feel that your motive is to weaken his or her bond with the other parent, convince him or her to live with you and leave the other parent (very threatening to many children), or to fill an emptiness in your life that the child cannot or does not feel able or ready to fill. It is important that you have support and love in your life, and that you are able to laugh and be light-hearted with your child. Fill whatever time you actually do have together with joyful and bonding experiences, rather than with guilt, anger at your ex, or pressure to connect. Time will heal you.

The love and support you offer your child, with no strings attached, is a gift that will ultimately bear fruit and will remain in your child´s heart and soul forever.

Q: Is parental abduction ever justified?

A: Yes. However,  parental abduction can have life-long ramifications on the child and the entire family and is only justified in the narrowest of circumstances. It may provide a way out of a desperate situation that is beyond legal or therapeutic crisis intervention. When the legal system fails and a child or parent in in danger of severe and imminent harm, it may be justified.

However, most children are born with two parents, and nothing can change that. It is best to work things out, however imperfectly, than to abduct your child. Some children get abducted and re-abducted by BOTH parents multiple times because both are convinced that they must “save” the children from the other. The children will hold their parents accountable for this once they reach maturity. It can deeply affect their own ability to lead happy and balanced lives.  Sadly, it is too easy to justify parental abduction. No matter how justified or unjustified, abduction has lifelong negative ramifications on children. Do not assume that your child will come out of it unscathed.

Q: Should a young child decide who they want to live with and whether/when they will visit their non-custodial parent?

A: It depends. Placing on a child the entire burden of choosing between parents can be emotionally devastating. A sense of guilt and regret can follow a child throughout adulthood. This can be traumatic and emotionally damaging.

Children are not expected to make other important life decisions on their own, such as whether or not to attend school. They are not expected to provide for themselves financially or attend the military. It may then be argued that the burden of making one of the most important decisions of their lives should not be placed entirely on their shoulders. At the very least, they need help and guidance.

They can and should be given a voice in making important decisions, along with guidance and support from competent adults, to help them to explore their options and feelings and make informed and wise decisions. This guidance is crucial in the area of custody determinations.

All research shows that children do best with both parents in their lives, even parents who are far from perfect. Of foremost importance is to get to the roots of the child´s concerns and fears and assist children in working through them. It is important to separate issues that are caused by physical or emotional distance, lack of communication, loyalty conflicts or fear of displeasing one parent, vs. issues that warrant the removal of a parent from a child´s life.

Comprehensive, flexible strategies for helping all members of the family to come to a comfortable, healthy, long-term plan, can assist all involved through a healing process of working through things in a way that is truly beneficial for the child.

JOINT CUSTODY is ideal WHEN it works. A child should not be forced to agree to a joint custody arrangement that means he or she must move from one parent to the other constantly. This can cause undue suffering and upheaval for the child. Joint custody can be a wonderful tool, but parents must safeguard against having their own needs and desires met at the expense of their children.

Legal joint custody agreements that provide both parents with decision-making rights are positive, but parents must be flexible and mature enough to compromise so that the child is not caught in the middle of never-ending disagreements between parents who are using custodial and decision-making issues as the battlefield of a broken marriage.

Q: I gained custody of my children, or found my children after an abduction, what do I do to help them adjust to the changes in their lives?

A: First of all, allow your children the time and space they need to mourn their losses. If at all possible, allow them to nurture their relationship with their other parent. This is a wonderful gift you can give your children.

If your children have grown up with a different name, culture, or religion, allow them to identify with these as they want and need to. Do not take these things away from them.

Your children may feel helpless and out of control in the area of custody. Let your children know that you respect their feelings and let them incorporate your lifestyle IF and WHEN they want to, and at their own pace.

Do not gloat or openly celebrate the fact that you won custody of your children. While you may feel “victorious,” your children are likely to feel sadness and pain, even if they are glad to be with you.

Nurture your non-family relationships and interests. It can feel overwhelming for your children to feel that your entire focus is on them. They need time and space for themselves and their own processes.