|THE INITIAL CRISIS
The first few days are incredibly confusing. You’ll receive a lot of advice. Here’s a little more.
ENLIST A GUARDIAN
You need a cool head to guide you. As the left-behind parent, you’re going to be in shock, so your intellectual capabilities will be compromised. Enlist a relative or friend to be your crisis Guardian — you will need them to stay with you and accompany you to all appointments. Ideally, they should take a week off from work to be by your side.
If you have a current spouse living with you, they should not try to fill this role. They can’t — they’re in shock too. You need a third person, someone with enough emotional distance to stay calm.
KEEP TRACK OF YOUR PROGRESS
Start an activity log and keep it up every day. This will be difficult because the world’s going to be pulling you in ten directions at once, but as the hours and days pass, everything’s going to become a big blur — so you absolutely have to keep track. Get a blank book, notebook or ledger; and every day, record the important points of each meeting with police, phone calls with organizations, etc. If you don’t have an answering machine, pick one up so that you won’t miss any incoming assistance.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Sleep when you’re able to sleep. Eat when you’re able to eat.
Your body is going to go haywire. Eating will be difficult. Your stomach will often be churning. Carry Tums with you at all times, and nibble them when necessary. Your ability to digest food will disappear, so you’ll need to adapt your eating habits. Keep a wide selection of snacks available, and try to eat at every opportunity. For meals, you’ll have better luck if you try lighter fare than usual. A chicken salad will stay down better than a heavy steak. Drink constantly — dehydration causes disorientation.
Often, you’ll be awake all night, then exhausted the whole next day, so grab your Z’s whenever you can. If it’s 3 pm and you have a gap before a 4 pm meeting, grab the opportunity and lie down. If necessary, take a sleeping pill at bedtime (particularly if nightmares are waking you repeatedly). Sleep deprivation leads to slowed mental processes and, later, paranoia — so you absolutely must get sleep, whenever and however possible.
Since your body and mind are going to be stretched to the limits of endurance, it’s strongly recommended that you go to a 24-hour clinic (or emergency room) and have them prescribe something to stabilize your emotions. A doctor will know what kind of medication can help you get through this trauma. It’s very important that you maintain your sanity no matter how nightmarish the experience becomes.
THE SECOND PHASE
Your emotions will change after the first few days of the crisis. The initial agony is from not knowing from minute to minute. Later, the agony is not knowing day after day.
Most of the time, you’ll find yourself in one of three coping states:
1. INTELLECTUAL STATE. This is the state you need to be in when you’re talking with police, touching base with your lawyer, researching information on what to do, etc. You have to be mentally focused, which usually means that at times you have to push your emotions underneath and try not to think too much about your child except in abstract terms. This state is sometimes forced on you (due to appointments) even when you don’t feel ready. Other times this state will come to you naturally, and you’ll find yourself actively digging through documents and reading information paks.
2. EMOTIONAL STATE. In this state of mind it’s very difficult to focus on anything mentally. Your thoughts are with your child, where they might be, how they might be doing, you miss them and want to comfort them. Crying relieves physical stress, and you’re under tremendous stress, so don’t cut your tears short. If you start to cry, try to sob it out of your system without holding back. Don’t restrict your crying. Enlist your guardian to comfort you — and if you feel the need, hug one of your child’s stuffed animals.
There will be times when you are caught in your reeling emotions, unable to respond to intellectual challenges around you. At these times it will be important for your crisis Guardian to be with you, so they can answer authorities’ questions, help make decisions, etc.
Seeing the child’s photos or toys around the house may become too painful. Don’t feel guilty if you decide to put away these toys, move the photos, or close the door to the child’s room. You are not abandoning their memory. After all, your thoughts are with them constantly. But you do need some control over your emotional cycles, especially when it’s time to gather information or make decisions — at times like that, a photo within sight may be unnecessary torment. Make adjustments in your home if you feel the need, and don’t feel bad about it. You need to keep your head together, in order to fight for your child’s well-being.
3. DRIFTING STATE. There will be times that you’re so exhausted or in such shock that you don’t feel anything at all. You’ll find yourself staring blankly at a wall, or drifting with no thought as you look right through the book or screen in front of you. This is a natural result of the trauma. It’s a time when your system can regroup — recharging your batteries, so to speak. Your intellectual and emotional states burn extraordinary amounts of energy out of your body, so if and when you enter a listless state, don’t fight it. Drift and let your thoughts remain unfocused. Your body and mind can use this time to recover.
All three of these states will be useful to you, and should occur as a natural cycle. If you find yourself stuck in a counterproductive state for longer than one day, go to a 24-hour clinic and have a doctor prescribe medication to help you cope.
There will be times when you can do nothing — times when you’re supposed to wait for a callback or the next step in the proceedings. Such times are painful as you wait for the world to acknowledge the urgency of this situation… and the wheels of justice grind so slow they’ll seem to have stopped. If you’re at a waiting point, it’s important not to work yourself into hysteria over these empty minutes. You need to seek distraction, or you’re just going to overstress yourself. You’ll particularly need distraction on Saturdays and Sundays, when cases are often placed on hold.
Television is usually a great relaxer, but at this time it won’t be. As you flip the channels you’ll see cartoons, children’s shows, commercials with children — everywhere you look there will be children, including children who look like or remind you of your own child. So don’t channel-surf. Get a TV guide and select a specific show to watch, then turn directly to that program. Choose shows that won’t assail you with family-focus commercials. Good bets are CNN, Animal Planet, nature shows, or non-family movies. Even better, pick videotapes to watch.
Much of the work of regaining your child will have to do with your phone. You’ll be calling people and waiting for return calls, checking in with lawyers and detectives, and giving updates to family members. Consequently you will frequently find yourself trapped at home. Over time this will make you feel like a freak in a cave. You need to get outside once in a while.
When you go into public with the intention of re-charging your emotional batteries, try not to put yourself into stressful situations. Don’t go to fast-food restaurants; you’ll see many children that remind you of your missing child. Money is an issue now due to the costs of the search, but don’t discount your need to reduce stress. Two visits to McDonalds can be traded for one visit to a nice restaurant, late in the evening, when there won’t be any children dining there.
Shopping is a major source of stress. Malls and supermarkets are full of child-reminders. Ask your Guardian to do the shopping for you. Alternatively, shop at 7-Eleven late in the evening.
Lest this sound like we’re discounting natural emotion: there’s nothing wrong with allowing your emotions full expression. But it’s much more comforting to let those feelings flow when you want to (instead of when the world forces it on you), in the security of your home, where your loved ones can comfort you and you can express yourself fully.
Good luck with your search. May you soon be happily reunited with your beloved child.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – This is the ONLY website at which you need to register your child as missing. NCMEC is a non-profit system with federal affiliation; they work with the law enforcement divisions on your case. Most other “list your missing child here” websites are hosted by people who’ll contact you and promise to find your child in exchange for large amounts of money. If you need that kind of help, look for legitimate private-investigator listings, or recovery sites that don’t ask you to “register” your missing child in their database — don’t get duped by people who risk children’s lives for money.
Missing (tv show) – If your child has been classified ‘missing endangered’, see if this show will present your case
Federal Parent Locator Service – 18 USC 553, 18 USC 663
Missing Children Search Aids – List of contacts
Divorcenet.com – Legal information
Hague Convention Agreement – A means for requesting the return of internationally kidnapped children
Hague Participating Countries – Country by country
Child Abduction Resources – U.S. Department of State
Canada – International Kidnapping Information
International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act, 18 U.S.Code §1204
Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (1980), 28 U.S.C. §1738A
Federal Law / Missing Children Title 42, Chapter 72, Subchapter IV, 5771+
International Child Abduction Remedies Act, 42 U.S.C. §11601
Missing Children Record-Flagging Act – Not in force in all areas yet
Bring Tessie Home page – Our personal struggle with parental kidnapping
Emotional Abuse, Stalking – Traumas that foreshadow impending parental kidnapping
Laurie’s Webpage Theme Sets – Thank you, Laurie, for the design of this page
Lost links (I’m trying to track them down):
Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (1979), 43 U.S.C. §458A
National Child Search Assistance Act (1990), 42 U.S.C. § 5780)
Homepage of Maureen and Missing Child Nadia
Search Google for more webpages about Parental Abduction
Gift From Within – for those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The Recovery of Internationally Abducted Children – A Comprehensive Guide (excellent)
When Parents Kidnap
Not Without my Daughter
For the Love of a Child
Torn From my Heart: A Mother’s Search for her Stolen Children
Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America (focuses mostly on non-parental kidnappings)
Obstacles to the Recovery and Return of Parentally Kidnapped Children and many other excellent references at OJJDP
Most child kidnappings involve a parent or relative as kidnapper, and that is the experience of our family. However, if your situation is different — the child has been kidnapped by a stranger, or is missing due to other circumstances (such as a runaway) — this page will speak to your experiences too, so please read on….