My Story of Parental Kidnapping and Parental Alienation
Carrie, as a baby with dad

My Story of Parental Kidnapping and Parental Alienation

Parental Kidnapping and alienation are, unfortunately, part of many long distance parenting stories. When one parent removes a child from the custody of another parent without permission, that’s Parental kidnapping or parental abduction. Parental Alienation occurs when one parent indoctrinates a child with negative information about another parent in ways that fracture the child’s relationship with the other parent.

Although I don’t often bring it up, as a child, I was kidnapped and alienated from my father. I don’t focus on it here, in large part, because my long distance parenting story is part of my story with my own son, rather than the story of me and my father.

However, my story with my father has helped make it clear to me what long distance parenting is and is not. It’s served as a example for me of what not to do. Throughout my son’s childhood, my own story of kidnapping and alienation made me very aware of preserving my son’s relationship with his father. It’s also served as a demonstration to me that kids will always find out the truth eventually, and that all is not lost after parental alienation.

My Story of Kidnapping and Alienation

When I was very young (5ish), my mother moved my sister and I, via bus, to her mom’s house in another state. We threw some things into a suitcase and left while dad was gone. Although after we left, my parents got a legal divorce, my sister and I didn’t see my father again. We moved to a third state to settle down and that’s where my father lost track of us.

After that, we moved almost once a year. Hiding was not the motivation for the moves. We mostly, if not always, moved because of financial reasons. However, although the purpose of the moves was not to hide, our lifestyle, after moving to the third state, was built around hiding from him. Both the frequent moves and the lifestyle of hiding prevented my father from finding us.

Trigger warning : The following paragraphs contain descriptions of emotionally and mentally abusive behaviors. If you’d like to skip that, click here.

How we were Hidden

When I say lifestyle of hiding, here’s what I mean. Our mother taught us how to keep our “situation” (hiding), address and phone number and location a secret from everyone. For example, we were not allowed to give our phone number out and it was always unlisted. If the phone rang, we were only to answer it if it had a special ‘code ring’ (Ring once, hang up and call back), which meant it was mom. There were a slew of rules like that. We were taught strategies for escape when he would undoubtedly one day find us and kidnap us. When I say ‘taught’, I mean very literally told, repeatedly and drilled on the information and actions.

All of this was reinforced through alienation. For example, we were taught that our father was a monster (literal word that was used often) who would hurt us if he ever found us. In turn, the fear generated by hiding helped to reinforce the alienation.

Making friends is tough, as a kid. Doubly so when you move once a year. But in addition to that, we were alienated from other people, including peers, other adults and even extended family. We were entirely estranged from my father’s family. It wouldn’t be until my 30s that I would reunify with them. My mother’s family lived far away for most of my childhood. They knew of our lives through what mom told them. They wholeheartedly believed her and supported our family as good family should. They had no reason to believe otherwise.

Because of the rules around telling people anything, no one outside our family and select friends of mom’s knew we were hiding from him. When someone was ‘read in’, mom spun the tale and they would, in turn, participate in our hiding.

Without a court order denying access or custody, and without a restraining order, schools to that point, willingly complied with my mother’s account. It made trouble for me later, when I lived with him and the new school got my records. They apparently contained some information to that effect. To my knowledge, no one questioned her sole physical custody or our hiding. If they did, nothing came of it.

It was the 80s, when we drank from water hoses, and rode in the back of trucks without seatbelts! Also, father’s rights weren’t even a blip on the screen of society, divorce was taboo and the term ‘deadbeat dad’ was applied liberally. Those all made it easier for my mother to do it, and easy for it to slip under the radar of everyone. Not the water hose part. That just made us 80s strong.

What Parental Alienation Looked Like

Without going to far into specifics, here’s what I mean by parental alienation in my case.

Any time our father came up in conversation, my mother would say negative things about him. These things ran the gamut from descriptions of his personality, characteristics or lifestyle to stories of things he did and said. They were in full color and descriptive, even to inappropriate (for children) lengths. The stories and “facts” were repeated so often and so vehemently that they became canon.

The alienation helped bolster the kidnapping in that as long as we believed he was a terrible person worthy of fear, we would willingly hide ourselves. As long as friends and family followed the canon, they would hide us too. In turn, hiding so fervently helped reinforce what a terrible person he must be.

Reunification!

 

My father found us when I was 12. I know now that he looked for us continuously during those years. I still remember the first time he called us. After all of that story telling, mom handed the phone to me simply saying “it’s your father”.

I didn’t feel fear of him. I was absolutely enthralled with having him in my world. Despite having heard all of these things, having a real life father was fantastic! I went to stay with him for 6 months shortly after he found us. And lo, despite all the stories, my mother allowed it. She mostly worried he would try to claim me on his taxes so I wasn’t allowed to stay a day over 6 months.

That six months was fantastic. I got to go hang out with friends and go to movies. I could tell people where I lived and give out my phone number! That sounds so basic now. But at the time, it was this new way of connecting with people. To be able to say “hey, I live just up the road from you!” was novel. The phone number from that house is the only one I remember from childhood.

After my visit, dad stayed in touch via phone calls and mail. At home with mom, although the hiding dropped off, the alienation continued. When I was 15, mom remarried and moved across the country. Our relationship was awful by then, to put it mildly. So, I opted to go live with my dad instead of moving with her.

It wasn’t roses and sunshine and happily ever after when I moved to live with him. My father was remarried and I had a stepfamily. We had a lot of pretty typical blended family struggles. I was also living on an erroneous narrative I’d been fed since I was a young child.

On top of that, by that time, I was pretty well grown up. Not to say a 15 year old is grown up but in my experience, as a parent, by that age, kids start to shrug off the efforts of their parents to guide them.

In addition to all of that, I have a hard time trying to imagine what it would be to learn to parent a child starting at age 15. By the time my son was 15, I had 15 years of experience with my son under my belt. I had time to adjust to parenting to each stage of his development. So here I was, 15, living with my father for the first time in 10ish years. He did his best but good lord, teens are hard – and with no runway, even harder.

So we did our best at awkwardly playing out father/daughter roles, and I grew up and moved out. I eventually moved across the country for unrelated reasons, so contact grew even more sparse. My father was still in my life. I’m just not sure, at that point, I knew quite where to place him.

My Ah hah Moments

As the years passed, I eventually figured out my own ‘actual story’ of my parents. Of course, every story has as many sides as it has observers, right? But ultimately, I found that the reality I thought I knew from my mother was not reality. Some realizations were through conversation with both parents and some came through research. Many realizations came just by observing my mother and father.

It’s worth saying that I was 20 something and still sorting out the stories I’d heard through age 15. For me, given how deeply I’d been indoctrinated by my mother, it wasn’t a quick, easy realization. Basically my entire reality that I’d grown up believing needed to be upended. It took a couple of years of living with him and away from my mother and a few years of adulthood for it to click for me.

I eventually realized that what I saw as just ‘normal’ as a kid, was parental kidnapping and parental alienation. It wouldn’t be until my 30s that I could comfortably say that out loud. And now, 10 years later, in my 40s, I’m re-writing this post to describe it more plainly than I’ve ever been able to before. Understanding and realizing is still an unfolding process.

Whew! So that’s a lot. How did this turn into a positive for me?

Kids will figure it out

The proof is in the puddin’. The truth will eventually come out. Kids grow up to be adults who can think for themselves and can see the truth for what it is. It doesn’t matter how convincing the other parent is, it doesn’t matter to what ends they go. Yes, conditioning makes it more difficult – but not insurmountable.

I’ve know the parent side of alienation too. As a non-custodial parent, my son’s stepmother tried to elbow me out of his life to be his ‘mommy’. I have a step daughter who’s father cut contact between she and I when we divorced. I’ve also had the opportunity to have teary eyed real talk with my dad about everything that happened and I know how painful it was for him. I know how much time my aunts and uncle and cousins lost. It’s not just the kids who suffer. It hurts everyone. Deeply.

My son is an adult now and is making his own decisions about his relationships with me, his father and his step mother. There is nothing I or his father or step mother could say that would hide the truths that he sees clearly, now that he’s old enough to have his own understanding. Just like there is nothing my mother could say now that would sway what I’ve seen with my own eyes about she and my father.

There is hope. Even when it seems like there isn’t. Sometimes there is nothing can immediately be done about a co-parent’s poor behavior. Continue to be honest, loving, caring, and supportive of your child’s mental and emotional health. Keep taking the high road. Eventually, the truth will be apparent to the one person who matters – your child.

Parental Relationships are Sacred

I don’t use the term sacred lightly. Childhood parental relationships shape a person for the entirety of their lives. In my own case, I was in my late 30s before I “fully” healed the traumas I experienced in childhood (many were outside of what I’ve described here). I put fully in quotes because I mark that as the time where I no longer acted out of a place of trauma. However, I expect I will probably run across remnants for the rest of my life. As I am wont to tell my students, childhood stuff is like layers of an onion. There is always another one, and peeling them back make you cry!

As long distance parents, it is critical that we continue to stay involved as supportive parents. Custodial parents with a long distance co-parent, your role is crucial in supporting your child’s ability to maintain that relationship.

Sometimes, we as parents let our own feelings get in the way. We get upset about something our co-parent did or we focus on the frustration of a given situation. We can forget that it’s the child’s relationship with both parents that is important. Whether we like them or not has no bearing on the child’s relationship with them.

If you’re a long distance parent feeling beat down and frustrated and like giving up, lift your chin up and keep going. Don’t let the physical distance become emotional distance. If you’re a custodial parent feeling irritated and frustrated, buck up and refocus on what your child needs.

Parental Kidnapping and Parental Alienation are not the end of the road

If you have been a victim of parental alienation or parental abduction, either as the child or the parent, my heart goes out to you. It’s a hard road to travel from either side. But! It doesn’t have to be the end of your parent/child relationship.

Although we have a long way to go, there is so much more awareness now of parental kidnapping and parental alienation. Although it can make jurisdiction in long distance parenting cases tricky, UCCJEA makes it more difficult for parental abduction to occur. Courts are more savvy to parental alienation, even if it’s still difficult to prove. Parental Reunification therapy is an option. In some cases, it can be made mandatory by court order.

Regardless of whether you go the reunification therapy route or not, the relationship doesn’t have to be over. It can be mended. Keep hope. Keep heart. Keep trying. Then repeat.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. ADadApart

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and for this site!! I’ve been long distance (2800km) parenting for a little over 3 years. My son lives with his mom on the east coast. I moved to the west coast when he was 2. It was by far the hardest decision I have ever made. His mom and I separated 4 months after he was born then divorced a year and half later.

    From the beginning of the split things were very bad between us. I was furious because I no could no longer see my son the way I was used to. I’d wake up in the middle of the night crying just wishing to hold him. Sometimes I’d have nightmares that he would forget he ever had a father. For a while his mother insisted that I could only see him supervised at her house (she lives with her mother) which made me feel like some kind of criminal. After a few months of this I couldn’t take it any more and got into an argument with her mother then stormed out of their house. My attorney worked out an arrangement the next day (since his mom decided this unilaterally, no court order) so that I could see him at my apartment every other weekend while the divorce was being settled (wouldn’t be finalized until a year later).

    It’s hard to explain how difficult it is to not be able to be with your child in a natural way. Sometimes looking at his picture would trigger a memory and I’d want to see him but his mother is a very different kind of person than I am. So unless I gave her 2 days notice I couldn’t see him at all. I’d never show up unannounced but how busy is a 2 year old that it’s *never* ok to see him for a few minutes after work if I call and ask at lunch? Even though he was less than 5 miles away? Since I had long lost anything resembling love for her, before he was born even, I didn’t understand this at all.

    After a year and a half of legal bills piling up and very high child support obligations my finances were a mess, I was deeply depressed and something had to give. I only had another year left of student loan deferment and knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up once the deferment was over. For a variety of reasons it wasn’t possible to get a higher paying job where I was (her hometown).

    For the month before leaving she finally relented and let me pick him up for a few hours after work during the week as long as I called and asked a few hours beforehand. That month was like being in heaven. We both did our best to explain to my son that daddy was moving away but there really isn’t any way for a 2 year old to understand what that means. Thinking about it brings tears to my eyes to this day.

    The first 2 months were the worst. Because of the cost of moving and getting settled on the west coast I couldn’t afford to fly back to see him for 2 months. As bad as it was, it would have been a lot worse without Skype. We skype 3 times a week. He was so young when we started that he didn’t really understand how far away I was. I remember him trying to share his dinner with me by putting it through the screen and having to explain to him “i’m sorry son, it’s too big to travel that far” – the best I could come up with in the moment.

    It was incredibly awkward at first. It’s hard enough to hold the attention of a 2 year old in person. Much more so over the computer. His mother would have to be in the same room just to make sure he stayed on screen. For a few months she would put her laptop in the living room and he would play with his toys with both of us alternating pretend voices of the characters. I’d often read to him (Corduroy was his favorite for the longest!). One day, when he was around 3, he was acting out as young kids do, and I asked his mother, probably too harshly, if she could put him back in the viewing area. She did but the next day decided we could no longer do skype in the living room (where he could play with his toys) and would have to do it while he sat at a desk in a closed room. Needless to say it was difficult getting a 3 year old to sit at a desk for 30 minutes.

    As he’s gotten older (he’ll be 6 soon) we’ve gone through different phases of activities. Pretty early on I started sharing my desktop, pulling up the kindle app and reading him a story from a children’s book. They all have lots of drawings and colors and it provided a way for us to be more interactive (I’d wait for him to say “next page” or point or ask him about what he saw on the page). That evolved into looking up youtube videos about what he was learning in daycare and now pre-school. He’s had an android tablet since he was 2 – zoodles kid mode is a godsend. We can send each other video messages, it stores his drawings so that I can see them and has an unbelievable amount of educational content. Unfortunately his mom decided that he was using the tablet too much so that’s fallen a bit by the wayside. These days I ask him about his day at school. He’s usually reluctant to answer because he wants to jump to watching me play a game (currently teenage mutant ninja turtles) but I’ve held the line and made sure to find out what he’s learned in science or math that day. When we do play I take pains to make it interactive – asking him which way he wants to go, which character he wants to use and the like. Just about the highlight of my day is when he’s thrilled about us finishing off a boss.

    ClassDojo is an app that his school uses. It displays a breakdown of his behavior that day with red x’s indicating a problem (along with a description) and green checkmarks indicating good behavior (e.g., followed instructions). We usually review that every skype call (also through desktop sharing) and talk about it.

    It still hurts to see the photos his mom sends from time to time. They remind me of all the growing up he’s doing that I’ve missed out on. Sometimes he’ll wear his costume for a skype call or try to show me some of the moves he’s learning in karate. It’s better than nothing, indeed it’s the high point of my day, but it’s not the same as being there. I can only afford to fly out to see him every 6 weeks. I get him for a week in the summer – fly out to pick him up, fly back here, spend the week together, then fly him back home. All of this adds up. I moved to a studio closer to downtown in 2012; my car died that christmas and I’ve been doing without since.

    She’s remarrying sometime this year. I honestly wish her well. But things haven’t been going so well at work which has sent me into a funk that I can’t seem to shake. So I’m at a crossroads trying to decide if I should move back. It would be much harder financially since salaries are lower there and I can’t afford to take her to court to renegotiate child support. She finished grad school and makes more money now but I don’t think we’re at the point where we can negotiate finances without attorneys. Most days I honestly wish I were dead. I know it’s the easy way out and don’t want to do that to my son or other family members but the stress is taking its toll.

    Has anyone ever moved away then moved back a few years later? I don’t know if it would be better for my son. On the one hand his mother and I get along a lot better now that I don’t live there. I’m afraid living there will bring back all the old arguments. Is a miserable dad that you see more often better than a less miserable one that you see less? I don’t think I will be able to dig my way out of debt on the salary I can make there; here it’s doable in a few more years (even factoring in the cost of all the flying back and forth). I don’t know what to do.

    1. Will

      Hey, ADadApart, thanks for sharing your story, and sorry to hear about what you’re going through. First of all, take care of yourself. Your kid needs a healthy dad, so if you’re feeling that depressed seek help. Be open minded about medication (not alcohol), it’s what it takes sometimes to go through these rough patches.

      You sound like a fantastic dad, and your son is lucky to have you. Your use of skype is very clever, and it’s great that you take an interest in how he does in class. This means a lot to him. Regardless of how many troubles you have to go though, your son will always know that you are there for him and he can count on you.

      I’ve lived apart from my daughter for 5 years, and it’s been very tough. I don’t know if I’m qualified to give advice to anybody, but I would suggest not moving back to the small town. As you say, you are in debt and your prospects there don’t look so good. It sounds like your ex can handle things for now, so I would use the time to put my life in order. Focus on being the best long distance parent you can be (sounds like you are already better than many) and healing your life. Reach out to the new stepdad and try to be on good terms with everybody. You’re in this for the long haul, think about perhaps some day providing for your son to go to college, and/or for your grandkids.

      One thing that helped me immensely when I started being a long distance parent, is that I met someone who had been doing it successfully and he mentored me. I would have had a very hard time figuring it all out on my own, and I would have worried that it might not work out. See if you can find some companionship and practical guidance. Also, learn as much as you can about parenting in general, what your son needs at each stage. If you’re not living together you have less room to learn by trial and error, so you have to compensate by studying up.

      Another thought, again, a very personal opinion based on my experience. All this logistical stuff we worry so much about while we’re in the middle of a situation, such as frequency of flights, times of calls, paying bills, etc. doesn’t really matter that much in the long run. What seems to matter most to the kids is the attitude we took in sorting out the issues we were dealt. So maybe the way you dealt with all of this will serve as inspiration for your son, when he had to deal with tough problems of his own.

      Best of luck, and keep on being such an awesome dad!

  2. Michael

    It sounds like your Skype calls have been imaginative and rewarding for the two of you, which is fantastic. What tablet did you get for him? I thought my son might still be too young, but sounds like it worked for you.

    A couple of other thoughts come to mind.

    Firstly if you find yourself wishing you were dead it may be worth seeking a medical opinion. I suffered from extremely serious depression during the breakdown of my marriage and going to the doctor was one of my smarter decisions.

    Secondly I am not in your situation – I’ve had nowhere near as long away from my son – but for me shooting for financial security would be immensely important. I strongly believe that a meaningful relationship is possible over distance and that (for me) regaining control over finances is a major part of the whole package of being a parent.

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