Waiting for the Call
A child has run away from home. His or her parents wait, always aware of the empty place left behind, always waiting for the phone call – the one that either reunites them with their child, or ends all possible reunions. The uncertainty is painful and the sense of loss, guilt, and anger, all valid reactions to a runaway child, are a constant drain. How can parents continue, and plan for the many possible futures that confront them?
Counseling for the Long Term
- Coping during the absence.
- Planning for all outcomes.
- The child returns…what now?
Dealing with Loss and Anger
Coping with a runaway child is unlike many other crises a parent faces. Not only is the outcome far from certain, but the blend of anger, hurt, rejection, and crippling fear and guilt combine to put parents in the weakest possible position. Parents worry in the night, fearing for their child’s safety and character. They count the ways they gave themselves to their children – and count the ways they failed them. They ask whether they are to blame – and know that, yes, others ask the same question. Parents flutter from moment to moment through every possible emotional response, and imagine every possible outcome, from the most beautiful and idealized to the most horrible and devastating.
Help can be located through friendship networks, community support, and counseling. During the waiting period, counseling is likely to focus on maintaining a stable family, and on personal stability. In the first days and weeks of loss and fear, just getting through the day often requires a reliable, steady contact point to help find and maintain emotional balance.
Making Plans Over Time
If a runaway is missing for a prolonged period, a counselor can help parents plan for their lives to come, taking many possible outcomes into account. By helping parents review the many possibilities in advance, a foundation can be laid that can later help cope with whatever actually occurs. From plans on how to handle return to plans for a life-long uncertainty, parents can process some portion of the fear and shock in advance, leaving them some emotional resources when time resolves or fails to resolve the loss.
Coping with a Reunited Family
As long as a child is missing, there’s little to do but cope with the remaining vacuum. If and when a child returns, however, an entirely new phase of family life begins. Family counseling, aimed at the restructure and healing of the family, combined with personal therapy for parents and for the runaway, can help reintegrate the family unit. Underlying problems can be addressed and new patterns of family life can be established.
When a child returns, there are three basic areas needing attention and care: the child, whose actions indicate some level of unhappiness and anger; the parents, who may be contributing factors or mere victims in their own right, unable to control issues outside the home that have injured their child; and finally there’s the entire unit of the family: child, mother and father, and siblings must all be brought back into relationship together.
Counseling for a Whole Family
One counselor can’t practically or ethically meet the needs of all the members of a family and the shared group as well. When a runaway child returns, in most cases multiple counselors will be brought into play, and many techniques will be called upon. Finding a full array of skilled counselors can be difficult. By making use of the resources offered by state and county services, local psychiatric clinics, and referral services it may be easier to develop a counseling team. It’s vital that the group of involved counselors be aware of the many resources being brought into play, so that care can be taken to coordinate efforts and approaches.