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Opinion & Essays - Oct, 1995 Issue #36 

by: Bob Kirkpatrick
Spokane, Washington

(Bob Kirkpatrick is a father residing in Spokane, Washington who has a daughter who has been on the streets off and on for most of this year. He first wrote about his experience in "The Empty Place", in the April, 1995 (Issue #33) Woodbury Reports newsletter.) 

One of the worst facets of a child's running away is that it can cause one or both parents to do it too. These parents don't pack their bags and take off to some undisclosed location, but they run away all the same. 

Losing one's child to the streets is traumatic. Parents who haven't experienced it cannot imagine the toll it takes. I've listened to other moms and dads talking to me about my daughter leaving, and they always say "I can just imagine what it's like." Well, no. They can't. 

I can describe it to you. But my descriptions cannot and will not prepare you for the intense agonies that come from having your child desert their home long before they're ready to go. I can tell you that at its best, it's an itch that can't be scratched from dawn until dusk. I can tell you it's a pain for which there's no medication from dusk until dawn. There are many things I can tell you because I've experienced each of them --but I cannot describe it well enough that anyone could know the feelings. Perhaps that's kind. I'd rather get a million paper cuts than ever feel these pains again. So I certainly wouldn't want to purposely give those feelings to another parent. 

Some parents will turn to alcohol or drugs to dull the pain. When they do, it doesn't help. Instead it turns up the guilt and the self-recriminations parents have to endure when their child runs away. In addition, it causes a loss of focus on their own lives and the lives of other family members. This too adds to the weights that can drag a parent down. 

There's another way that parents deal with their kids leaving. Something in their mind just turns off. The light goes out of their eyes as they seem to disconnect from any thoughts that attach to feelings. Their laughing becomes hollow, their smiles become forced. Voices which once had a lilt or power become monotonic and flat. 

Stressors which create this artificial void in a parent aren't all internal. A state with liberal runaway laws can not only be frustrating, but outright intimidating. Very often these states have high penalties for parents who try to assert themselves to gain help for their runaway children. Imagine being arrested for abduction and abuse because you found your son or daughter and tried to bring them home or to a facility geared to helping. 

Friends and family can often add to the problem. The stereotypical belief is that if a child runs away, it's because the parents failed somehow. That isn't necessarily true. Many kids run to avoid responsibility and structure. As a matter of fact, the majority of kids who leave home leave for this reason. It becomes obvious that the parent was doing something right, and so the accusing thoughts of others are not only wrong but more punishment. 

Either through internal or external pressures, some parents just shut down. If offered an opportunity for the return of their child, they're very likely to turn it down --or accept it under conditions that are entirely unreasonable. Some may attribute hate to these parents. They believe that the parent has become so embittered that they seek retribution and revenge. In some cases, this is true. In most cases, it's because the parent is blocking the chance that the child will leave again and rekindle all of the feelings that they've so carefully stamped out. 

In other words, a parent can deeply love their child but need to suppress it. It might be unconscious, it might be conscious. But it's very difficult to judge a parent whose child has run away, even if you are another parent whose child has taken off. It's different for everyone. 

But what it is, is running away. It takes a different form than the child hitting the streets, but it has many of the same pitfalls. A parent who has run away from themselves stands to lose as much from it as their child does from running away from home. 

Copyright 1995, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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