When Chandler, Arizona police arrested Jamie Howell two weeks ago for disorderly conduct, they had no idea of whom they were arresting. Read about it here (Vancouver Sun, 6/1/11).
It seems Howell and her son Valor had gone to a laundromat where the 10-year-old boy got bored and started behaving in some way not to the liking of the other patrons. So Mom Jamie responded by screaming at them, taking their clothes out of the dryers, throwing them around, throwing laundry soap, etc.
Oops. That turned out to be not the smartest move she could have made because the patrons called the police who arrived and arrested Jamie on a disorderly conduct charge. That wouldn’t have been a terribly big deal except they did a routine warrant search and lo and behold there was the name of Jamie Howell who was wanted by Canadian authorities for kidnapping.
Back in December, 2004, Howell and her ex-husband Garrett Taylor were involved in a nasty child custody case. Howell had custody, but had interfered with Taylor’s visitation on several occasions. He’d complained to the family court judge who wasn’t too happy with Howell’s behavior and told her he’d have her arrested if she did it again. Within a month she and Valor, who was four at the time, were gone.
At that, the court awarded Taylor sole custody.
They were traced to Spokane, Washington, but there the trail went cold until two weeks ago when she was arrested in Chandler, just outside of Phoenix. It appears she’ll be extradited to Canada to face kidnapping charges.
This article tells us about what experts believe will face Garrett Taylor and Valor when the two attempt to reconnect after over six years (Edmonton Journal 6/10/11).
I’ve written a good bit about parental child abduction and this case gives some tantalizing facts that seem to agree with Nancy Faulkner’s research to which I’ve referred often. For example, her description of abducting parents says they tend toward narcissism including wanting the child to be theirs and theirs alone and to live for the parent alone.
It’s that exclusive relationship in which the child utterly depends on the parent and to a great degree, the parent depends on the child, that is so destructive. Howell’s behavior in the laundromat at the criticism of her child by the other people there strongly suggests that type of personality, at least to me.
So does Valor’s demeanor in the presence of the police which they describe as “aloof and withdrawn.” That seems to me to describe a boy whose mother has been his entire world for most of his life and who likely has been taught to mistrust all adults except his mom.
Meanwhile, the second article quotes a couple of experts, family attorney Lorne MacLean and Bob Finlay who’s a family counsellor and mediator specializing in reunification. And to their credit, they get it right about parental child abduction.
“The question now is how to repair your bond,” said Vancouver lawyer Lorne MacLean, who specializes in family law.
“The boy might not remember his father, and two older siblings, or he may have a negative viewpoint about the father due to parental alienation. You have to get the child to reorient. The child will have a distorted view of past events…”
Abduction, or simply disappearing with a child, is “the highest level of gatekeeping or access-blocking, and it is clear that a parent who does that cannot make proper decisions on behalf of the child,” said MacLean.
So MacLean knows about maternal gatekeeping and accurately describes kidnapping as the most extreme form of that behavior. He also nails the psychological problems a parent manifests when he/she abducts a child to keep it away from the other parent.
So does Finlay.
Finlay hasn’t worked with Taylor or Valor, but he said an abduction case like this typically would involve a destructive pattern of alienating the child from the parent left behind and creating dependency on the abductor.
“It would create terrible confusion for the child. You could get a bit of Stockholm Syndrome where the victim identifies with that parent, he could feel tremendous guilt, feel that he’s abandoned her, especially now that she’s in jail.”
When a parent engages in alienating behaviours, and if the child is abducted at a young age, “the child would become totally dependent on the mother . . . would be vulnerable and susceptible to being brainwashed and accepting a very bold lie as truth.”
So the child, who’s been made totally dependent on the mother and probably believes she’s his only support and refuge, has lost her, at least for a while. That’s the problem with parental abduction of children; it’s illegal, so the two lose everyone else – friends, neighbors, extended family, clergy, teachers – on whom we all depend. And when the abducting parent is arrested, the child loses her too.
It’ll be a stressful time for Valor Heath Howell.
That said, I’d like to highlight the fact that we’ve come a long way in a short time in understanding and dealing with cases like this one. Just a matter of a few years ago, I can easily see media articles denigrating the dad and at least suggesting that he and the police should have left well enough alone.
“Yes, she did wrong,” would have been the tone of the coverage, “but the child’s best interests require us to allow the abduction to continue. It would be too upsetting to the child to lose the only mother he’s ever known. The father’s just being selfish.” Etc., etc.
But the Journal article is far better informed than that, as are the experts interviewed.
It’s too bad that certain judges in Colorado and New Jersey aren’t as well informed. They’re the one’s I’ve written about recently. The Colorado judge handed two children back to an abducting mother with no suggestion that he understood the destructive nature of what she’d done to them.
The New Jersey judge “punished” a mother who’d abducted her daughter 25 years before with 18 days in jail, days she’d already served awaiting extradition from Nevada.
Neither of those judges showed any understanding that mental health professionals understand child abduction to be child abuse.