Helping Your Child Deal with an Absent Parent
Parents play an integral role in the molding of children into adults, and a poor relationship with one or both parents can result in long-term emotional baggage. Sometimes it's not that the child's relationship with the parent is bad; it's just that the parent isn't there at all. Here are three ways you can help your children deal with an absent parent.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Just because your ex isn't around doesn't mean that he or she's not still a part of your children's thought processes. Refusing to talk or answer questions about the absent parent can make your children feel like it's something to be ashamed of, and it doesn't let you know if they're understanding what's going on. An easy way to do this is to point out positive similarities between the children and the other parent, such as favorite foods or a penchant for music.
- Give your children the tools to handle others people's questions. It would seem like in today's age of blended families, most people would operate from the understanding that not every child has an ongoing, positive relationship with both parents. However, this isn't always the case. Sometimes people will say or do things — such as asking if Daddy's coming to the recital or what the children are giving Mom for Mother's Day — without realizing the devastating effect it can have on children who aren't in contact with their parents. If you can, brief your children's teachers or caretakers on the situation. You don't need to tell them every sordid detail — a “Johnny hasn't seen his mother in several months, so he might be sensitive about that subject,” works fine. Then, arm your children with phrases so they're prepared just in case someone does ask about the absent parent.
- Consider the future. Even if the parent has been absent for months or even years, there's always the possibility that he or she will come back at some point. If that happens, you may be facing having to co-parent again, and the better you have handled the parent's absence, the easier it will be for your children to re-establish the relationship. It may also be a good idea to consult with a lawyer so you're aware of your legal options and responsibilities if it does happen so you can be prepared instead of panicked.
Even if the parent doesn't come back, there may be a day when your child is an adult and wants to find the parent and try to establish a relationship. This is why it's very important to handle all discussions and questions as honestly as you can in an age-appropriate manner. If you lie about where the other parent is or why he left, your children will find out and then you will have diminished the trust they have in you and hurt your relationship as well.
How do you help children deal with an absent parent?