The issues of abandonment are difficult enough when the incident is fresh in the mind of parent and child. However, what we seldom realize is that this is one of those issues that does not fade with time.
There are three examples of children at different ages that I will share with you in this article. All three children have been thriving in the absence of the parent who abandoned them. All three children have been in an “abandoned” status for periods of seven to ten years. Regardless of the time span or the age of the child, the issues remain the same. The questions resurface of whether they are to blame, whether they are “lovable”, and what life might have been like with the other parent included.
The first is a nine-year-old neighbor who has lived with her grandparents since she was a toddler. Her mother declared herself unfit to care for her child, and in truth, this was rightly so. Fortunately, the child had loving and responsible grandparents who were quick to take on the raising of their granddaughter. As a toddler, there were few questions from the child; however, as time went by, the standard questions arose: Why don’t I live with my mother? Why couldn’t she take care of me? Doesn’t she want me? Will I ever live with her?
The questions became more intense and took on a sense of desperation as the mother gave birth to two more children. Why can she take care of my sister and/or my brother, but not me? Does she love me? Unfortunately, those two siblings no longer live with their mother on a full-time basis, either.
After dealing with being abandoned herself, wondering why her brother and sister were so much more special than her, and then realizing that none of them held a “special” place in their mother’s life, this nine-year old has become very bitter in regards to the topic of her mother. In fact, when she went to visit her family recently, the one person she was adamant that she did not want to see was her mother. While her grandparents and an aunt have put a lot of time and effort into filling this child’s life with love, there will always be those questions that linger in her mind. The issues raised from her early abandonment will not be easily or soon remedied.
I have spoken before about my own two daughters who are now 15 and 19 years old. My oldest recently moved into her own place for the first time. It has been particularly hard on both of us, but that is a topic for another article. When the oldest was 16, I thought that she had put the issues of her father to rest once and for all. However, this past Father’s Day was a reminder that abandonment is not something that is at all easily forgotten.
I have never made a big deal out of Father’s Day because I thought it would cause too much pain for my daughters. Instead, the week before, I would always ask them if they wanted to try to call their father and/or send a card to the address that we have for him. (I have to add here that I always had my doubts that they would reach him because he hasn’t been known to be at that address or phone number for some time. We just don’t know where he is.) Their response was usually “no.” or “why?” in varying forms of confusion or anger.
On Sunday night, my oldest called my house to talk to my youngest daughter. She told her that she had driven past their father’s house to see if he was home. She said that she had debated about whether or not to stop, but had decided that it was not something she was ready to do. When she talked to me about it, she indicated that she had only been in the neighborhood to see her old babysitter’s house and had never even considered stopping to see her father. These phone conversations clued me to in two vital pieces of information: 1) She was still curious in some way about her father, and 2) despite all the times I told her that I would never be hurt by her interest in her father, she thought that I would be. Her fears still exist and I must still help her to face them in any way I can. She must know that abandonment is not her lot in life.
My youngest daughter, who is fifteen, still has issues, too. Last summer she asked a family friend to take her to her father’s house to see if he was there. When they arrived, it appeared someone was at the house, so she decided to knock on the door, as long as our friend remained with her. When her father came to the door, she did not know who she was, despite the fact that I have left photos of the girls in his mailbox every year since he left. This alone was crushing to her. Once he realized who she was, he began making excuses to her: “I never have time to call.” “I am always so busy at work.” “I am not always in town.” “I drink too much and I forget to call.” “I am just a drunk…” As the excuses deteriorated, our family friend steered my daughter back to the car and removed her from a situation steadily on a downward spiral.
My daughter and I talked for a long time after she arrived back home. She told me how hard it was to hear her friends talk about their parents and the things that their families do together. Even most of those with divorced parents have a regular schedule of visitation and have stories to tell about good times with both of their parents. Instead, she has to say that she never sees or talks to her father and doesn’t even know where he is at any given time. This is really hard on her. [I heard this from my oldest daughter, too, when she was in high school. I did not have any better answers the second time around.] She went on to tell me that she had an “ideal” in her mind of what a father should be and knew that she had a father out there somewhere, thus, he must be the one to fulfill her ideal. Those dreams were rudely shattered that day a year ago.
This past Father’s Day, she patiently listened to her sister’s experience and wondered why she had bothered to make the trip, but she also realized that it was obviously not something that was as easy to get over as she had anticipated. It was a clear warning to both of us that the doubts and fears are not over for her, either.
As a mother, I want to spare my daughters any pain that I can possibly spare them. Our heartstrings will always be connected, no matter their age, or the distance, that may separate us. Their pain will be mine and I will do everything in my power to spare them the pain. I have always made sure that they knew that the abandonment of their father was not their fault. I have always told them that he loved them. I made every effort to offer them the opportunities, even when I was sure that they would only wind up hurt. Never did I want them to blame themselves (or me for that matter) for the lack of contact. At the same time, I did not blame their father, either. Blame does not solve anything and it certainly does not soothe wounds. Blame only makes the blade cut deeper. Instead, I tried to build up their image of themselves by letting them know who special they are and how important they are in my own life.
Regardless of the age of the child, special attention is needed with children who have been abandoned. Reassurance is a constant necessity. For parents, this can be very hard, because they are feeling the effects of abandonment, too. Those issues must be set aside when it comes to dealing with your child. If your wounds are fresh and raw, then you cannot possible tend to theirs appropriately. A good family counselor can help you not only to deal with your own issues, but also with those of your children.
The bottom line is that there are no ‘cut and dry’ answers to dealing with the issues of abandonment. Some abandoned children carry the issues all the way into their adult lives, allowing the abandonment to affect their self-esteem and personal relationships. Some find it harder to deal with than others. Regardless of the age of your child, be prepared to deal with this issue on an on-going basis. Be willing to secure counseling for your child, regardless of age, and be willing to go with them to deal with these issues. If you see your grown child making decisions that seem to be made out of insecurity because of abandonment issues, do not be afraid to talk to them and to suggest that counseling might be the right approach before making any life-changing decisions. Give them the support and love they need until they are able to successfully handle the issues that stem from abandonment.
Dealing with abandonment issues can be a long, difficult road. But it is not an impossible one. Healthy, happy, productive adults can result from children who were abandoned in childhood, if the remaining parent is supportive and helps their children to seek healthy answers to their questions. Most of all, remember that abandonment stems from an issue with the one that left, not the ones left behind.
I wish you for all the abundant blessings of life and much, much joy!