Helping Your Child Deal with Abandonment
My oldest daughter went through a stages, much like the grieving process, after her father left our family. She maintained hope for several years, holding on to the possibility of her father returning, of her father wanting to spend time with her, of her father making good on his promises to call. Contact proved to her that her father still loved her. I am not sure parents realize how important that is to a child. No amount of reassurance on my part would settle her mind. I would reassure her that her father did love her, but she did not believe me. I would tell her that she had nothing to do with the reasons he did not call. She believed this even less.
Her grief came to a head on her thirteenth birthday. He called to convince her of his love by offering her diamond earrings, not realizing that to a child who has been abandoned, gifts mean little. Then he wanted to know who she loved more – her mother or her father. This was the final straw for her. She hung up the phone. It took me days to comfort her to the point of smiling. As much as it hurt for me to see her in pain, I knew that she was hurting more.
That my daughter continued to cling to the hope that her father would choose to be a father to her again frightened me even more. It was a sporadic hope, but with hope came the potential for more pain. I waited, on edge, to see how this would play out. Two years later he did call again. I handed her the phone and when she realized who was on the line, her smile faded. She told him that she did not want to talk to him and she hung up. They have not spoken to each other since.
Over the years, I have encouraged her to call him if she wanted. When she graduated from high school, I asked if she wanted to send him an invitation to her graduation ceremony. Even today, if she came to me for help in finding him, I would assist her. As much as I do not want her to be hurt by him again, I know that if she has questions, she will not be able to move forward until they are answered. There are too many future events – graduation from college, her wedding, her first child – that society sees in the shape of a complete family with each member having their own role. If she finds that she wants to offer that role to her father, I will help her do so.
Many of my friends do not understand this thought process. In short, there are two things that I hope to accomplish with this stance. First, I do not ever want my daughter to be able to blame me for the deteriorated relationship between her and her father. Second, I want her to base her views of her father on the interaction between them.
My advice to parents who must raise children who are abandoned by a parent is fairly straight-forward.
• Be sure that your child(ren) knows that it is not their fault.
• Do not talk bad about the abandoning parent in front of the child(ren).
• Reassure the child(ren) as much as they need. Let them set the pace for this. If they are not feeling bad, then don’t get sympathetic. There will be plenty of time for that when they do.
• Do not put your pain on the child. It is all right for them to see a parent experience the full range of emotions; they need to know that parents are human. However, they don’t understand their own abandonment and do not need to blame themselves for yours.
• Maintain open communications with your child. They need to know that they can share with you exactly how they feel whenever they feel it.
• Do not lie to your child. Telling them that their parent called when they were asleep will not make them feel any better. The only “lie” that is permissible is “Your mother/father does love you.” You may not believe this; your child may not believe this – but in some part of their being, it is true.
• Be prepared for a wide range of emotions from grief to pain to rage. Prepare yourself by obtaining a list of possible activities that will help you help your child(ren) deal with their emotions. One counselor suggested that I allow my daughter to throw rocks at trees. When I was growing up, throwing things was never an acceptable manner of dealing with anger, but the physical release was very calming for my daughter.
• Offer to maintain communications with the abandoning parent from your end. If you know a phone number, allow them to call if they so desire. If you know an address, let them send a letter. If you are unaware of any contact information, be honest with your child about this; however, if there is another family member – a grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc., allow the child to send a message via this person.
• Do not hesitate to obtain professional counsel if needed. There is no shame in getting help for your child if it appears they will not be able to deal with the situation with only your help. Counselors are trained to help individuals deal with a variety of situations. Some children react more intensely than others.
• Know that you – and your child – are not alone. There are no accurate statistics on abandoned children; however, it is estimated that over 7,000 American children are abandoned each year. This statistic is only for those who are abandoned by both parents. Can you imagine how that number increases when you add in those abandoned by one of their parents? Their pain is real, too. Find a support system within your church, your school system, or through a family services organization and use it for the sake of your child(ren) and yourself!
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