Explaining Why One Parent Is Absent – To A Child Who Feels Left Behind

“Why did my father leave? Was it because I was a bad girl/boy or he didn’t love us anymore?”

This is a common question that many children ask when faced with the crisis of divorce. When there is a parent who is absent, explaining it to the child is never easy, but it is necessary. For children, their primary fear is of abandonment and loss of parental love. There may be a number of reasons that the family is no longer intact, if it ever was, but the child is looking for reassurance that it is not their fault and that they will be cared for.

Children’s lives revolve around their family: The family unit is all they have ever known and to hear that a parent or caregiver is no longer going to be there is very traumatic and almost unbelievable. They will jump to a number of conclusions, most of them wrong and blaming themselves, in an effort to find answers and just cope. In an effort to make sense of the situation, they may become clingy to the caregiver and think “If he left, maybe you will too.”

Consider The Feelings of Abandonment and Isolation:

No matter what other reactions children may demonstrate to the adults in their lives, almost all have a deep and pervasive sorrow and sadness about them. One of the best things you can do for your children is to allow them to express their grief. Prolonged crying and preoccupation with the lost relationship are normal responses. Parents and family frequently try to hide their own despair and disappointment from the children, but by talking with them about feelings and emotions, you can give them permission to open up and share.

Put the Children’s Needs First:

As an adult it is your responsibility to care for the children, both physically and emotionally. Recognize that a long period of grief and mourning are natural. A preschooler may regress in such things as toilet training or begin to have nightmares or new fears. School age children may be showing signs of anger, guilt and sadness. You may see a drop in school grades and activities. Teenagers may assume they will be forced into an adult role or not have money enough for their needs. No matter what the age, some children feel responsible for the absent parent and harbor dreams about making it all right again. If you can not work out problems by open communication and cooperation, do not hesitate to get professional help. Their self-esteem and future happiness can depend on it.