March 21, 2016

How do we Explain the Absence of a Parent to a Child?

Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/en/mom-daughter-woman-girl-lady-kid-863055/

“To be in your children’s memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today.” ~ B. Johnson


The worst type of absence may not even be one created by death—but the one created by choice.

For many parents, the idea of not being the best possible parent to their child is inconceivable, because when that tiny, precious soul came into this world, everything changed in the blink of an eye.

While there is still the autonomy from realizing we are our own selves, the understanding that we are solely responsible for the life of another individual, often overshadows our own needs.

Because when we love someone to the depth that we love our children—there isn’t anything we wouldn’t do for them.

Yet, not every parent has this same experience.

Some are just unable to step up for their children, and while it doesn’t mean they are a bad person, it does leave a void in their child’s life.

Oftentimes as adults, we expect that once we hit that magical age of 25 or 30, life will suddenly make sense and all of the pieces will fall into place. But the thing is, our lives don’t work out the way we want them to unless we work to make it happen.

Families come in all sorts of shapes, colors and varieties—and each one is beautiful.

There is not one kind that is better than another.

Just because there are two parents in a home, it doesn’t guarantee a healthy environment if fighting or other behaviors are present—likewise, just because a child has only one parent in their lives, it does not mean that they will grow up into some sort of stereotype.

However, it does mean that there are questions that will be asked.

Sometimes, it’s difficult enough to face the truth for ourselves, let alone to be able to convey things in a way that children can comprehend and process.

Some think that children can’t be told the truth, because they won’t understand—and so, they prefer to tell a white lie about why their mother or father isn’t around most of the time.

But the thing is, children are much smarter than we give them credit for, and as they get older, they will see the parent who wasn’t telling them the truth as a liar.

My own daughter has commented to me, “We are the honest family, right?” Already—at 8 years old—she understands and appreciates that type of integrity, and it is something that I plan on continuing for her.

I want to teach her that life is not easy, and there are going to be difficult situations and moments, but the bravest thing we can do is talk honestly about it—not run from it.

Children don’t need to hear harsh details or the cruel words sometimes uttered by adults, who don’t truly understand what they are saying. But, they can have the truth expressed to them.

Regardless of reason, it’s important to let your children know that the absent parent still loves and misses them very much—and it’s not because they did anything wrong that caused that parent to not be around.

However, to do this, the parent primarily raising them needs to not hold any animosity against the other parent—it won’t work if there are negative, hateful or petty feelings between the two.

Each word or decision that is made regarding the child(ren) needs to be made with the children’s best interest at heart.

It’s not about having to “win” or making the other look parent look bad—it’s simply about expressing the truth in a fair and loving way.

Once we’ve expressed the sentiments about love, and the situation not being their fault, then we can begin the part of saying whatever truth needs to be told—maybe its geographic differences, maybe the other parent is working through some things right now, or maybe there isn’t a reason at all.

The point is to just express whatever details we do have in an unbiased way, giving them enough truth to satisfy their questions without causing drama that can lead to hurt feelings and even more confusion.

And then, always follow up with a check-in:

How are you doing with that news?

Do you have any questions?

Are there any feelings you want to talk about?

Let them lead the discussion at this point—children are very matter of fact and usually won’t have the need to delve through the whys—yet it’s still important to maintain that open dialogue with our children (about anything), especially these types of situations.

The one important aspect to always remember is that being raised with the reality of an absent parent is not a “sentence to be carried out.” Typecasts were born to be broken, and the only thing that matters at the end of the day is that children are well cared for a loved.

Sometimes the best way to care for and love our children is to do it on our own—not that we ever wished for it to be this way. But this is the hand we were dealt, and now all we can do is make the best of it.

Most parents who are playing the part of both mom and dad will say that they are doing fine, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t long for the day they can share their children with someone who loves them just as much as they do.

The road of being a single parent when the other is absent is not an easy road—there will be many questions and moments of heartbreak.

There will be those situations when our children open up and break our hearts with their innocent honesty—and in those times, it’s okay to cry right along with them.

It’s okay to tell them that we don’t know all of the answers—but that we do know how amazing and special they are, and we will love them to the moon and back again, until the end of time.

And sometimes, it’s simply okay to let our only answer be to take them in our arms and hold them—kissing their head and letting them know that we are here for them.

For forever and always.


Author: Kate Rose

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: London Scout at Unsplash

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