There are many reasons why a parent may be absent from a child's life. In divorce, usually a parent is simply sharing custody time with another parent, rather than being absent; however, sometimes with divorce, one parent will "lessen" his or her commitment to the child/children or worse, become completely absent.
There are many reasons for a divorced parent's absence, although most of them aren't good reasons but simply, filthy excuses.
Some of the good reasons may be work-related, like work travel or perhaps military service or sickness.
Some of the bad "reasons?" A new relationship or abandoning the "old" kids for a new family are two lame excuses that sadly, happen more commonly in divorce than people think. And then there are actual chemical or mental health issues that affect a parent's ability to be a parent like, drug addiction, gambling or other mental health related issues.
If your child is missing an absent parent due to military service or work travel, it's easier to write off why to yourself and your kids why mom or dad isn't around. But when it comes to more complicated reasons or plain old terrible excuses, it can be difficult to express to your child what's going on.
How do you explain an absent parent to a child?
Here are a few ways:
1 - You Don't
Instead of delving into some complicated excuse or story on why mom or dad isn't showing up anymore, don't make excuses anymore. You can ask the child to call a distant parent or write to a distant parent to ask why he or she is missing.
Of course, a truly absent parent won't answer—or will make some excuse.
This means it will be painful for the child yes, but ultimately, by not delving into some convoluted story about why a parent is absent, you can let the "absent parent's actions" tell the story rather than leave you to be the bad news bear.
A lot of times, the loving and present parent gets the brunt of the child's anger when missing an absent parent. Saying little and letting the absent parent's actions do all the talking can let the child know one day down the line, it was clearly that absent parent's issue.
2 - When Words Are Needed
If the parent is completely gone, your child is going to ask why. And that puts you in the unfortunate position of explaining why. You may not even know why a parent has gone missing.
What can you do to help innocent children or an innocent child from taking the blame for a crappy parent?
- Seek counseling—let the child grieve and talk to a neutral party about the absent parent.
- Explain it's not them—let your child or children know it's not about them. They could have been perfect kids day in and day out, but that the issue lies in the parent. This will take a long time for kids to accept and understand.
- Praise them – let your kids know how lucky you are to be with them all the time and share how much they mean to you.
- Suggest a journal—let your child draw, doodle or write in a journal to the absent or negligent parent, giving him or her an outlet to address all that pain since that missing parent isn't there or isn't willing to hear how the child feels.
3 - Find a Pinch Hitter
If your kid is missing a great mom or a great dad, it can't hurt to find a strong role model for him or her to develop a relationship with long-term. This doesn't mean run out and find a new wife or husband, ASAP. It means seek out:
- Family members
This relationship will not be the same as a parent-child relationship but it will be a special relationship that can help your child feel good about him or herself.
4 - Use Terms at Their Level
If your child's parent is absent due to drug addiction or mental illness, giving a compassionate and developmentally appropriate answer as to why mommy or daddy is not in a child or children's lives is needed. I highly recommend speaking to a counselor about this—a family counselor preferably, in order to get the right words to say to your child that bottom line:
Mom or dad is sick—and that it's nothing the kid did…but something the missing parent is struggling to cope with.
The most important two messages kids need to hear are:
- That you the present parent will be here and is not going anywhere.
- That the child/children didn't cause the absent parent to run away, have a drug problem, have a mental health disability or force a divorced parent to abandon his or her old family for a new one. The child must know that the choices are solely stemming from the parent, not him or her.
Make no mistake—this is a difficult thing to deal with. As the present parent, you may feel guilt.
Guilty that you chose to have a child with someone who clearly isn't able or choosing to parent.
Anger that you are the one showing up while the other parent runs off.
Sad that your child feels hurt or abandoned.
But most of all be happy your child has you. All of you, all of the time with no conditions, take-backs or crappy return policies.
Laura Lifshitz is a pint-sized, battery-operated, tour de force of wit. A comedienne, writer, Columbia University graduate & ex- MTV personality, Laura will work for self-validation and chocolate. A contributor for DivorceForce, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, PopSugarMoms , HuffPostLive and more, read her rantings on sex, marriage, divorce, parenthood, and life at frommtvtomommy or follow her on Facebook or Twitter . She likes to make friends with strangers.