Absent parents

6min read

Father and toddler

Parenting can be a little more challenging when there isn’t another parent around to help you share the load.  This can be because of a variety of reasons, perhaps the absent parent has died, is in prison, or lives in another country or you don’t know where the father is.  Sadly not all parents want to be involved in their children’s lives and dealing with this aspect of family life can be extremely fraught.

How to support your children if a parent is absent 

We know that some parents have a very small support network around them, especially if one parent is absent which can have a knock on effect whereby their extended family are also absent in a child’s life.

We do know that being honest with children as they are growing up helps them to feel confident about their own identity and gives them a sense of belonging, so this is important. There are naturally going to be times in a child’s life when they question why they don’t have another parent and perhaps feel that life is a little unfair if their friends have both parents in their lives.  For a parent it might not be an easy subject to talk about, but if your child wants to talk you might need to think about what you will say to them.

Only give your child age appropriate advice that you feel they will be able to understand, always leaving the door open for them to come back and ask further questions if they need to.  For example, bombarding a five year with too much information might be overwhelming and confusing so remember that you know your child best and are the best judge of how much information to give.

It might be painful to talk about what has happened, and it might even be difficult for you to understand why the absent parent has chosen not to be a part of their child’s life.  At the end of the day you might not be able to find answers to explain this but you should continue to reassure your child of how much he/she is loved and that the absent parent’s decision was in no way their fault.

We know that children will be curious as to what their mother or father may look like so if you do have any photos it might help to build a photo album or a scrap book for them.  This will help your child to gain a sense of their own identity as they then know what both parents look like and at least they will then have something to reflect on and share with their friends.

So what if your child wants to make contact when they are older?

By being honest with your child in the past you will have ensured that they know what has happened, but of course they may not understand why.  As they get older they may well choose to make their own contact with their absent parent and this might be something that you have no control over and could be extremely painful.

If the absent parent suddenly gets in contact what should you do?

How do you deal with this?  Well, there might be an element of shock involved.  For years your child might have been carrying around a picture of what mum or dad looks like and now they are here in reality.  It’s not easy to take a back seat in a situation like this but here are some tips that we hope will help:-

  • Your child might go through a rollercoaster of emotions if an absent parent gets in touch.  They might feel anger, upset or joy and it’s always a good idea to encourage them to talk about the way that they are feeling. 
  • They might feel as though they want to throw themselves into this new relationship because they have so much to catch up on, but try to encourage them to take things slowly.
  • Reassure them that there is no rush – they can take their time at their own pace.  Try to ensure your child doesn’t feel pressurised in any way.  If you start to feel that he/she might not be coping well with all these changes you might have to think about stepping in and reining things in a little allowing things to calm down.
  • Try not to be dismissive or give your child the opinion that you are upset or don’t agree with them seeing their absent parent. It is natural as a parent who has put in lots of hard work to feel a little uneasy or upset about the arrival of an absent parent but try to keep these thoughts to yourself so they are not passed on to your child.
  • Remember that it is really important that you look after yourself and get some emotional support to help you through this difficult time.  Friends and family can be great to talk to but if you feel that you need to speak or vent to a professional that you don’t know and who won’t make personal judgments, then do come and talk with us.