Following divorce, most parents are eager to see the children as frequently as possible. Often this desire results in heated battles in or out of court focused around custody issues. In many cases co-parenting is the ideal option. A parenting plan is set into place and the children are moved between two homes giving them continued access to both parents.
While many parents may not want to “share” the children, they often realize this is in their child’s best interest. So they come up with an arrangement both parents can live with. In families that don’t co-parent, usually one parent has primary custody of the children. The other parent takes the reins on a scheduled basis. This regular visitation may be over weekends, specific days per month, or periodic visits during the year if distance is a factor.
Parental Alienation: the saddest outcome of divorce!
In some cases, however, one parent may decide not to parent. The don’t want to play a part in the lives of their children after the divorce. This, of course, is one of the saddest outcomes of divorce. The children become the innocent victims of circumstances far beyond their ability to understand.
Why would a parent choose to “divorce” their own children? While this behavior is certainly difficult to comprehend, there are several factors that seem to influence this extreme behavior.
How parents rationalize abandonment
For example, a divorced parent may …
• feel it’s not in their own best interest for the children to be with them. Career, social or medical factors can all lead to a decision in this direction.
• feel it’s not in the children’s best interest to have contact with them. This may be due to drug or other addictions, severe medical conditions, mental health challenges or other personal issues.
• believe having a family and all the responsibilities that go with it are keeping them from achieving their personal goals. Consequently they take off to follow their dreams — be it regarding career, sports, travel or other lifestyle factors.
• be moving into another scenario, such as marrying a new partner, and choose not to bring the children into the picture. Sometimes other stepchildren or a new lover become a replacement.
While most often it’s the father who leaves the family dynamic following the divorce, that’s not always the case. Some mothers abandon the family — usually using one of the above rationalizations — leaving the children confused and emotionally devastated.
This, of course, gives the remaining parent an enormous physical and emotional burden to bear. They love and care for their children. However, they are now single parents with the additional drama and responsibilities that comes with it. They are also left with two extremely difficult challenges. First, explaining to the kids why their other parent is no longer in their life. Then explaining that this is in no way their fault!
The complex impact on children who are rejected
It’s easy to see how children can blame themselves for being abandoned. Often therapy sessions for both the children and parent are helpful. Or work with a good coach who can offer valuable strategies for developing a healthier mindset and boost their self-esteem. Encouraging your children to talk about their feelings may help them better understand what is happening. Compassionate, non-judgmental communication can open the door to acceptance and adjustment over time.
Guidance from a therapist or coach can be a real asset in several other ways. It will help determine what and how much you want to say, especially when the details involve adult-level content. You need to strike a balance in your communication with the kids. You don’t want to wound your child’s ego or self-confidence. You also don’t want to make excuses for a parent’s unfathomable behavior.
It is wise not to imply that the other parent does not want to be with your children. Or that parent prefers to live with another family. Instead you can talk about the complexities that parent is experiencing. Perhaps they need some time to get their life back on track, if that’s possible.
Avoid unrealistic expectations!
Sometimes the absent parent may have a change of heart after distancing themselves for months or longer. However, it’s best not to fill your children with unrealistic hope. Sadly, some children may be facing continued disappointment in the years ahead. But whenever possible, do keep the door open to communication with your Ex, if you can.
It’s your responsibility to create a home life that gives your kids the love and support they need. And to keep being there for them. Single parents can be great parents. Never forget: your children deserve the best — and happily they’ve got you!
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and author of the acclaimed ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids About The Divorce? To access her coaching services, programs, valuable resources and free ebook on divorce and co-parenting success strategies visit: https://www.childcentereddivorce.com
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