The other day I received a text message from one of the girlies. “Shabba, I wonder if there are any books you’d recommend that would help in dealing with absent parents?”
To be honest, I thought about it for ages but couldn’t come up with anything. I eventually found something I’ve had to order from the States (which I’ll read and review later). But I’m struck with the thought that many parents are struggling to help their kids deal with the reality of feeling abandoned, confused, left behind, and rejected.
I try very hard not to share too much detail about my marriage. I do this for three obvious reasons: 1) my kids, 2) the responses of others (everyone has an opinion they must share), and 3) the simple truth that no one is without sin (irreproachable but, not blameless). All that being said, this is one of those times I want to share a little without saying a lot.
I don’t know how wise this is, but early on, I made the conscious decision not to speak badly to my kids about their dad or use the kids as some sort of weapon. I didn’t want to negatively impact their long-term relationship with him. Now, I’m not saying that this was easy, but I knew that I wanted to avoid hurting my kids in the long-term.
I remember one Christmas when everything was ready for the kids to see their dad—the train tickets had been bought and the kids were excited. Then, just a few days before they were going to see him, he called and said he wouldn’t take them. I remember trying to remain calm as I closed the kitchen door, but no matter how quiet and composed I was, there was no way my daughter hadn’t heard the start of the conversation. I saw it in her face afterwards. As I stood there looking at her—disappointed that her dad had let her down—I broke my own rule, saying: “I’m sorry you’re Dads an arse.” It crushed me when she replied, “I know.” You see, my kids weren’t abandoned by their father, but he was absent even when he was there.
Kids don’t have to come from a broken home to feel abandoned. They may have two parents who are physically present but functionally absent. Maybe their parents give more time and attention to their work. Kids also don’t have to come from a broken home to have a parent leave them. Don’t fool yourself: You can be an absent parent without leaving the home. More could be said about this, but that’s a different blog for a different day.
I feel I have to say this: There are times a parent is absent, but not because they have chosen to be. Sadly, I’ve seen children used as a weapon to hurt or punish the other parent as visitation is withheld and they aren’t actually allowed to see their kids. It’s sad, and very often there is collateral damage as the child is hurt as well.
The Parent Who Stayed
Truthfully, if I could go back in time and change things, I would. One of the things I’d change is how I parented my kids—I’d love to have a do over, but I’d want to be able to do it with all the experience and information I have now. I realise that’s impossible. Being a lone-parent has definitely magnified this. It’s hard to deal with the fallout of a fractured family and still be the parent my kids need me to be. It’s hard watching your kids hurt when you can’t fix it.
Here are four things lone-parents might be tempted to do.
- Overcompensate because of guilt. It’s tempting to want to try and ‘make up’ for how your kids are feeling by excusing their behaviour. When your kids are hurting because all their pals are going to the football with their dads; when they’ve been let down for the 20th time; when they feel like they aren’t loved by the one that should love them, then it’s natural to want to make them feel better. You want to make it easier, to let things slide. It’s hard, but we have to make decisions with the long-game in mind. Cutting your kids some slack, buying them something special, trying to ease the pain with sweet treats and junk food—these kinds of things may make them feel good for a fraction of a moment, but it’s not going to help them in the long-term.
- Grow bitter. Recently, I had to go for genetic testing. Now, in my head I was thinking, Crap, what if I’ve got some hinky DNA which I pass on to my kids. I had to have a word with myself—I have no control over that. But, bitterness and anger are not like DNA. They don’t have to be something we pass on to our kids. When you recognise bitterness in your heart, annihilate it. It’s a cancer that will grow uncontrollably if not dealt with. Do this before you infect your kid’s lives with something that has the potential to destroy them.
- Point the rage in the wrong direction. I’m a very private person. I’m not a massive fan of bearing my soul to anyone and everyone. I’m super cautious and very careful about who I speak to. Part of it is who I am and part of it is habit. It became a habit when my kids were little. I didn’t discuss the gory details of what was going on, the latest saga, what their dad had said or done, or how I was feeling about it with them. I chose to withhold this information because they were kids. All too often, single parents can speak to their children like they are mini adults. But in these cases, most kids just can’t cope with what’s being said. I wanted my kids to be kids as long as possible. They were my kids, not my confidant, mediator, or counsellor.
- Not find time to pray. Countless times on my drive to work—when it was just me and God, I would vent, begging Him to help me forgive, yet again. I’m not gonna lie, there was no way on this earth I could have done that—forgive—over and over, again and again, without God. But I tried hard to make sure my rage was aimed at the one person who could take it. The Lord always calmed the raging storm and brought peace.
As you read this, please don’t think I’m saying I got it all right—you just need to talk to my kids, my accountability partner, or my pastor to know that I didn’t. But, as a mum in the midst of the chaos, I had to protect my kids (sometimes from me) and point them to a heavenly Father who would never abandon, forsake, or fail them.
You can read part two here, where we hear from a father who was absent but, by the grace of God, was restored and reconciled to his kids.