The other day I received a text message from one of the girlies. ďShabba, I wonder if there are any books youíd recommend that would help in dealing with absent parents?Ē
To be honest, I thought about it for ages but couldnít come up with anything. I eventually found something Iíve had to order from the States (which Iíll read and review later). But Iím 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 donít 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 didnít want to negatively impact their long-term relationship with him. Now, Iím 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 dadóthe 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 wouldnít 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 hadnít heard the start of the conversation. I saw it in her face afterwards. As I stood there looking at heródisappointed that her dad had let her downóI broke my own rule, saying: ďIím sorry youíre Dads an arse.Ē It crushed me when she replied, ďI know.Ē You see, my kids werenít abandoned by their father, but he was absent even when he was there.
Kids donít 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 donít have to come from a broken home to have a parent leave them. Donít fool yourself: You can be an absent parent without leaving the home. More could be said about this, but thatís 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, Iíve seen children used as a weapon to hurt or punish the other parent as visitation is withheld and they arenít actually allowed to see their kids. Itís 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 Iíd change is how I parented my kidsóIíd love to have a do over, but Iíd want to be able to do it with all the experience and information I have now. I realise thatís impossible. Being a lone-parent has definitely magnified this. Itís hard to deal with the fallout of a fractured family and still be the parent my kids need me to be. Itís hard watching your kids hurt when you canít fix it.
Here are four things lone-parents might be tempted to do.
- Overcompensate because of guilt. Itís tempting to want to try and Ďmake upí 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 theyíve been let down for the 20th time; when they feel like they arenít loved by the one that should love them, then itís natural to want to make them feel better. You want to make it easier, to let things slide. Itís 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 foodóthese kinds of things may make them feel good for a fraction of a moment, but itís 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 Iíve got some hinky DNA which I pass on to my kids. I had to have a word with myselfóI have no control over that. But, bitterness and anger are not like DNA. They donít have to be something we pass on to our kids. When you recognise bitterness in your heart, annihilate it. Itís a cancer that will grow uncontrollably if not dealt with. Do this before you infect your kidís lives with something that has the potential to destroy them.
- Point the rage in the wrong direction. Iím a very private person. Iím not a massive fan of bearing my soul to anyone and everyone. Iím 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 didnít 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 canít cope with whatís 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 workówhen it was just me and God, I would vent, begging Him to help me forgive, yet again. Iím not gonna lie, there was no way on this earth I could have done thatóforgiveóover 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 donít think Iím saying I got it all rightóyou just need to talk to my kids, my accountability partner, or my pastor to know that I didnít. 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.