It would be a mistake to think that the family as a concept is limited to a narrow interpretation. When you think of your new family, made up of you and your child, do not confine yourself to the norm where it is obligatory to raise a child together with their other biological parent. Human life is unpredictable, and any configuration can lead to positive results.
Nowadays, the concept of the family has expanded. No longer is it just a man and a woman raising their children. Same-sex marriages are on the rise due to changes in legislation in many countries and states. There are many cases of multigenerational solutions were maternal females join in their efforts to take care of the children.
The number of single-parent households is increasing annually. In addition to women as single mothers, there are more single dads than before.
Statistically, each developed country in which divorces and out-of-wedlock children are no longer frowned upon has recorded an uptick in single parents of both sexes.
In 2016, the US Census Bureau revealed that out of all single-parent families, men account for 19.6 percent of single parents whereas women make up 80.4 percent.
In Canada, the number of single parents increased from 1.56 million in 2010 to 1.64 million in 2018, and single parents outgrew two-parent households (28.2 percent and 26.5 percent respectively).
What’s more, the number of children living with just their dads has been increasing significantly, up 34.5 percent in the last two decades. Meanwhile, the number of children living exclusively with their mom has been growing slightly, up 4.8 percent during the same period of time.
Overall, single parents make up around 29 percent of the parent population, with eight in ten children in these families living with their mother, and two in ten living with their father.
These numbers suggest that gender differences have begun to shift to some extent. Parents of any sex can win a custody battle and become the sole caregiver for their children.
When A Parent Walks Away From Their Child
The reasons why one parent chooses not to be involved with their children can vary. Perhaps a lack of hands-on parenting in their own childhood. Maybe a plunge to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder or substance and alcohol abuse. Perhaps narcissism and a lack of interest in raising their own children. Maybe the breakup of the two parents was so devastating that the connection is severed for years. However, the reasons for that parent to refuse to be present in their children’s lives should not matter to you.
If you find yourself in a situation of unintended single parenting, it is not up to you to analyze and deconstruct your ex’s motives. Leave it to their conscience and therapist. You need all your mental, intellectual, and physical energy to spend on your children.
Ruminating over the other person’s decision is of no use because you cannot help them or reverse their decision. You have no power over that individual.
Can you keep a parent who does not want to know the child, for the sake of the child? No. This is a grownup who you cannot control. In some instances it is possible to act through the court and lawyers. The court can order one parent to pay child support. If you can do that, do it. It will help you at least financially. If the cost of custody battles is too high, consider raising your children on your own.
If You Can Do Nothing About It
If your child’s mother has left you and you do not know where she is, how can you keep her for the sake of the child? You can’t.
If your child’s father does not want to be with your kid and simply does not show up, can you force him to? No.
You cannot chain a biological parent to the child. You cannot force them to spend time with the children. You can do nothing about another adult person.
However, you can do a lot about yourself and your attitude.
It is up to you to keep yourself sane and healthy for your children. It is up to you to keep a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere in your family. It is up to you to reach a compromise with the other parent, when or if it is possible someday.
The idea that you cannot make another person do something is in fact liberating and refreshing. If you continue to think that there are ways to make your ex to participate in child support, you won’t be as focused on the task of raising children as you could be. You’ll waste your energy and time on useless thoughts and actions.
However, as soon as you realize that you are what your children get, your brain starts to work in the direction of doing the maximum that you can for your children. It is a productive and highly efficient mode to be in.
Can I Do It Alone? Yes!
If you are a mature individual, you can raise a child alone. You can even raise two or three children alone. It is within the scope of a modern human to do so.
There is no sense in distressing over your children lacking their mother or father. It is their responsibility, that estranged parent, not yours. They need to worry about how they will communicate with their children and what kind of parent-child relationship they will have.
You cannot guarantee your children the idea of a family you might have in your head. It is easier to adjust your ideas to reality rather than the other way around.
You are concerned about your children growing up with only one parent because you think it will impair them somehow and make their childhood inferior to children from two-parent families.
Keep In Mind
All the negative emotions you may feel towards the parent who’s opted out are well-grounded and understandable. Children are born from the efforts of two people, so it follows that the same two people should raise them. You can adjust, however, to the situation at hand.
On the positive side, you may feel relief at not having to deal with the other parent. Having joint custody can turn out to be very problematic if parents can find it difficult to agree on parenting methods and the details of daily living.
Remember that the quality of parenting is more important for the child than the number of parents involved. It is possible to grow up lonely and neglected with both parents in the family. Simply do your best to be a good parent.
Apart from the financial difficulties of raising children as a single parent, one of the reasons for concern is a fear that one parent is not enough in terms of psychological and emotional upbringing. Mothers worry that they won’t be able to provide a positive model of male behavior; fathers are concerned that they cannot teach their daughters various ‘girly stuff.’
These ideas stem from a misconception that there is a model of an ideal family and that people should aspire to achieve it. Upon failing to become an ideal family, parents get upset and unhappy that they cannot provide for their children as best as they could.
The truth is, there is nothing perfect in the world. There is no perfect family. There are neither perfect mothers nor perfect fathers. Human life is full of stresses, but these stresses teach people to adapt and survive.
Yes, your children are starting a new life without the other parent, but you can never be certain that it will have a negative effect on them. You simply do not know.
As for your own concerns as a flawed parent, psychologists have already worked out a few ideas that might be helpful in easing your anxiety.
British pediatrician Donald Winnicott came up with the term “good enough mother”, denoting a parental approach where the parent does not neglect the child, but does not strive to be too good and perfect.
In his 1987 book A Good Enough Parent, Austrian-born American psychologist Bruno Bettelheim expanded the concept of ‘good enough mothering’ to include both sexes of parents.
Bettelheim writes, “In order to raise a child well one ought not to try to be a perfect parent, as much as one should not expect one’s child to be, or to become, a perfect individual. Perfection is not within the grasp of ordinary human beings. Efforts to attain it typically interfere with that lenient response to the imperfections of others, including those of one’s child, which alone make good human relations possible.”
When you strive to achieve perfection and you fail at some point, you tend to find something or someone to blame for it. You think that problems do not arise on their own and that it must be someone’s fault. In the most optimistic of scenarios, you do not blame your child or your partner for it. However, blaming yourself is no way out either. Simply reject the idea of giving your child a perfect childhood and focus on what you can really do.
Seeing the absence of the other parent as a flaw or blemish, you should not even try to compensate for it, because that will put too much pressure on yourself. Simply adapt to the circumstances and live as best as you can in them.
In addition to a parent’s anxiety and concern about being a single parent, one of the most common problems is the child’s emotions regarding the absent parent.
Whether in mass media or in households of his peers, the child sees examples of two-parent families and starts asking himself and his single parent about the missing parent.
Sometimes, children may idealize the absent parent. Not having met him or her, they imagine that parent as someone with great qualities.
On the other hand, children may think that it was somehow their fault that the parents could not be together. As a result, they feel guilty and ashamed for being the cause of trouble for the parents.
These problems suggest that the present parent should talk to their child about the absent parent and answer their questions. Otherwise, the child will fill the gaps with something far from the truth. Untold information can turn out to be as dangerous as radiation – hidden from human senses but poisoning human flesh.
Children will think about the parent they cannot see and communicate with, and they will have emotions regarding him or her. It is in the interests of you and your child to address those emotions and thoughts so that the children learn to deal with them.
How Should I Deal With It?
The most important thing that you need to remember when dealing with your children’s questions and emotional reactions is that it is okay for your children to feel any kind of emotions. It is crucially important to live through those emotions without judgment and suppression.
What children feel about the missing parent can be compared to the loss of a close person. Therefore, the loss should be acknowledged, and the child must be allowed to experience it as such. By asking the same questions over and over again, the child processes the loss and learns to accept it.
You should give age-appropriate so that they will understand. Do not give too much information if the child has not inquired about it. When the child asks you, ‘Who was my dad?’, tell them as much as you know about his profession, age, appearance and perhaps some interests of his – but there is no need to talk about your personal relationship at this point. Give information in bits and pieces that answer the child’s inquiry.
Similarly, do not give your own interpretations. The best policy is to stick to facts. Do not worry that your facts sound too blunt. It is not up to you to ‘soften the blow.’ It is your interpretation that an absence of the parent is a ‘blow.’ The child is just receiving this fact and learning to deal with this information. For example, when your child asks, ‘Where is my mom?’ it is perfectly OK for you to say that you do not know. You can elaborate a little bit by saying, “She left the city and I have no information about her.” However, you mustn’t spin this fact as “She does not love you and that’s why she chose not to be in your life.” Leave the conclusion for your child to make when the time comes.
For children aged 3-4, we definitely want to make the story simpler and less elaborate than for tweens. However, you basically should say something along the lines of: “Mum/Dad has chosen not to be part of our lives. I know that you are upset that you cannot see him/her. I am upset too. But we can do nothing about it. I want you to understand that it is not your fault. You can’t help it. But I can always answer any question about him/her.”
At all times, control your tone. Your children should not detect hurt, pain or anger. Otherwise, they will emulate it and will think that that is the way they should feel. You can address these feelings toward the child’s other parent with a therapist.
By answering your children’s question about the absent parent in a gentle tone of voice, you provide them with moral support and reassurance. The children will understand that their feelings are normal, their thoughts are normal and there is nothing wrong with them.
Be ready to reassure your children as much as necessary. Your child may want to talk about their other parent every day at some point. Get on with it. They need it. Do not send a message that there is something wrong with their feelings and questions.
The fundamental idea that you should convey to your children when answering their questions about the absent parent is that sometimes people behave in ways that are hurtful to others. They need to understand that the fact that the other parent is not present in their life has nothing to do with who they are. That parent has no idea of who the child is becoming and apparently has no desire to. This may speak volumes of that parent, but not of the child.
At the same time, children need to have some information about both parents. The best tactic is to answer the child’s questions as early as possible so that the child can absorb and grow with that information. Keeping something about the other parent in secret may cause the child to feel guilty and ashamed.
Your overall feel regarding the other parent is highly telling to the child. Even before they are old enough to ask particular questions, they will gauge the attitude you are projecting by your reaction to the words ‘mother,’ ‘father,’ ‘parent’ and/or ‘family’. They will behave accordingly by not wanting to hurt you if you display distress when the subject of the other parent is mentioned.
Obviously it is not healthy for you to hide your emotions, either. Therefore, it is in your best interests to address the issue beforehand. It is your task as a parent to find peace with the other parent for not being in your child’s life.
Feeling a positive atmosphere around the other parent (positive not in a sense of approval but in a sense of being open to talk and explain), the child will find it easier to deal with the issue. So basically, you help your child by being honest and open about it.
As the children get older, their questions and inquiries start to get more precise and can result in searches. Even if they used to be less curious about their biological mother or father, now their interest is piqued more than ever, as adolescents try to figure out their identity. And parents are part of that identity. Your children know the parts of themselves that are linked to you, and now they want to know more about the other parent, to meet him or her maybe.
You may internalize this as betrayal, because after all these years you’ve invested in your child it feels like you’re being taken for granted, while the other parent who did absolutely nothing for them is suddenly emerging like something grand and appealing. Try to calm yourself down by controlling only the things you can control. Have a good relationship with your children, and no one can pose a threat to you and your authority in their eyes.
Besides, it is important to remain respectful when referring to the other parent. It is harmful for children to hear one parent berating the other. This affects their self-esteem and ultimately it can backfire and put blame on the parent who has been so actively involved in their child’s life (you).
Therefore, it is in you and your child’s best interests to rein in your negative feelings regarding the absent parent and let the child satisfy his or her curiosity. You need to first work through this issue by yourself in order to find a sense of security, so that you can provide emotional stability when your child needs it. Trying to find out more about the non-resident parent can be emotionally draining for your child. However, you should not try to protect the child from the possibility of rejection. Provide emotional stability and support at all times.
Create a scrapbook. It can be helpful for the child to stay connected to the other parent through a scrapbook. You can make a scrapbook with photographs of the other parent and probably some other memorabilia that you may have, such as tickets and souvenirs. The child can help do it. It creates connection for the child and the indirect communication that he or she craves so much.
Raising children is not about being right or wrong. It is critical not to try and shape a specific portrait of the absent parent in the child’s head. It is not up to you to decide whether that parent is a villain or a victim of circumstance, or something else.
Any decision you make should be filtered through the following question: “How’s it going to affect my children?” At some points you may feel that what you want for yourself (in terms of your attitude towards the child’s absent parent) is not what is best for the child.
It is possible that some time along the road, the non-resident parent will appear and want to build a relationship with the child. Please facilitate this as best as you can.
Do your best not to diss the absent parent. It was said earlier, but not being able to control your attitude can potentially harm your relationship with your children. Even if the child does not fully understand that the other parent is as much a part of their DNA as you are, they will realize it later. In the difficult times of adolescence, bad-mouthing the other parent can surface in the child’s memory banks. It will backfire on you.
Your child may exhibit a different reaction to their other parent throughout childhood. You need to take notice of the way your child reacts to information about the other parent or to the fact that that parent has not been around. From intent curiosity in early childhood, the child can turn to withdrawal. From mild curiosity the child can arrive at a willingness to track the absent parent down and see them face to face. All types of reactions are the child’s way of dealing with it. Just be prepared.
Validate your child’s feelings. The best way you can help your child cope with the loss of the other parent is to listen to them and acknowledge their feelings. This means repeating and rewording what you hear your child saying: “I hear that you are angry at your father/mother for not being there for you and I understand you.” You may suggest that the child visit a professional psychologist about it.
Lying is the worst policy. If you delayed talking with your child about the other parent, or if you lied about the other parent – for example, you said that he or she died – the moment when the child finally finds out the truth can be very devastating for your relationship. The child will feel betrayed and unable to trust you anymore. Think about whether you want to answer these questions: “Why did you bother to tell me that?”, “Is there anything else you are lying to me about?”, “Why did you keep this from me?”, “Do you think I can ever trust you again?” The earlier the child knows, the easier it is for you to explain and talk.
A major idea that can be liberating for some people is that providing a happy childhood for your child is up to you and you only. Not to the other parent; not to your parents; not to any other person but you.
It is liberating to know this, because it relieves you of concern for the absent parent. You do not need to worry that your child is missing something that he or she could get from the other parent. Even two parents taking care of one child cannot guarantee everything.
A willingness to rely on the other parent is the major reason why the child sometimes gets zero mature parents – instead of picking up the slack, each parent shifts the child on to the other or to third parties.
A miserable mother curses the father who dodges child caring duties. An unhappy father curses the mother who cannot take care of the baby and be thankful to him. Each of these parents cannot even fathom that they should take care of the child on their own – after all, the other parent should be involved, right?
However, the mentality of happy parents is absolutely different. They see their child as an absolute value and they want to take care of their child under any circumstances; sometimes even more than themselves. Therefore, if you find yourself in a situation where you are the lone caretaker of your child, be sure that you can do it on your own.
At the same time, a happy-mentality parent understands that a parent’s role is to make the child independent and ready for life in society. The older the child gets, the more independent and self-sufficient they are expected to get. The child should gradually learn how to take care of himself or herself. Without the absent parent, and without anyone else.
Strength is a sure way to be happy. Your goal and role are to raise a strong individual that is able to take care of themselves and is not lacking in energy, assertiveness and confidence.
Before raising the child on your own, deal with all the emotions and feelings you have regarding the other parent and the situation on the whole. When you leave anger and indignation unaddressed, these feelings get pent up, and they will poison the atmosphere both in the house and between you and the child. Feeling your attitude, the child will not ask as many questions as they would want. This will interfere with their process of coping with the loss of the other parent.
However, as soon as you address what you think and feel about the other parent, you will be able to provide emotional support for your child throughout their childhood. No matter how unpleasant and traumatic the situation is, open conversations help process and deal with it.
Keep communication channels open and rest assured that having at least one mature parent is a great foundation in any individual’s life.