The objective of this article is to offer some suggestions for fathers who may be dealing with children whose mother has left them.
By: Susan Adams, M. Ed.
Desertion by a Mother/ Avoiding Troubled Teens
Summary: The desertion by a mother may be harder for children to understand because mother’s are more often seen as caretakers. When children experience abandonment and they feel rejected it can lead to personality and behavior problems as they mature. If they can be supported and guided by the other adults in the family to see the problem as being with the deserter and not with the child, there is often a better outcome. The prevention of problems for adolescence, begins early in childhood. There are three reasons for desertion. This article will discuss those and offer some suggestions for dealing with them.
- Mother has left to pursue something else besides her family–a career or more education that she thought the marriage blocked. As a father, you want to spare your children as much pain as possible. Little by little, let them know what has happened and how. To begin with, perhaps you could say that she loves them but doesn’t feel that she can be a good mother to them because her own desires have gotten in the way. The children need to come to understand their mother and what motivates her. This is something that happens gradually over time. They need to understand that the leaving is about HER and not about them. They need to understand that maybe she married before she was ready or could not give up whatever her dreams were that did not match having a family. This is not an excuse but an explanation. They need to see her as having trouble being an adult. The children need permission to feel sad but help to come to terms with the reality of the situation.
- Sometimes the interest is another man and the children know it. The children may ask, “if your wife left you for someone else, does she love him more than us?” This is not a question that you can answer. In fact, sometimes love is useless because it makes us feel bad. You can only say that people love their children and their husbands differently You can’t compare the feelings. Many times people get so centered on what they want,they fool themselves into thinking that no one will be hurt. Thus, it isn’t that mother WANTS to hurt the children. She is living in a world right now where she is not in touch with the effects of what she is doing. This is all a lesson for children about what not to copy. The children, remembering their hurt, must remember to focus decision making on how what they are thinking of doing makes others feel.
- Sometimes a mother who is incompetent to bring up children is actually mentally ill. She may be so unfit that it is best for everyone if she is relieved of the responsibility. In that case, a child needs help in learning what mental illness is–that it IS an illness and not something to be ashamed of. More often, of course, the situation is less extreme, and children see their absent mothers regularly–just as they do absent fathers. They are usually better off knowing their mothers firsthand, instead of building fantasies abut them.
There is one more kind of desertion and it is piecemeal. It isn’t total abandonment as described above. It is, rather, continual disappointments in not following through for birthday parties or outings with the child or children. Sometimes a clean break, especially with very young children rather than constant letdowns that affect the development of trust is better. These are extreme cases. You need to explain to the child that mother – or father-has trouble following through on promises and so, for a while anyway, it is best not to have any more dates. A counselor can help you decide whether the irresponsible parent can change or not and whether the disappointments are too hard on your child.