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When Fathers Desert/Preventing Troubled Teens

The objective of this article is to provide some suggestions for mothers who are raising the children in the face of the desertion of their father.

By: Susan Adams, M. Ed.

When Fathers Desert/Preventing Troubled Teens

Summary: When a father disengages from the family following a divorce the children can feel abandoned. This sense of abandonment can lead to problems as the children mature in the sense of faulty role models which make for acting out behavior and a false sense of what men do. This article provides three suggestions for dealing with a father who abandons the children.

When a father doesn’t provide for his family at all and doesn’t even try, the problem is complex. It is a hard blow for children to realize that the father is incompetent, no good, or indifferent as he may hear people say. Far from deciding that he must try not to be like his father, his self-esteem may be weakened and he may wonder how he can be good if his father is bad? Therefore, information must be presented skillfully to him that though his father is imperfect there were some good things about him.These good things should be copied while the disappointing things should not. He needs help to grow up thinking of himself as he is even though he may look like his father and have some of his mannerisms.

A mother who has been able to come to terms with her own sense of betrayal and injury can perhaps, offer her a picture of the father that highlights his good points as SHE sees them–why she married him–without denying his obvious defects. “He was handsome, he had a good sense of humor.” The trouble was that he spent his money as soon as he made it and he drank too much.” Mother goes on to say that this was sad because he was a nice person in many ways. This helps the children when mother says nice things about a deserting father, to stay out of loyalty conflicts.

When a long absent or dead father remains an unknown person, children tend to make fantasies about him. He can become a villain on whom they blame everything that goes wrong, or a fairy prince who will one day reappear and cure all their troubles. Neither vision is healthy. Children should gradually learn the truth about the absent father so they can see him as a person with both human faults and human virtues–like the rest of us. When a parent is absent it is helpful to have relatives who can be objective, tell stories to the children about past events to highlights both strengths and weaknesses of the absent father. Children need to have a sense of the father who is absent.

It is very important, in summary, to allow children to know the truth about an absent father. Protecting the children by covering over the misdeeds of the father sets them up for disappointment, leaves them to question whether they are to blame or not, and leads to faulty role modeling on the part of the children (l).


l. Gardner, Richard, M.D. The Boys and Girls Book About Divorce. Science House: new York, l970.

When Fathers Desert/Preventing Troubled Teens


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