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Parents   »   When a parent disappears from the child’s life

When a parent disappears from the child’s life

The risk of disappering from a child’s lifte after a divorce is greater if you have not been involved in the child’s everyday life while living together. For example, if you have foregone parental leave, the risk increases. Losing contact with a parent creates questions for children, even if the parent was not engages earlier either.

Children need support when a parent (or other important adult) disappears

It can be really tough for kids when they lose a parent or an important adult in their life. They need help from the people who are still around to talk and process their feelings. They might wonder why they were chosen to be left behind, and if they aren’t important. It’s important to explain calmly and objectively why the other parent can’t or won’t see them – this is not the same as speaking badly about someone. Talking about difficult things makes them more understandable. It helps children put words to their experiences. This understanding helps children control their reactions and emotions.

Be prepared if/when the child needs you

Of course, you should respect it if the child doesn’t want to talk, but you can still gently bring up the subject every now and then to see if you can get a conversation going. Be prepared for questions to come up when you least expect it, like in the grocery store line. Try to take the time to meet the child in that moment even if you can’t talk more in detail right then. Bring up the conversation again at a calmer close time to when the child wanted to talk.

When children break contact so that a parent disappears

A broken contact can also occur on the child’s initiative. It may be that the child is temporarily angry at the parent who left the family or has a new partner. It can also be that the contact with the adult can be harmful or even dangerous. Even in this situation, the child needs support. The child needs to be able to talk about their feelings, whether it’s disappointment, anger or fear. You can give the child security by being available and talking when the child wants to. Or just hang out and do things together.

When we talk about what is happening, the child gets a context

It is neither desirable nor possible to keep silent about a absent parent. Many children know too little about their absent parent and then create a fantasy that can be far from reality. The fantasy can act as a consolation, but it is weak as a replacement for a parent. It means a lot to the child that we help to fill the void and give a sense of context. Even if we cannot give any clear answers and explanations, a shared story is more valuable than one the child creates alone.

Malin Bergström
Child psychologist