My son has acquired a new friendship with a boy his age that lives down the street from us. They have become quite close and it was recently that I learned his dad is a single father because his wife walked away from their family when his children were less than 2 years old. His kids have never met their mother and have told my son that they think she died. This boy plays wonderfully with my son and when he had left to go home one day, I let my son know that he was a really great friend and that this boy probably needs a good friendship since it is probably hard for him to not have his mother. My son uttered words that will forever speak volumes to an absent parent. My son said, “Ya, probably as hard as it is for me living without my dad.”
Shudder. My son equals losing a mother to death with having a dad who is barely in the picture. The intensity in that one sentence brought me closer into the reality my son is living with everyday. Living without his dad most days to him feels like his dad isn’t around at all.
Children grieve differently than adults. Adults are more experienced in grief and disappointment first hand. Most adults have experienced the range of emotions that go with this and have learned ways to cope with loss. Although divorce or separation is traumatic for us as adults, we have more maturity for learning ways to “move on”. For children, they begin their journey not understanding fully the loss they are encountering, especially if that loss happens as a very young child. As they age, they realize the loss they experienced deeper and deeper. They are aware more and more of the absent parent and what they will never experience first hand. A child may feel guilty for the absent parent. They may feel they, for some reason is responsible for the other parent being distant or not available at all. They also may feel like they are a burden to the active parent. Children do not know how to express guilt in the same ways as adults and may be observed in behaviors or emotions that are negatively self-reflective.
So what are we to do? How can we ease these feelings and inspire healing? I have a few suggestions:
- Squash negative thinking. Be sure that you are not reinforcing any negative talk from your child. Even if what they are saying is true, be sensitive to what your words will reinforce especially if it is reflective of how they view themselves.
- Express your blessings. Tell them that you are blessed to be their mother/father each and every day. Let them know the things you love about them and why you are a better person because they are in your life.
- Be informative. Let them know how many people love and support them, by name. “Uncle Joe, Cousin Susie, our friend Vickie, love you so very much and are available to you when you need them.”
- The details of your situation are not important. Do not worry that your child understands exactly why the other parent is not around. It really doesn’t matter and does not help your child cope with the loss.
- Intercede for your child. Unfortunately, we are not always blessed with the possibility to speak with the absent parent on behalf of how their actions cause infliction upon our children. If it is possible, constructive conversations are necessary to stand in the gap for your child and what they need. If these conversations are not possible you should still be interceding for your child in prayer.
Married at the young age of 20, a mom by 24 and divorced at 29, Meg Lowery brings her life experiences to her blog, The Single Parenting Journey, to provide hope and encouragement to others in her situation. Meg is originally from Southern California but now resides in Colorado Springs, CO with her son and is the Communications Director for Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk. Her blog is featured on their website, DrJamesDobson.org. Meg holds a Communications Degree from The University of Phoenix and has over 15 years experience in Marketing Communication in the worlds of Print, Radio, Web, Social Media and Customer Service. In her “spare time” she leads her private business for social media marketing and website strategy. Her clients have included: Dr. Meg Meeker, I am Second, e3 Partners and others.
The Life of a Single Mom (TLSM) is a 501c3 nonprofit that exists to serve single parents and those who work with single parents. We are fully accredited through a variety of organizations that include high levels of financial accountability and awards for our premiere financial stewardship, including GuideStar, Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability, Great Nonprofits, Chamber of Commerce, LANO, and others.