Supporting Your Children When Your Ex Drops Out of the Picture
Divorce with children is hard even when parents are cooperative and devoted to doing everything they can to maintain their relationships with their kids. However, when one parent decides to disengage during or after the divorce, it can be devastating to children. As the parent left to pick up the pieces, you will not only have to parent alone, but your kids will need you more than ever to get them through this crisis. While it's impossible to undo the damage, there are ways to help support your children when your ex drops out of the picture.
Get Help if Needed
It’s difficult to imagine what a child goes through when their parent suddenly stops seeing or talking to them. Kids tend to internalize their parents’ conflicts during divorce and could feel that this rejection is because they did something wrong or made the parent want to leave. They may also think the other parent is at fault for rejecting the absent parent. When a parent stops contact, it is confusing and painful for kids. Without someone to talk to, children are left to draw from their own experiences and impressions to make sense of being abandoned. Talk to your kids and listen to their thoughts and feelings. While they may tell you some things, they may also need a neutral person such as a therapist to help them cope with the situation and thoroughly express their emotions.
Be Honest but Don’t Make it Worse
Your kids are likely to ask you why the other parent left them, and while you may have a strong opinion of your ex's character flaws, it's important to answer as best you can without making it worse. They don't have the life experience and emotional maturity to process you telling them things such as mom or dad left because they are selfish and a bad person. Making these statements can contribute to growing anxiety and feelings of rejection. It's okay to tell the truth that mom or dad left because of their own problems and issues and not because of you. Remind your children you love them and that this is not their fault. It won't take away the hurt, but it can help your kids to hear the truth and get reassurance from you.
Be Prepared for the Parent to Come Back
In some cases, a parent will leave permanently, but often absent parents will try to make contact with their kids again at some point. It could be a birthday card, message on social media, call at Christmas, or even showing up at your front door months or even years after they left. This is a tough situation, and it is difficult to know how to protect your kids. If your children are young and the parent has been gone for a significant period, the sudden appearance could be confusing and upsetting for them. Older children may want to confront the parent or may even be grateful that they came back. It may be best to get a family therapist involved to help all of you navigate this situation. You may also need to return to court to make changes to the parenting schedule which will allow your kids time to get used to having the parent back in their lives.