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Mommy, Where’s Daddy?

By Sara G. Stephens

daddy

She’s a single mom who gets little public attention and much less support, despite the growing number of parents who share her plight. She is the parent who essentially raises her child alone due to absences previously not categorized under the “single mom” umbrella, such as those stemming from a father’s professional occupation, military deployment, abandonment, or even incarceration. These moms often fall under the radar of our self-help society, which is why we’re dedicating this Father’s Day feature to them.

Maybe something written here will serve up the best Father’s Day gift of all for both absent dads and the moms who fill their boots: a happier, healthier parent-child relationship and, most importantly, a happier, healthier child.

 

jimenez_family_photoAbsence Due to Occupation
Mom: Aira Rios

Father: Erik
Child: Nikolas, 2

Aira and Erik Rios have always had a rushed relationship. In Aira’s words, they “did everything backwards.” Aira crushed on Erik on high school, but they did not share a romantic relationship. After high school, the two reconnected through Facebook, dated, and one month later were expecting a baby. The couple moved in together four months later, and within a few months were parents to Nikolas Rios—all before their one-year dating anniversary. The couple got married in October 2012.

The freshly-baked Mom and Dad had to work harder at parenthood than most new parents, because, in many ways, they were still boyfriend and girlfriend.

But the curve balls of this couple’s life didn’t end there. Erik is a mud engineer, meaning he follows an oil rig around, working and living on-site in a trailer, and is on call 24 hours. At the beginning of the relationship, Erik would stay away for one to two months at a time, then come home for one or two months. It was a workable situation while Aira was pregnant, and once Nikolas was born, Aira admits it was nice to have her husband home 24/7 for such a long period of time. But then it was time for Erik to return to work, and Aira had to instantly readjust and create a new schedule for her son. “I couldn’t cry when Erik went away, even with all my post-partum emotions,” Aira says. “I had to focus on my son and the family and on getting things done without him.”

When Erik eventually came home, the parenting process was a virtual “reset,” with Aira having to consciously let her husband back in, revamp schedules, explain new routines, and with Erik having to acclimate to the mindset of father and husband, change diapers, feed bottles, and rock the baby to sleep. “It was an investment for us both,” Aira admits.

The transition for Erik and son was rocky, at best. As a baby, Nikolas fussed whenever Aira left him with Erik. “He preferred Mommy to Daddy, which was understandable for me, but emotional for my husband,” Aira explains. “My son just didn’t know him, and all Nikolas could sense was ‘stranger danger’.” To this day, father and son have to get reacquainted every time Erik comes home from his extended work absences before the relationship gets comfortable.

New responsibilities made it immediately clear that the schedule had to change. When baby was around six months old, Erik began working two to four weeks away from home, then returning for the same amount of time.

Erik has been fortunate with his bosses, who show remarkable sensitivity for the challenges presented by Erik’s work and family life. The Rios family now enjoys a schedule of two weeks at home and two weeks away, which is more conducive to developing healthy bonds between father and son.

During times of separation, Aira works toward maintaining this bond with regular phone calls. But she concedes that much of what goes on during his absence, Erik must experience on his own when he comes home. “It’s an adjustment process that will be ongoing, because life will always be like this.” Aira sometimes jokes with her husband about finding another job, but she’s prepared herself for the struggles associated with Erik’s career, because this is the job he had when they first began dating, and it’s a job he loves to do. “I know he would never be happy in an 8-5 job, and I have to support him in his choice,” she says.

Aira’s biggest concern in the long run is the emotional toll that Erik’s absence may take on Nikolas. “I want him to know that Mom and Dad are together,” she says, “but if he can’t physically see us together, the idea could be confusing for him.”

Aira wishes there were a support group for moms in her situation. The oil industry is its own world, and Aira has yet to discover a network of women with husbands in the same line of work so she can see how they manage things. As it is, she’s been figuring out this unorthodox style of parenting for herself.
Nikolas is now two years old, and his cognitive skills are growing. The Rios family enjoys more phone conversations, and Aira and Erik text frequently. “My husband is not into technology, so we don’t do face time with Skype, plus he doesn’t have time for that,” Aira says.

Nikolas also has a personal photo album where he keeps pictures of Mom, Dad, and Mom and Dad together. Aira is conscientious about asking Nikolas questions about his father, like where he is, to which her son replies, “Daddy’s at work.” The intention is to keep Erik in the picture and a visible part of Nikolas’ everyday life. Sometimes a photograph will trigger a funny story, something Dad said on the phone, or a funny moment they shared his last time home. “I never let Erik be ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” Aira says. “I do these things on a daily basis, because I want my son to know his dad has not left; he’s just gone temporarily.”

Aira’s Advice to Moms with an Absent Parent:

Reflect on what you have, as opposed to what you don’t have. If you have a healthy child, focus on that. And remember that it could always be worse than it is. Embrace your situation. Look at the good side. You are a single parent, and, yes, it can be hard. Tell yourself you are doing a good job.

 

 

cantu_mom_and_dad_date_nightAbsence Due to Military

Mom: Marianne Cantu

Father: Raul

Child: Alina (Lin), 3; John, 1

Marianne Cantu used to be a schoolteacher in Aldine ISD. She moved away from Houston in June 2008, immediately after marrying Raul Cantu, who is active-duty Army. She now lives in Washington but was eager to share her experience as a military wife and mom.

On April 16, 2012, Raul left for a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan. “It was the hardest day of my life,” Marianne says. The couple had a two-month-old son, John, as well as a two-year-old daughter, Lin, a Daddy’s girl, through and through. Marianne quickly realized that, although a military deployment is extremely challenging for parents, the situation is hardest on children, especially younger children.

“Lin could tell anyone that her Daddy was in Afghanistan,” Marianne says. “When asked why he was there, she would say that he was ‘being a hero.’ But, ultimately, she had no understanding of why her Daddy was gone day in and day out. No matter how much I explained to her that Daddy was coming home in nine months or that Daddy was serving his country, she was never able to understand what was really going on.”

Marianne says there are many inconsistencies in soldiers’ deployments that only exacerbate the family’s confusion and sense of loss. When a soldier is deployed, he has no idea what to expect of the conditions of the COP or post where he’ll be stationed until he gets there. Some COPs are equipped with computers and Internet, while others aren’t. Some COPs have phones readily available, but others are equipped only with satellite phones that allow for only one call per week per soldier. “We, as family members, have to sit on pins and needles and wait to hear from our soldiers to find out if we should write letters by hand, send emails, or if we’ll receive regular phone calls,” Marianne explains.

Raul has seen the worst and the best of COPs in his four deployments. His latest experience was the cushiest to date, according to Marianne. Soldiers had computers and phones readily available. Five days into deployment, Marianne started getting regular phone calls. Around three weeks into deployment, the family was able to Skype and did so for 20 minutes most mornings, except when Raul was out on a mission or otherwise unable to call.

“My daughter waited for the calls,” Marianne recalls. “She knew that she would get a call about the same time every morning, usually during Super Why, a show on PBS. So I would make her milk for her, and she would sit in her chair and wait for Super Why to come on. I would open up the computer, and she would listen for the Skype ring. As soon as she heard it, she would run for the computer to get in front of it and be there when Daddy showed up on the screen.

“She would tell Raul about her previous day, bringing him up to date on the important details of a two-year-old’s life. Often, she would even ‘cook’ him breakfast on her kitchen, and bring it over to the laptop for him. He would pretend to eat it, and they were able to play together.”

Marianne is certain that these calls—and most importantly, their consistency—got Lin through the deployment. “While it wasn’t the same as having Daddy up close and personal, they were able to maintain their relationship,” Marianne says. “Their bond was strong when he returned, and they picked up right where they left off.”

The Skype calls were also important to Marianne’s son, John, who was just an infant when Raul deployed. Although Raul was gone for almost the entire first year of John’s life, Skype made it possible for Dad to watch his son grow and change. The daily 20-minute calls created a familiarity between the two that otherwise might not have formed. So when Raul returned, he and John walked into an instant relationship. “He’s now a daddy’s boy,” Marianne reports.

The life of a military wife and parent is hard, but if you ask Marianne, the good outweighs the bad. She works through Raul’s deployments by taking pride in her husband and deriving strength from her children. “If not for them, I think I would have spent the entire deployment moping in bed. But that wasn’t possible because I had two little ones who counted on me.” Marianne realizes that even during her husband’s absence, life has to go on, with trips to the zoo and to the park and all the things that make a child’s life healthy and joyful. She has learned to deal with her single-parent situation, and has learned a lot about herself in the process. “I learned that I could clean out gutters and cut grass. I learned that I could ask for help, and I learned to appreciate every second with my husband when he is here,” Marianne reveals. “Ultimately, the deployment and the separation made our marriage and our family that much stronger. So it seems like it is an impossible feat, but it gets easier day by day, and it is just part of who we are.”
 
Marianne’s Advice to Moms with an Absent Parent:

I think that there are four things that a child needs to help them cope during the absence of a parent:

1. Contact. Regardless of the method, children need to know that their “absent” parent is still there for them.

2. Consistency. Children should be able to rely on the regularity of their parent’s contact– something they can look forward to with excitement and expectation.

3. Reliability. Children need to be able to rely on and lean on the parent that is still around. Lin and I talked about daddy every single day. I wasn’t a single parent, because I still had an amazing husband who was doing his job and who was coming home, but I still had to fulfill the role of Mom and Dad while he was gone. Both of my kids knew that they could count on me.

4. Protection. As far as the media goes, I try to shield my kids as much as possible. If the kids are allowed to watch TV, the channel has to stay on PBS. It’s hard with older children because they are exposed in school. But we [Army wives] try to do our best.

 

 

Dassler_Tommy_&_meAbsence Due to Abandonment

Mom: Lisa Dassler

Father: Peter

Child: Tommy, 16

Not all military mom stories turn out like Marianne’s. Houstonian Lisa Dassler had been dating her boyfriend, Peter, for two years when the couple was faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Although Lisa had no desire to enter a marriage out of a sense of parental obligation, she finally agreed to marry Peter after three persistent proposals. Little did Lisa know that her husband had enlisted in the military. She found out a few days before their wedding, and Peter left for basic training the day after the wedding. Lisa went through her pregnancy alone, seeing her husband only once at graduation after basic training.

By this time, Lisa was eight months pregnant. “It went from the pregnancy being discussed to the pregnancy being absolutely there,” she said.

Lisa gave birth to her son Tommy in March 1997. When Tommy was six months old, Peter was ready for the family to move in with him in North Carolina. The move was emotionally difficult for Lisa, who is the oldest of eight children with very close ties to her family. “It was a big deal to move,” she admits. Still, the young mom was eager to launch into family life. Mustering all her courage, she packed her belongings and moved to North Carolina with her son on Labor Day weekend. At the month’s end, Peter made an astounding announcement: he no longer wanted to be married. He was “not ready for a family.”

Lisa found herself packing her suitcase again, with a few of her belongings and most of her son’s things, to move back to Houston to live with her mother and father.

Tommy began experiencing the effects of his father’s absence when he was around six or seven years old. Lisa has four brothers who are active uncles in her son’s life, but Tommy began expressing his awareness of the difference between those relationships and the one he was missing. It truly affected him by the time he was eight years old. “He broke down and cried, exclaiming, ‘I wish I had my Dad. Why don’t I have my Dad? Why doesn’t he love me?’” Lisa recalls. “I wanted to curse the man. But I chose not to disrespect him. Instead I was honest, explaining, ‘Your father had other things going on his life; it had nothing to do with you.’ It was the hardest thing—to see my son suffering so and feel helpless to change anything.”

At the time, Lisa had no communication with her ex and didn’t even know where he was living. Fueled by her son’s mounting desperation, she reached out to the Attorney General and eventually tracked Peter down, connecting with him via phone. “Your son would like to meet you,” she told him.

Finally, at age 12, Tommy spent two weekends with his father. Upon returning home, Tommy conveyed to his mom that he didn’t want to visit his dad again. “Nothing bad happened,” Lisa says. “He just felt like the relationship wasn’t there.”

Tommy is now 16 years old. He and Lisa continue to live in her parents’ home. Child support from Peter has been sporadic, at best. Father-son interaction has been non-existent.

Lisa observes that her son is very angry. His emotions are perhaps rooted in the fact that Peter has moved on and now has three other children, for whom he has provided an apparently normal and healthy family life. Lisa says it’s hard for her son to understand why his father was able to have a relationship with other children, but not with him.

The teenage years have been especially challenging. “My son always asks me, ‘How do you not hate him?’” she confides. “I tell him, ‘That’s what your father did to me, not to you. It hurt when it happened, yes. In life, you hurt, but you move on. Hate only serves to hurt you more.’”

Taking the high road is just one way Lisa has met her parenting challenges. She admits to spoiling her child. “I get him every video game he wants, because I want to fill that hole,” she says, adding that she does so despite the potential drawbacks of this approach. “But he’s really a good kid, especially considering that I’ve spoiled him so much. I’m blessed with that. I know that I have overdone it, but hopefully it’s helped him be happy.”

Lisa has gone out of her way, too, to convey to Tommy that he has a mom who can do it all. When it came time to assemble that new bike, Mom did it. “I made a point of not asking my brothers, because I wanted my son to feel we don’t need a dad. I’ve definitely overdone this aspect of parenting.”

Tommy exhibits positive traits as an outcome of his untraditional upbringing. Lisa notes that her 16-year-old nephew, whose parents are married and active in the boy’s life, demonstrates more defiance than her son, and questions his parents more. “My son tests the boundaries, but he ultimately will say, ‘Mom says no,’ and that’s it. If I say I can’t afford to do something, he knows I really can’t.”

But there are negative outcomes to Tommy’s single-parent upbringing that Lisa finds hard to ignore. For one, he doesn’t trust men. Lisa notes that her son does not have male role models. He loves his uncles, but is not comfortable in one-on-one time with men. “My married friends will try to take him on outings, like to a ball game, but he’s not interested,” Lisa explains. “He’s very naturally introverted, so maybe it’s just his personality, or maybe he just doesn’t know how to accept that kind of relationship.”

When Tommy was around 13, Lisa took him through the Big Brother program, in search of a male role model. It took her son a long time to trust his relationship with the big brother assigned to him. But they eventually bonded. It lasted for around a year, then the “big brother” got engaged, dropped the program—and dropped Tommy. “Another man let him down,” Lisa says. “I suggested we try another big brother, that there was nothing personal about the other relationship ending. But the experience left its mark.”

As Tommy grows older, and shows an interest in girls and dating, Lisa is increasingly aware of the boundaries set by gender and her role as mother. “I’m a woman, he’s a guy, and he can’t talk to me about those things.” She continues to try to help her son overcome negative associations with men so he can have someone to talk to about these aspects of life.

“I pray all the time that he finds peace in his heart,” Lisa says, adding that her ex didn’t have a father in his life and survived an abusive childhood. When the couple started dating, he swore to Lisa, “I’ll never do that to my child.”

Lisa, too, grew up in a single-parent home with no father in the picture. Her mother left her in different places and simply was not prepared for having three children. “I went through a whole lot while she tried to figure out her situation,” Lisa says. “I made a vow that I wouldn’t be a mom like her.” In contrast to her ex, Lisa kept her promise.

“My child comes first for me,” she says. “I want him to have a happy childhood.”

Lisa’s advice to moms with an absent parent:

If you’re angry at the absent parent, don’t spread that anger to your child. Talk to your friends or siblings to vent. Your child’s already hurting, going through his own emotions. You’re the parent he’s connected to. Be supportive and as present as you can be.

I was a victim of child abuse, raped as a teen. I never lose the hope I have in my heart for this world. By the grace of God, I want to leave my son with this same sense of hope. It’s why I wake up every morning to do what I do.

 

 

quintanilla_adri_christian_allie_bryanAbsence Due to Incarceration

Mom: Adri Quintanilla, age 45

Father: Marco 

Children: Mark, 27; Michael, 22; Allie, 21; Christian, 10; Bryan, 9 

Marco was sent to state prison in May 2008, leaving his wife, Adri, with five kids.. The three oldest kids were born in Houston. In 2006, the family moved to McAllen, Texas, where Adri gave birth to her two youngest kids. Her husband, Marco, was heavily involved in drugs, from doing them to dealing them. He eventually began involving the kids in his drug-saturated lifestyle. Mark smoked pot when he was 11, and Michael engaged later. When Adri confronted them about it, the boys told her that drugs were the way to relieve stress—from Dad’s lips to theirs.

One morning, Adri woke up and said, “No more.” She drove to Houston with her five kids and started life from the absolute bottom—no car, no job, no furniture—nothing but the will to start a new life.

One year later, Marco showed up at Adri’s doorstep, wanting to work things out. But he hadn’t changed. Within 12 months, he was sitting behind bars, his probation from his earlier conviction in McAllen having been revoked when he left the country.

Starting over– all over again–was a struggle for Adri. But she contends that removing her family from such a negative environment was the best thing she could have done. She wants other women who might be in the same place to know that, although scary, getting away and getting a fresh start is the best thing they can do.

Adri credits her brother with her survival and success. When she got to Houston, he sat her down and said, “You have wasted 23 years. What do you want with your life?” Together, the brother and sister made a list of goals, which included her desire for landing a job, buying a house in a good neighborhood, and getting her citizenship. Today, Adri is proud to say she’s accomplished everything on her list. She works at an independent insurance agent’s office from 9 am to 3:30 pm, after which she picks up the kids from school, then works as a safety inspector for a trucking company. Her hard work has paid off. In October 2012, she moved into her dream neighborhood.

“I thank God every day,” Adri says. “I accomplished more in one year than I did in the 23 years I was married to that man.”

As of this writing, Marco was scheduled to be released from prison on May 10, 2013. He wants to see his children. Adri has full custody of Christian and Bryan and will not allow it.

Besides the expense of time and money her ex has cost her, Adri focuses intently on the struggle it’s been to get her kids where they are now. “They’re good kids,” she says, adding that, “The older kids were good too, but at the end they were smoking weed because their Dad was doing it.” It took a lot of time and effort for Adri to make her older kids understand this wasn’t the right path, it was only the easy path, and it would lead them to the same place as their father.

“The only thing I can say is I ask God to help him and to keep [Marco] away from my family and from me,” she says.

Adri understands the theoretical ideal that it’s generally a good thing for a kid to know his absent father. One weekend in 2010, her 23-year-old son convinced Adri to let Christian and Bryan visit their father in prison based on this very argument. When the kids returned from the prison visit, things got crazy. “Monday came, and [Christian and Bryan] said, ‘We don’t have to listen to you, our Dad says we don’t!’” When her oldest son talked to Christian, the boy told him it was Mom’s fault their father was in prison. He knew it was true, because Marco had told him so.

Adri refused to let the kids see Marco after this incident. Incensed, he began calling her and threatening, “When I get out, I’m going there, and the kids are coming with me.” Adri is anxious that Marco will try to take her children. Her father worries for her safety. Marco lost his citizenship with his conviction and will be deported upon release. But this doesn’t do much to calm Adri’s fears, given her ex’s history of disregarding and evading the law. “If he tries to cross the border into the U.S. after being deported, he’d better stay far away from me. I will pick up the phone and call immigration on him,” she vows.

Adri is convinced Christian and Bryan are better off without their father, but she acknowledges some ways in which Marco’s absence has affected her kids. At least one son has been affected dramatically. He remembers feeling the family never had a real home, constantly bouncing from one house and school to the next, while his mom tried to get settled in Houston. He expresses a great deal of anger and resentment toward his father. Adri’s daughter, Allie, remembers a dad who was always running from the law, and Allie believes the experience has affected Allie in her relationships.

Adri’s son Michael tries to diminish the negative impact of his father’s absence on his two youngest brothers, telling them that Dad loves them. But beyond not knowing their father, Brian and Christian suffer from the stigma of having a father in prison. They attend a very small Catholic school with only 200 students. The kids tell their mom, “Every time we have something at school, it’s always just you. We don’t have a Dad. He’s never been there.”

“Thank goodness for Michael,” Adri says. “He’s the only father figure they have.”

Adri has worked hard, with much sacrifice, to do right by her kids. She even followed the Golden Rule of single parenting: never speak ill of the other parent. But the older Golden Rule impressed upon Adri was, “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” So Adri said nothing. But she’s now forced to reconsider her actions on that count. “My biggest mistake is I have never talked to my kids about their father. My daughter confronted me in 2009, asking, ‘Why did you do this? I know everything, Mother.’ My oldest son had told Allie about her father. She said to me, ‘I know who he is and what he’s done. Why didn’t you tell us? We wouldn’t have grown up resenting you.’” It turns out that Marco had been telling his older kids that Adri was “the bad one.” He had put it in their minds that Adri was the reason he did drugs. He said he sold drugs because Adri needed the money.

But Adri stood by the principles upon which she was raised. Her father was an alcoholic, and she was told “Whatever you do, you don’t accuse your dad.” Adri’s mother never spoke ill of her husband, and to this day, never has.

No doubt, Adri believes with all her soul in the sanctity of family and parenthood. She simply can’t find a way to make the complete picture work in her situation. “Honestly, I know there’s no hope for a normal, healthy relationship between my kids and their father,” she says. “When I left McAllen, Mark was already in trouble with the law. Marco’s sons took the blame for him twice.” Adri has helped her sons through their subsequent legal battles, and prays that those days are now behind her.

“My fear as a mother is his coming back,” she conveys. “He hasn’t changed, I know. He’s never worked an honest day in his life. He doesn’t have a place to go. He’s getting deported. I know he will choose the easy path again.”

Adri’s Advice to Moms with an Absent Parent:

Don’t suffer anyone. Breaking out on your own is frightening. But you can do it. You and your children will be better off for it.

 

Expert Advice

Some basic principles for coping with and absent-parent situation, according to Amy Fuller, PhD, and Houston-based family psychologist. “A lot of times a single parent feels the constant struggle of failure, shame, guilt—the belief that her kids are going to be messed up,” Fuller says. “But a lot of kids are raised in single-parent homes, and they turn out perfectly okay. It’s not a death sentence.”

Statistics speak nothing but negatives: Single-parent kids are more likely to be incarcerated, divorce, use drugs, become prostitutes—anything you don’t want your kids to do. “Yes, these kids are at a disadvantage, but dwelling on that and predicting that self-fulfilling prophecy won’t help,” Fuller stresses. “Rather, it simply sets kids up for a double failure.”

Fuller suggests that half of a kid’s being okay is a parent’s thinking she’s going to be okay. “It’s what we predict for our kids that determines their potential,” she says. “My kids are going to college. We went, their grandparents went, and we expect them to. If they didn’t go to college, it would be odd, because our expectations are communicated at an early age. We teach our kids what we believe they can be.”

Fuller offers key points to be considered by the “remaining parent” in an “absent parent” situation:

1. Take care of yourself. Exercise, get rest, have friends, and work through any negative emotional baggage to help heal wounds, so kids aren’t shackled with them. Kids adjust based on how parents adjust. Live what you want your kids to live. It’s easier said than done, because mothers aren’t geared toward self-care. Any time we engage in it, we feel guilty. Sometimes, a child senses this, and starts to fill in for the absent parent to take care of you. This is not healthy for anyone. You need to find ways to creatively find time for yourself and meet your own needs.

2. Find ways to connect in communities, whether they be faith-based or social or neighborhood-oriented, to create mentoring relationships with other adults and children to fill gaps created by absent parent. Try the church, the YMCA, or Boy/Girl Scouts. Even grandparents fall into the community. Your kids need someone to facilitate relationships and the small things in life; otherwise they’re left not knowing how to ask a girl on a date or even use a tampon, never mind the deeper emotional stuff like self-esteem or satisfying a need for affection. 3. Get help. When a parent relationship is split, kids need therapy, involvement, or some kind of therapy group with kids in similar situations. If Dad is missing, take your child to a male therapist. A lot of gender gaps take place, and it’s really not so much about gender as it is about the role that’s missing from a child’s life. Appropriate therapy groups will echo the fact that your kids are not alone, someone knows how they feel. It’s okay, and it’s normal. These groups can provide a neutral person to visit with your child and help. You might even find such a group to help yourself. Remember that it’s okay to be vulnerable through a professional or even a para-professional resource to get the help you need.

3. If you have more than one kid, find individual time to spend with each child. It’s challenging, especially for a single parent. But there are all sorts of community resources we don’t often take advantage of to help us do this.

4. Don’t get stuck in the victim role. It creates a negative story that doesn’t help your child. It’s hard not to do this. You have to purposely work through it. In the example of a military father, the situation is easier. “Your Dad is fighting for our country and making a difference,” is all you have to convey to your kids and to yourself to kick off a healthy grasp of the absence.

In the case of an incarcerated parent, the message must become more one of, “Daddy made a mistake, but he loves you.” Study after study reinforces that maintaining a relationship with both parents is a chief indicator to a well-adjusted child. A lot of times you hear that one parent is accused of a parent-alienation syndrome wherein she pushes her child away from the absent parent. Even the children of an incarcerated parent need to know that parent. It depends on the kids’ age; the older the better for making their own decisions and assumptions. What we know is that, with the exception of severe abuse situations, maintaining contact is one of the main predictors of healthy adjustments for kids.

In the case of abandonment, the same holds true. Kids might find it awkward and they may not like it. But kids sometimes don’t want to go to school, and as parents we make them go because it’s good for them. If the father is abusive, it’s one thing, but if Dad wants a relationship, it’s a good thing to encourage it as much as possible, even if it’s against the remaining parent’s best interest.

Often parents unintentionally try to shield their kids from the pain they’ve experienced from the absent parent. They think they’re being helpful, but kids need to have the opportunity to form that relationship. It must happen eventually, and it’s much easier to build a relationship with a 12-year-old-child than with a 22-year-old young adult.

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