When a parent walks away from their child (2023)

In most cases, both parents will remain involved in a child's life after separation. Sometimes, both parents remain very closely involved in their children's lives. In other cases, one parent provides most of the care with the other parent being less closely involved. But sometimes, a parent chooses to walk away from their child completely.

This can happen for many different reasons. Sometimes, it's because that parent simply isn't interested in bringing up a child. Sometimes, it's because the separation was acrimonious and they felt it was too difficult to stay involved. Sometimes, it's because of reasons such as alcohol or drug misuse. Sometimes, it's simply because a parent has no model of engaged parenting.

As the remaining parent, you may feel let down and angry. However, it's entirely possible that you feel relief at not having to have any kind of relationship with your child's other parent. However you feel about it, the absence of a parent can create some difficult emotions for your child and, if these are not addressed, it can lead to more serious long term problems for your child.

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Common problems

Children who have never known one of their parents or where one of their parents has walked away will often fantasise about that parent. They can imagine that this parent is perfect; the most perfect parent there could be.

Children can believe that they are responsible for the parent's absence. They can feel guilt and shame and believe that the absence must be a result of something that is wrong with them.

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Children who are shielded from the truth can blame the remaining parent for the absence of their other parent.

How should I deal with it?

When children lose a parent, it is exceptionally painful for them. The feeling can be very similar to that of bereavement. However, if children are going to deal with the loss, they must know the truth and be allowed and supported to grieve, in much the same way as if there had been a death. By processing those difficult feelings, children can begin to deal with the loss.

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In telling your children, you must consider their ages. How you tell a 9 year old will be different to how you tell a 3 year old. Try to use words and concepts that they will be able to understand. However, the basic message should be 'dad or mum has chosen to move away and not be part of our lives any more. I am sad that s/he has chosen not to be in your life and I know that you will be sad too but there is nothing that you or I can do to change that. It is not your responsibility or your fault.' Make sure that your tone of voice is gentle and understanding.

It's important to offer children as much reassurance as you can. Younger children may fear that you may disappear too, so keep telling them that you love them and will always be there for them. Be prepared for anxieties when you drop younger children at school or nursery - again offer plenty of reassurance. Also be prepared for some regressive behaviour - possibly wetting the bed, wanting extra cuddles, sucking thumbs etc. Try to be patient around these things, they will stop when your child feels more secure.

Wanting to know about their other parent

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As children reach adolescence, it is not uncommon for them to want to know more about their other parent. This is because, at the age they are, they are curious about who they are in order to unconsciously work out who they will become as an adult.

If you have been doing all of the caring for many years without any support, it can feel hurtful when your child is suddenly fascinated by their other parent. Try to be patient around this natural curiosity. You don't need to sing the other parent's praises but, equally, remember that your child will experience their other parent as being a part of them and so it is important to remain, at least, respectful about them if at all possible.

If you are able to offer something just a little positive about their other parent, this can help. Once your child's curiosity has been satisfied, their interest is likely to reduce. Remember, your relationship with your child will not be threatened by this curiosity even if it may, at times, feel like it.

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What is the psychological effects of being separated from your child? ›

For both parents and children, separation leads to increased risks of depression, difficulty with social functioning, attachment issues, and PTSD.

Why do people walk away from their kids? ›

This can happen for many different reasons. Sometimes, it's because that parent simply isn't interested in bringing up a child. Sometimes, it's because the separation was acrimonious and they felt it was too difficult to stay involved. Sometimes, it's because of reasons such as alcohol or drug misuse.

Is it OK to walk away from your child? ›

It's okay to walk away from our children sometimes, especially when it comes to high pressure moments where it is a matter of our sanity.

What do you say when a parent leaves a child? ›

What to say to your children about abandonment
  • Children under 10: “I know you're sad when you can't see your mom. ...
  • Children 10 and older: “I'm not able to understand how you feel, but I see that you are sad sometimes and angry at other times.

How does a child feel when parents separate? ›

Following their parents' separation, children may regress, display anxiety and depressive symptoms, appear more irritable, demanding and noncompliant, and experience problems in social relationships and school performance (5).

Can kids be happy with separated parents? ›

Research shows that about 80 percent of children of divorce adapt well and see no lasting negative effects on their grades, social adjustment, or mental health.

What happens when a mother leaves her child? ›

When one parent abandons their home, relationship, or their child, it can lead to severe consequences for that parent. Consequences can include a loss of custody and parental rights. It is important to have a lawyer present and to provide a valid argument against abandonment.

Why is walking away so powerful? ›

One of the biggest reasons why walking away is powerful is because it builds respect, creates standards and boundaries, and increases your value. You will love taking control of your future, whether that means winning back a changed ex or moving on to bigger and better things.

Why do some mothers abandon their child? ›

Primary causes of child abandonment have been found to be poverty or financial hardship, being a single parent, post-natal depression, mental illness, a lack of sexual health education, poor knowledge regarding family planning, restrictions regarding access to abortion, the child having some form of disability, the ...

How do I deal with not seeing my child? ›

Take positive action
  1. Make plans for when you'll see your child. Think about what you can do together.
  2. Try to keep a positive relationship with your ex-partner. This will make it less stressful for you and your child.
  3. Focus on your wellbeing and try to stay fit and healthy. ...
  4. Make plans and spend time on things you enjoy.

When should you stop keeping your child? ›

If the order for maintenance stipulates that the maintenance will end when the child reaches the age of 18, the Court Order will lapse the moment the child reaches that age. Another age that is sometimes specified in the Order is when a child reaches the age of 21, in this case, the same principle would apply.

What is parent alienation? ›

Parental alienation is a strategy whereby one parent intentionally displays to the child unjustified negativity aimed at the other parent. The purpose of this strategy is to damage the child's relationship with the other parent and to turn the child's emotions against that other parent.

What is cold mother syndrome? ›

Emotionally absent or cold mothers can be unresponsive to their children's needs. They may act distracted and uninterested during interactions, or they could actively reject any attempts of the child to get close. They may continue acting this way with adult children.

What is it called when the parent leaves their child a lot? ›

Child abandonment is the practice of relinquishing interests and claims over one's offspring in an illegal way, with the intent of never resuming or reasserting guardianship.

How do you forgive a parent who left? ›

Here are some thoughts to help the healing begin:
  1. Resolve resentment. Nursing resentments toward a parent does more than keep that parent in the doghouse. ...
  2. Develop realistic expectations. ...
  3. Hold on to the good. ...
  4. Foster true separation. ...
  5. Let your parents back into your heart. ...
  6. Commit to the journey.

What's the hardest age for children to see their parents split? ›

Elementary school age (6–12) This is arguably the toughest age for children to deal with the separation or divorce of their parents. That's because they're old enough to remember the good times (or good feelings) from when you were a united family.

What separation does to a child? ›

Emotional and behavioural problems in children are more common when their parents are fighting or separating. Children can become very insecure. Insecurity can cause children to behave like they are much younger and therefore bed wetting, 'clinginess', nightmares, worries or disobedience can all occur.

How does parental separation affect a child's brain? ›

Brain imaging studies demonstrate structural and functional changes in the brains of children separated from their parents. Specifically, the stress of separation increases the size of the amygdala, a key structure in threat processing and emotion, and alters amygdala connections with other brain areas.

Is it better to split up or stay together for kids? ›

Is it always best to stay together for the kids? The short-term answer is usually yes. Children thrive in predictable, secure families with two parents who love them and love each other. Separation is unsettling, stressful, and destabilizing unless there is parental abuse or conflict.

What age is best for kids and divorce? ›

A: Research shows that children's worst age to experience a divorce is between the ages of 6-10. Alternatively, the best periods for a child to experience separation are between 1-2yrs old.

How often should separated parents see their kids? ›

While there's no one-size-fits-all routine, a typical visitation schedule may include: Overnights every other weekend. One weeknight visit or overnight per week. An extended visit during the summer, such as two to six weeks.

What are the effects of mother abandonment? ›

Maternal abandonment creates a multitude of emotions, contradictory to each other; pain, sadness, and at the same time longing, often anger, rage, frustration, along with guilt, and shame.

What is emotional abandonment from mother? ›

Emotional abandonment is when a parent or caregiver doesn't attend to their child's emotional needs. This includes not noticing their child's feelings and validating them, not showing love, encouragement, or support.

What effect does an absent mother have on a child? ›

The results show that parental absence is negatively associated with the development of left-behind children. Left-behind children have a lower cognitive test score and academic test score, and they are also less likely to attend a college.

How do you know if someone doesn't value you? ›

Couple's relationship coach in Fairmont, West Virginia, Cheri Timko says other signs that someone doesn't care about you may include if they: don't value mutuality in the relationship. fail to show any interest or curiosity in you or your life. have a different agenda for the relationship than you do.

How does he feel when you walk away? ›

He might feel sad and rejected.

Many people feel a sense of grief for the person and relationship they lost. Your significant other might very well experience intense sadness after you walk away as he grieves for what you had together.

Why do some people just walk away? ›

Financial losses, physical or emotional illness, deaths, geographical changes, sexual dysfunction, problems with children, family pressures, new career demands, or even crises of faith can take one partner down while the other is still intact.

Why would a mother not bond with her child? ›

Sometimes mothers have difficulty bonding with their babies if their hormones are raging or they have postpartum depression. Bonding can also be delayed if a mom's exhausted and in pain following a prolonged, difficult delivery.

What makes an absent mother? ›

What Is an Emotionally Absent Mother? “An emotionally absent mother is not fully present and especially not to the emotional life of the child. She may be depressed, stretched too thin and exhausted, or perhaps a bit numb.

How do you survive being away from your child? ›

10 Ways To Cope When Living Away From Your Child
  1. Long-Distance Parenting Needs To Be a Team Effort. ...
  2. Agree on a Day and Time Each Week To Connect and Catch Up. ...
  3. Accept the Timing and Situation You Are In. ...
  4. Focus on the Positives in Both of Your Lives. ...
  5. Be Proactive in Supporting the Emotional Needs of Both You and Your Child.
Jan 4, 2022

How do I let go of my alienated child? ›

Here are several suggestions for how to counteract the effects of alienation:
  1. Listen to your child. Have a time and space that is safe for your child to vent. ...
  2. Play with your child. Have structured times of unstructured play in which you as the parent participate. ...
  3. Be patient with your child.
Aug 16, 2019

How often should a parent call their child? ›

Unless there is a specific need, parents should not initiate a call or text to their children more than one time a day while they are in the other parent's custody. It is understandable to miss the child, but co-parenting requires respect for the child's time with the other parent.

At what age do children need their mother the most? ›

Babies need it for the first three years — especially from their mothers. Several years ago, psychoanalyst and parenting expert Erica Komisar started noticing a trend among American families.

Do kids do better with stay at home moms? ›

Children who have a parent who stays at home may achieve better academic performance. One study found that 10th-grade children who had a parent stay at home when they were young achieved better grades in school than those who had working parents working away from home during early childhood.

What is the best age to parent a child? ›

The study participants maintained that older parenting has more advantages than disadvantages, but when they were asked about the "optimal age for parenting," 80 percent of the women and 70 percent of the men said it was in the 30s, and many of them indicated that it was only their circumstances that kept them from ...

What is narcissistic parental alienation? ›

Narcissistic Parental Alienation syndrome refers to the process of psychological manipulation of a child by a parent to show fear, disrespect, or hostility towards the other parent. Very often, the child can't provide logical reasoning for the difference in their behaviour towards both parents.

What are the first signs of parental alienation? ›

  • A Campaign of Denigration. ...
  • Weak, Frivolous, and Absurd Rationalizations. ...
  • Lack of Ambivalence About the Alienating Parent. ...
  • The “Independent Thinker” Phenomenon. ...
  • Absence of Guilt About the Treatment of the Targeted Parent. ...
  • Reflexive Support for the Alienating Parent in Parental Conflict. ...
  • Presence of Borrowed Scenarios.

What are signs of a toxic mother? ›

Signs you might have a toxic parent include:
  • They're self-centered. They don't think about your needs or feelings.
  • They're emotional loose cannons. They overreact, or create drama.
  • They overshare. ...
  • They seek control. ...
  • They're harshly critical. ...
  • They lack boundaries.

What is unloved daughter syndrome? ›

With an emotionally unreliable mother or one who is combative or hypercritical, the daughter learns that relationships are unstable and dangerous, and that trust is ephemeral and can't be relied on. Unloved daughters have trouble trusting in all relationships but especially friendship.

What is a disconnected mother? ›

They keep an emotional distance from their children, interacting with them only when necessary, and they remain uninvolved in their lives. These emotionally absent parents do not provide emotional support and guidance that a child needs to develop emotional regulation, healthy relationships, and coping mechanisms.

What is it called when a parent disowns you? ›

Family estrangement or disownment is a complicated process. Each person in our community has their own unique set of reasons for cutting contact or experiencing rejection from a family unit.

What is depleted father syndrome? ›

“Parental burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It leaves parents feeling chronically fatigued, often experiencing sleep and concentration problems, and it can lead to depression, chronic anxiety, and illness.”

How does a child feel when a parent leaves? ›

Studies have shown that if a child suddenly loses a parent, either through death, abandonment, or a prolonged separation, the child experiences intense fear, panic, grief (a combination of sadness and loss), depression, helplessness and hopelessness. The child has lost his lifeline, and often his sense of self.

Is a parent leaving traumatic? ›

Mental health issues, substance abuse or the physical absence of parents or caregivers due to death or divorce can all contribute to abandonment trauma, also known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) of abandonment.

What does emotional neglect lead to? ›

For children, affectional neglect may have devastating consequences, including failure to thrive, developmental delay, hyperactivity, aggression, depression, low self-esteem, running away from home, substance abuse, and a host of other emotional disorders.

What does the Bible say about forgiving parents? ›

Christ has redeemed you to forgive your parents.

As followers of Jesus, however, we are called to forgive our parents as Christ forgave us — freely and without limit (Ephesians 4:32).

What are the psychological effects of a mother losing custody? ›

Another study found that mothers who lost custody of their children were at higher risk of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse compared to mothers dealing with the death of a child (3). Divorce and separation are also associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents (4, 5).

What are the emotional effects of separation? ›

Psychological impact on receiver

The receiver will experience shock, disloyalty, loss of control, ill-treatment, decreased self-esteem, insecurity, anger, a desire to "get revenge", and wishes to settle down.

What psychological damage inflicted by parent child separation is deep long lasting? ›

Prolonged separation of young children and parents can be traumatic, potentially resulting in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and long-lasting impairments in functioning.

How did the child behave after he was separated from his parents? ›

Answer: When the child realised that he had been separated from his parents, then he started crying. Tears rolled down his eyes. He was filled with fear and restlessness.

What are the dangers of separation? ›

Parent-child separation has long-term effects on child well-being, even if there is subsequent reunification. After being separated, reunited children can experience difficulty with emotional attachment to their parents, self-esteem, and physical and psychological health.

Can parental separation cause trauma? ›

This makes life uncertain for the child or young person and can lead to their feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, and helplessness in addition to their numbness with regards to the situation. This trauma of parental separation and divorce can 'overwhelm their capacity to cope'.

Why a good mother lost custody of her child? ›

A mother who is proven to have physically and or psychologically abused her children is highly likely to lose custody of her children. Examples of physical abuse include hitting, kicking, scratching, biting, burning, physical torture, sexual abuse, or any other type of injury inflicted on the child by the mother.

How do I deal with not seeing my child everyday? ›

Take positive action
  1. Make plans for when you'll see your child. Think about what you can do together.
  2. Try to keep a positive relationship with your ex-partner. This will make it less stressful for you and your child.
  3. Focus on your wellbeing and try to stay fit and healthy. ...
  4. Make plans and spend time on things you enjoy.

What are the 5 stages of separation? ›

I have also noted that client's have shown five distinct emotional stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Whilst this may not be true for everyone, certain feelings and behaviours can often resonate to identify these stages. Denial – A state of “shell shock”, a coping mechanism.

What are the 7 stages of separation? ›

  • Denial. Separation and an end of a relationship is a type of loss and the first stage of loss and grief is often denial. ...
  • Anger. The next stage may often be anger. ...
  • Guilt. It is important to put yourself first and be easy on yourself. ...
  • Fear. ...
  • Grief. ...
  • Re-invention. ...
  • Acceptance.
Sep 9, 2021

What should you not do during separation? ›

Don't jump into a rebound relationship.

Since you're separated, you might be tempted to jump right back into the dating game. While it is entirely possible for divorced men to meet women, rebound relationships are never a good idea. A trial separation is a time for self-assessment to reflect on your marriage and goals.

What do psychologists say about children separating from their parents? ›

Overall, the effects of parent–child separation are consistently negative on children's social-emotional development, well-being, and mental health. They are more severe when the separation is prolonged or accompanied by other forms of deprivation or victimization.

What is extreme parental alienation? ›

Parental alienation is a strategy whereby one parent intentionally displays to the child unjustified negativity aimed at the other parent. The purpose of this strategy is to damage the child's relationship with the other parent and to turn the child's emotions against that other parent.


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