Consistently, one of my favorite blogs is Michael Mastracci’s Divorce Without Dishonor Blog. Mike is an excellent attorney from Baltimore, Maryland. His own difficult and acrimonious divorce and child custody battle led to his personal interest in collaborative family law. Both attorneys and clients should include his blog on their frequent read list. Mike regularly espouses ethical, moral and philosophical standards that we should aspire to meet. I have personally and professionally been a proponent of child welfare issues for over 30 years. So, when I read his recent post about “When Your Ex Opts Out – Talking to Your Children When Your Former Parent Decides to Not Parent”, I had to ask Mike if I could have his permission to republish it. He kindly agreed. Here it is:
Although most divorcing couples deeply desire a relationship with their children after the marriage dissolves, there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes, one of the newly divorced parents feels that their life would be easier or freer if not encumbered by their children. They drop out of the picture for an unpredictable period of time, sometimes weeks or even years. The custodial parent is left to explain their actions to children who are already in an emotionally vulnerable state. While there’s no easy or perfect way to shelter your children from the emotional pain caused by an absentee parent, there are several ways to begin approaching this difficult task.
Before discussing your ex with your children “center yourself”. The idea of centering oneself comes from Buddhism. Clearing your mind of negative emotions, or centering, allows you to better connect with the needs of others. Your ex’s actions undoubtedly cause you a great deal of pain and anger. Often, they are abandoning their children for a relationship with another lover, etc. When you’re speaking to your children, it is too easy for your negative emotions to take up all the space in the conversation. If that happens, there will be no room for them to express their fears, hurt, anger, etc. Take a step back, and be there for them.
Make Sure Your Discussion is Age-Appropriate:
There’s no reason to go into extreme detail concerning your ex’s decisions, especially if you have young children. Older teens will probably ask whatever questions they want answered. Children really don’t need or want to know every hurtful detail. Just tell them what the living arrangements will be like. Don’t build their hopes up if your ex doesn’t seem to be interested in having frequent visits or phone calls.
Take steps to build security between your children, yourself and any involved family members. It’s natural for children who are abandoned by one parent to believe that they did something to provoke the abandonment. Furthermore, it can lead to insecurity in all of their primary relationships, including the one they have with you. Tell them explicitly that you aren’t going to leave them; they can always talk to you or a trusted family member/friend, etc. Watch for signs of emotional distress. Acting out, bullying, fearful behavior, age regression, etc. are all signs of emotional distress in younger children. If you see your children falling into any of these behavior patterns, seek the help of a professional. A trained child psychologist can work with your children to isolate the source(s) of their behaviors. If left unaddressed, abandonment issues can follow them into adult life.
While you can’t force the abandoning parent to be a part of their children’s lives, you can do your best to help your children cope with the loss. Further, your relationship with your kids can reinforce their sense of security. If one parent has the power to devastate, another has the power to protect and rebuild.
To read more of Mike’s great articles, click here.
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.