Child Abandonment Issues Following the Loss of a Parent

Sad young girl sitting on a couch

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Growing up with an absent parent can leave kids with a deep sense of shame and loss. And when the absence appears voluntary, the impact can be even more intense. From a child's perspective, it's hard to imagine a parent choosing not to be involved without there being a good reason.

Sadly, kids are incredibly vulnerable to drawing the wrong conclusion and assuming that they must be at fault. This fear and guilt can leave kids feeling inherently unworthy. Yet, there is hope. As the remaining parent, there's a lot you can do to support your child and build his or her self-esteem.

How to Help Your Child Cope

As a parent who's involved, you have a huge opportunity to influence your child's self-esteem and mitigate the impact of your ex's abandonment. To identify child abandonment issues early, you'll want to keep an eye out for the following behaviors:

Anger at the Absent Parent

Children who've been abandoned may reject everything about the absent parent. On the surface, this may seem like a reasonable response. You'll see this when a child expresses the desire to be the exact opposite of the absent parent. As the remaining parent, you can help by:

  • Affirming your child's own unique qualities.
  • Allowing your child to share his or her thoughts and opinions.
  • Recognizing that this stage may be temporary.
  • Showing empathy with statements such as, "I can understand why you might feel that way right now."

Idealization of the Absent Parent

Children with abandonment issues may idealize the absent parent. Some children may over-identify with the absent parent and develop a set of fantasies about him or her. And while these thoughts may provide some comfort, that relief from the pain is usually temporary. As your child's other parent, you can help by:

  • Allowing your child to freely verbalize his or her memories of the absent parent.
  • Avoiding the temptation to correct your child's recollections.
  • Asking open-ended questions to help your child articulate additional details related to his or her memories.

Self-Esteem Issues

Children with abandonment issues may develop poor self-esteem. Children who have experienced parental abandonment may also be prone to developing poor self-esteem and a sense of shame surrounding the parent's absence. They may even question whether they could have contributed to the absence, whether they somehow 'deserved' to be abandoned, or whether the absent parent believes he or she is better off without the 'burden' of a child. As the remaining parent, you can help by:

  • Encouraging relationships with adults you trust, who can also convey genuine, positive messages about your child's abilities, character, and choices.
  • Providing mentors for your child
  • Reminding your child, repeatedly if necessary, that he or she is not at fault.
  • Using clear, specific language when you praise your child.

Abandonment Issues

Children with abandonment issues may have difficulty expressing their emotions and sharing their feelings. They tend to keep their emotions bottled up and lack the trust necessary to share their true selves with others. As your child's other parent, you can help by:

  • Affirming that you love your child unconditionally, even when he's angry, sad, or frustrated.
  • Being trustworthy when your child shares his or her feelings with you. 
  • Providing regular opportunities to connect with your child, creating an atmosphere where he or she will be free to open up when the time is right.
  • Writing a letter to your child to express how proud you are.
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3 Sources
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