Helping Kids Through Divorce – When A Parent Walks Away

When an ex walks away, it’s hard on us because we were married.  We trusted our hearts to them and the betrayal of the vows ’till death do us part’ hurts.  But when a divorced parent distances himself (or herself) from the children, that’s another story.

I can’t imagine walking away from my kids, but maybe that’s just me and how I’m innately made.  I have full custody of our kids because the ex moved away so it’s easier and harder for me because I traverse their emotional roller coaster with them.  Maybe you can find some help here from my experiences and hopefully add yours in the comments.

In the beginning, when the ex and I were still communicating, I tried to keep the lines open and kind.  I let him know that the kids missed him.  I tried to foster that communication between them by texting when something good happened so that he would have something to say to them because at first I thought it was because he couldn’t find something to talk about, but that wasn’t it.  I tried to co-parent with him, but his cold refusal to communicate repeatedly stopped me.  I never blamed him for leaving, nor did I ever ask him to return.  That’s not me and he knew it.  I was asking for him to talk with our kids, but he couldn’t/didn’t want to, so that was that.  I gave up trying to help the ex and focused solely on supporting our sons.

Here are some things we’ve experienced:

  1.  Kids take it personally that the distant parent isn’t making an effort.  They feel like the divorce and betrayal and subsequent added distance is because of them.  Your job is to reassure them that the divorce was between the parents and that their distant parent still loves them.  If you can say that.  And if you can’t, stay quiet.
  2. It takes effort for the distant parent to communicate regularly with the kids.  In my case, he left and went on to make a new life, leaving our kids in his old life with his past ex-wife (me).  I used to think I was protecting my kids by defending him and saying he was busy at work, but that backfired.  While they knew he put work ahead of all of us while we were married, it didn’t make them feel better that he was still not responding to their texts or calls.  One of my kids once said, “he chose freedom over family,” which I didn’t know how to answer.
  3. The kids’ relationship with the distant parent is theirs alone.  You can be supportive to them.  You can listen to them when they need to talk about it and process how they feel, but bad-mouthing the ex is not a good thing to do.  While it may feel good in the moment for both you and the kids, it isn’t a good choice.  You can understand how they feel (because you probably feel similarly from time to time), but it’s not helping them for you to bash your ex.
  4. I tried to be both Mom and Dad to my kids when their dad was unresponsive.  I felt incredible guilt that my kids were now from a ‘broken home’ even though it was their dad who left.  So, my first instinct was to be the most amazing parent ever to make up for the losses they had experienced.  But I’m more Mom than Dad.  I searched for a good male role model therapist for my sons to help them and that’s been working for us.
  5. My kids wanted to connect with that childhood dad that they remembered fondly and bring him to the present.  We talked about what they wanted to say and how to say it so that he would hear how they missed him and not take offense to what they were saying.  In our case, while their dad talked with them about it, his response was “Then you need to reach out to me more.”   But they had been reaching out and he’d been non-responsive.  In the end, the kids were disappointed, but they felt good about trying because it allowed them to know that they did the best they could.
  6. Accepting the distance is the key for kids to begin to heal, but when a parent has gone off to live a new life without the kids, it hurts them tremendously.  Therapy has helped my kids to talk about their feelings in a safe environment.  While they still talk with me, it’s easier to talk with someone else who’s not involved.  We can’t make it all right for them no matter what because it’s not our relationship.  It’s theirs and while we can help when we can, it’s frustrating as a parent who cares to watch our kids suffer.
  7. Put yourself in your kids’ place and feel the disappointment, the confusion and the hurt.  However, remember that our feelings on the subject may be different because we’re coming from a parental place and ex-spouse viewpoint.
  8. At some point, hopefully, the kids resign themselves to an occasional text or phone call and stop expecting more from their distant parent.  Or the distant parent fades into the distance.  While it’s not what we would have wanted for our kids, it becomes easier for them (and maybe even for us) when they stop yearning for the relationship to be closer and accept it as it is.

It’s been a few years since the ex moved away and started his new life.  An occasional text or phone call has become the new normal.  If the kids need anything, they call me.  They don’t ask him anymore.  He’s still dad, but they say his name like they were referring to a distant old aunt whom they barely know and not their parent.

I used to wonder why the ex distanced himself from our kids.  Maybe it was too hard for him.  Maybe the new life was too much fun to be burdened by being a dad.  Maybe he felt guilty for what he did.  Maybe kids didn’t fit in the new chapter.  Maybe he just didn’t care.  I’ll probably never know for sure and I long ago stopped trying to figure it out.

Feel free to share your experiences below because I’d love to read them.

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10 Responses to Helping Kids Through Divorce – When A Parent Walks Away

  1. Dwight Hyde says:

    I couldn’t imagine not being around my kids. As soon as they were born I finally grasped what unconditional love means. They literally live two houses away from me with their mom but come down all the time. It’s “interesting” living so close, but I feel very fortunate overall. Sending you and your boys light and love💗

    Like

    • janieleeds says:

      I’m glad that you’ve got such a lovely situation going that they are so close. I’m sure it’s very ‘interesting’ at times, but it’s most definitely a fortunate situation that I am sure takes effort and kindness. Good for you Dwight! Thanks for the light and love…sending it back to you and yours! ♥ We could always benefit from more love and light in our lives!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. bone&silver says:

    He distanced himself for all those reasons you list, and more, I’m sure. It’s incredibly painful to separate from ones children in a divorce, yet I know several men who decided ‘minimal or no contact was actually less painful.’ For them anyway. Difficult times for everyone: well done for doing therapy ❤️

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    • janieleeds says:

      Thank you. I find it interesting that it is less painful for them to distance themselves. I can see that point of view, but still…it’s not always about us when it comes to parenting. Thanks for sharing that because I hadn’t thought of it. Food for thought. ♥

      Liked by 1 person

  3. LA says:

    I’ve been writing about giving up, and a father not really communications constitutes as giving up. I’m not sure why we choose to give up some things as opposed to others. I wish I had a solid answer for you.

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  4. TJ Fox says:

    You have to remember the narcissistic part of that equation with regards to your kids and the ex. He chose to walk away from them because it didn’t benefit him in any way to stay. If anything, they provided a road block to what he wanted, be it freedom to do what he wanted or something else, and walking away from them removed that road block. This is something that took me an incredibly long time to figure out with my ex and OC. The only thing the narcissist cares about is himself, his wants and needs, and what he needs to do to get it. Mine went so far as to give up all rights so my Hubby could adopt OC. He already wasn’t maintaining his visitation (hadn’t seen OC in over a year) and would have left it at that, but he wanted to stop the child support as well so didn’t even blink when I filed the paperwork and signed away his rights as a parent without a single regret.

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  5. Ainsobriety says:

    This list is very helpful.
    I can’t understand it,but I know my ex and he is a coward. Better to run away than deal with the pain he caused.

    It’s a big blow that he’s having another baby, even if it was most likely an accident.

    Some days I wonder how this happened after 25 years. I thought he was responsible…

    Anyway, the kids and I will be ok. They are old enough that they talk about this, but my dd heart is truly hurt. I know there is a special place in Hell for a parent who would abandon his child.

    Thank you,
    Anne

    Like

    • janieleeds says:

      We all make choices and unfortunately theirs affect us all. I often wonder if it makes sense to them or if they turn away because they can’t deal with the pain of failure of a marriage, a family, etc. It is what it is and we have to accept the unacceptable at times. I wish you well Anne and I wish your children well too. This isn’t easy, but with our loving support, we can help them and ourselves along the way. I’m here for you! ♥

      Like

  6. Missy says:

    Thanks for sharing. Very interesting!
    I was reading a recent article about Moving forward after a divorce.
    One of the biggest challenges is helping children to adjust.
    The article list suggestions in what one can do:
    – Encourage your child to talk to you (parent) about their feelings even if it seems to produce “Wild talk”
    The ex. Of Job comes to mind (Job 6:2,3)
    Like Job, a person today who is enduring a stressful problem may give into wild talk, saying things that he later regrets

    – maintain proper role

    – keep your child’s life well structured

    Other helpful tips can be found on JW.org

    Like

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