helping children with absent fathers

Q: My seven year old granddaughter has talked to her dad on the phone but has not seen him since she was born. She misses him, cries for him, and feels depressed because of not having him. It breaks my heart this guy will never come from out-of-state to see her -- he does not pay support and does not send gifts. I listen to her and try to encourage her but I don't really know how to handle this or what to suggest to my daughter as to how to handle this. 

A: Thanks for sending in this question.  There are so many parents with children in situations like this.  It is terribly upsetting to see your child suffering and know that you are powerless to effect a change in the circumstances.  

Fortunately, our kids know exactly how to release their feelings of disappointment, sadness, and grief about those upsetting circumstances in life that cannot be changed (and there are many such circumstances for children, even when they have full access to both parents.... grief and disappointments can happen regarding teachers, friends, sports, health, and all kinds of things).  They cry, rage, vent, and tantrum, sometimes directly about the disappointing issue, and sometimes about small, unrelated issues like the shirt they wanted to wear being in the dirty laundry basket, or their painting/drawing  not looking the way they wanted it to, or their ponytail being too high.

You are doing such a good and helpful thing by listening to your granddaughter while she cries for him.  This is exactly what she needs.  In fact, strange as it may seem, children actually need to be listened to even more than they need circumstances to be changed. 

So when she misses him, open your heart, give her your loving attention, and just listen.  It's okay that she is crying.  It's wonderful that she is crying.  You don't need to distract her or convince her that it's okay or to look on the bright side.  Just be with her, offering warm attention, until the tears finish.  They will come to an end on their own.  She'll sniffle, look around, and ask for a snack or a book or a walk or something else that might seem random to you, but she's just telling you that she's done for now and ready to move on.  Just go with it.  

In order to be there for her in this way, you'll need a safe place to release all of your own feelings about her situation.  It's totally normal for you to feel angry with her father.  It's normal for us to have a vision for the life we hope our children and grandchildren, and to feel strong disappointment when it doesn't turn out that way.  

Her situation could even trigger up any dormant feelings of abandonment left over from your own childhood.  So undoubtedly there will be some emotions you'll want to release with the help of another adult who can just listen to you vent without getting alarmed or trying to fix anything.  Being able to express all this with an adult will help you be more present with your granddaughter when she's sad and emotional.

She may have many crying sessions like this, and that's okay, too.  Your response will always be the same - attentive listening, physical comfort but no attempt to talk her out or through it.  When you are present for her in this way, you strengthen your connection with her, and you also set an example by which she can measure future relationships.  It's a very powerful gift.

If you resonate with this approach, you might like to visit www.handinhandparenting.org and check out their free articles. 

good luck, and please keep us posted if you'd like.  



For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit www.karenalonge.com

No comments: