Losing a parent is devastating and parental rejection is even more heartbreaking. While most parents want to be involved in their child’s life even if they break up with their partner, some parents choose to break off contact with their child, which is extremely hurtful. If their other parent has rejected your child, you might feel helpless, angry, and overwhelmed. Learn how to help your child cope with parental rejection and move forward.
Determining If Parental Rejection Is Intentional
The fact is, sometimes people go through things that make them act in ways they otherwise would not. If your ex is struggling, he or she may be putting their relationship with your child on the back burner without really understanding the toll that it is taking. For example, if your ex is going through depression, a job loss, an illness in the family, or some other significant disruption, that could cause him or her to miss visitation or not return phone calls.
If you can talk to your ex to find out what is going on, that might shed some light on the reason for parental rejection. That is not to say that an outside issue is an excuse for not parenting your shared child. Parents care for their children, even when things are not going well in their personal lives.
However, if the disruption is likely to be short-lived or if your ex is in treatment for a mental health disorder, then you should encourage them to reach out to your child to explain that they’ll be back in touch soon. Depending on your child’s age, you might discuss how you can explain what is happening in an age-appropriate way.
Also, explain to your ex that his or her absence is hurting your child. They might not realize the damage they are doing by ignoring your child or not showing up as planned or promised. Your child is more likely to be understanding if your ex can explain the reason for their absence if they follow through with their promise that things will get better in the future.
Supporting Your Child Without Showing Your Negative Feelings
As a parent, you need to walk a fine line between supporting your child without exhibiting your anger toward their other parent. It is difficult to see your child hurting over something that their other parent has done without feeling anger and helplessness. However, it does not help your child to know that you are angry.
No matter what your ex does, your child will most likely love them and want to seek their affections; this might last for the rest of your ex’s life. The best you can do in this situation is comfort your child and focus on the good things about their relationship with their absent parent. Do not fall into the trap of contributing to parental alienation by badmouthing your ex.
This might mean smiling outwardly when your ex sends a birthday card, even if that is the only contact he or she chooses to have with your child over a year. Or it might mean facilitating visitation even after a long absence (so long as you do not have concerns for your child’s emotional or physical safety, of course).
If you can help your child to have a relationship with their other parent, even if it is not ideal in terms of the amount of time spent together, that is a good thing. However, if their relationship is toxic and unhealthy, it’s better to put limits in place, mainly if your child is young.
Following Your Custody Orders
If your ex has visitation rights, then you cannot withhold them even after a long absence unless you go back to court to have the custody and visitation orders changed. If you believe that your child would be in danger of going with their other parent, then you need to file a petition with the court.
What you cannot do is decide on your own that the custody orders are no longer in place just because your child’s other parent has not been keeping up with his or her end of the bargain (attending events, having visitation as scheduled, or paying child support, for example).
Talk to your lawyer or your legal advocacy group about what you can do if your ex’s absence is causing emotional damage to your child. While it’s unfortunate when one parent has to file for sole custody to protect a child from the emotional ups and downs of a parent who is rejecting them, sometimes it is necessary.
Finding Male or Female Role Models for Your Child
While an uncle, aunt, coach, or family friend can in no way compensate for the lack of a loving parent in your child’s life, finding a role model who is the same sex as your child’s other parent can give them someone to look up to who cares about them.
For example, if your child’s father is absent, perhaps your brother or father would be willing to become the “father figure” in their life. One of your top priorities is to choose someone who is a safe adult, so be sure to prioritize safety over your eagerness to find someone who can take your child under his or her wing. If you remarry, your child’s stepparent might fill in this role.
You could also investigate a program like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which matches children with background-checked adults who volunteer to make a difference in a child’s life. A children’s pastor, a coach, or another adult who has some training in working with children is another viable choice.
A child who has been rejected by a parent will have to deal with this reality throughout their entire life. It is wise to seek counseling for your child to help them learn coping strategies. Talk to your pediatrician or family doctor about getting a referral for counseling if you are in the difficult situation of having a child who has been rejected by their other parent.