As a child therapist I often work with children who have only one parent consistently in their lives. Often when parents separate there are strong negative feelings towards the former partner. This might even be more so in cases where there was physical or verbal abuse between the parents. When the relationship was extremely traumatic for one partner, there might be the tendency afterwards to avoid bringing up the partner, the other parent of the child. It can be very hard to find the words to talk to the child about the person that has caused them so much pain and hurt. And when the other parent happens to not be in the picture anymore it can be easy to completely 'forget' about him or her.
Never talking about a child's absent biological parent however can become quite problematic for the child. Parents often don't see that. They might say: 'He never asks, so we don't say anything.' However, it could be that the child is aware that it is a very sensitive subject and that he better not brings it up. But the child knows it has another biological father/mother and will try to makes sense of this absence with whatever means he has at his disposal, according to his developmental stage.
A boy told me that he thought his biological father who he had not seen since he was 2,5 years old was dead, that he had died from a very bad disease. However, his bio dad was still alive. When I met with the child individually he said that he did not know whether his biological dad was dead or alive. He said he had never seen his biological dad at first, but then said he remembered one thing: His dad had told him to stay in his seat, but he had gotten up and he had eaten from his dad's plate. His dad got mad at him, and then left and never came back. He cried, and cried after that. We could say that although he might know at some level his dad is alive, somehow he is dead to him, as he had not become present in conversations he might have had with the other parent, who was too pained by the relationship to address her child about his father.
The child's understanding of why his dad suddenly left out of his life: 'I did something wrong, did not listen to my dad, and I took something that belonged to his dad. This made my dad so angry that he left me forever.'
The radical absence, 'dead' of the father from his life is also illustrated by the fact that he does not realize that his last name came from his father. He thought that both his first and last name were chosen by his mother because she liked them. The idea that both his mother and father could have chosen his first name, but that his father had given him his the last name, that he himself had received from his father before was completely new to him.
The parent might be relieved to be free from the abusing spouse and might be happy to forget about that part of her life, but the young child is at a different stage. It will be important to become to be able to talk to the child about this other parent, the absent one. This will help the child to open himself up to new perspectives that might help him eventually move away from the interpretation he had of the father's disappearance at a very young age.
In my work with parents I often think together with them about how to talk about very difficult past experiences that have touched the parent's life and the child's life. The process of creating a narratives that is in line with their the 'truth' but also allow for the child to have a positive sense of themselves as the child of both their father and their mother, can be a very rewarding experience.
To schedule an appointment call An at (530) 321-2970