Menu

My co-parent is absent but the love in our home is not

One of the hardest things with this is the uncertainty—it's incredibly challenging when you don't fully understand why, let alone if, or when, he may return.

My co-parent is absent but the love in our home is not

Absence usually means a "lack of," however, absent parents are often more complicated than that. My oldest child is 5 years old and contact with his dad has waxed and waned dramatically, from seeing him daily to only every few weeks.

Most recently, the irregularity lacks pattern—at times it's been every few months, once there were three visits in as many months, other times, long stretches of no contact, anything from five to 18 months. In such cases "sporadic parent" is a more accurate term and unfortunately is a reality millions of children face.

Dealing with an absent or sporadic parent is impossibly hard. Whether the situation is stable or not, continued discussions are needed as your child's understanding changes. This type of loss requires time, love and support to process.

Almost five years into our reality, my son has experienced many reactions: the "clinging to mom" stage, the "endless crying" stage, the "relentless questions" stage and the "exacerbated with dad" stage. In time, no doubt, we will experience many more stages too.

I'm open about this behavior and I'm often met with the suggestion that stopping contact would be better. It would certainly be easier for me, and quite probably my son, in the short term, but it's a decision that a mama has to make. As mothers, we have to choose the option we're most able to accept, and the one we will be best able to explain to our children because we believe it to be the best for them.

One of the hardest things with this is the uncertainty—it's incredibly challenging when you don't fully understand why, let alone if, or when, he may return. My son's story may have an unexpected (positive) twist. It may not. Regardless, I need to support him to accept his story however it unfolds. I reconcile this with the fact that even if there was no contact, my son would still long for his father so there would be a relationship of sorts, despite the absence of any actual relationship. When things become difficult and I wobble in my decision to allow contact, I remind myself of this. I didn't choose for his dad to drift in and out of his life, but I have chosen to deal with it as best as I can.

Learning to support my son through this has been a huge learning curve. Initially, I avoided the word "Dad," changed words in stories and emphasized the importance of moms instead. Then one day after nursery he announced, "Some children live with mommies, and some live with mommies and daddies."

I was proud, emotional and guilt-ridden all in one. While I was thinking he didn't know what a dad was, he'd worked it out and normalized the absence of his own. I needed to be more proactive if I was to give him a fighting chance of making sense of his own reality, and so I started talking and we haven't stopped since.

My son was around two and a half when his dad disappeared for long stretches. The explanation for the absence was difficult, there wasn't only one factor, but such complexities are hard for young children. I wrote a "daddy book," which outlined my son's arrival, including daddy's excitement, before explaining that "daddy became ill" and couldn't see him. He added to the story, "Daddy reads me books" and drew pictures (thunder and lightning and daddy with chickenpox'. I tried to keep the book honest and understandable.

When his dad disappeared for a year and a half the book enabled long conversations about "Daddy's illness" and I added details as appropriate. It was hard to watch his little face crumple as he tried to comprehend and, although it would be easy to see these tears as a negative, they weren't. The absence is negative, but I can't change that. So long as my son keeps talking and showing his emotions, I know I'm doing something right.

On a practical level, I've tried to buffer my son from the disappointment of canceled visits. I rarely tell him his father's coming until I know he's on his way. Even then, I term it as a possibility and never give false promises. When his father tries to do exactly that at the end of a visit, I reiterate, "He will try to come."

We have another baby in the family so things are more complicated. I've promised my eldest we'll make a new daddy book. A book which will tell the story of both my boys' creation and the people they call family. Although an absent, or sporadic, parent isn't something we'd wish for our children, we can help them accept this as their normal.

In my son's case, I believe it's helping him to understand his dad. As hard as these experiences are, they're helping him become a caring child who can interact with different people and situations. Ultimately, I hope my son will learn how to navigate his relationship with his father in a way that's positive for them both, and whatever the outcome may be, I'll continue to catch him.

You might also like:

This 'mama' necklace is a bestseller for a powerful reason

There's a lot going on in the world right now, but one thing that's certain? You're still mama.

There's a lot going on in the world right now, but one thing that's certain? You're still mama. No matter what is going on at work, what decision you make about heading back to school, or how you're caring for your family right now, we know you're the best mama for your family.

So in case you need a little reminder of just how incredible you are, we love this sweet necklace from Tiny Tags. And other mamas do, too, because it's been one of our top sellers for weeks.

Whether you're coveting it for yourself or want to gift it to your favorite mama, it's one of those gifts that'll keep on giving years later. It's dainty enough to easily layer with just about anything you have in your jewelry collection, but is just as beautiful as a standalone piece to wear daily. And in these tough seasons, it's honestly a gentle, much-needed reminder that you were made for this. You can do hard things. You are doing the best you can even when it feels like you can't make one more decision.

Tiny Tags script 'mama' necklace

tiny tags mama necklace

The charm is 1/2" long and the chain is 16", falling just above most mama's collarbones. All Tiny Tags personalized jewelry is laser engraved by highly skilled artisans to make the most elegant pieces.

$105

And, don't worry, it's totally low-maintenance. Simply polish with a polishing cloth every now and then for extra shine. Now to decide: gold or silver?

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

5 brilliant products that encourage toddler independence

Help your little one help themselves.

One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.

$25

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.

$29

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.

$18

Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.

$29

BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.

$20

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

In Montessori schools, parents are periodically invited to observe their children at work in the classroom. I have heard many parents express shock to see their 3- or 4-year-old putting away their own work when they finish—without even being asked!

"You should see his room at home!" or, "I ask him to put his toys away every day, and it's a battle every single time" were frequent comments.

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play