What To Do When Absentee Parents Return
So, let me get this straight. Now that the hard work–late night fevers, bad dreams, runny noses, and anxiety attacks–is over, now you want to step in and pick up where you left off?! Really?! Like riding a bike huh? You hope to jump right in to do what exactly? Save the day? Be the hero? Puh-lease!
Despite the initial fist-clenching and red tainted vision, I kept my thoughts to myself when I received word that the absentee parent decided it was time to make an appearance, rather re-familiarize himself with the responsibilities that ensue with holding the title of parent.
Ordinarily, the emergence of a prodigal parent sets the stage for magical moments ripe with reconciliation, pleas for forgiveness and a willingness to do an about face, swearing off past anti-parent like behaviors. It’s true; it had been about fifteen years of on-again, gone-again episodes I secretly wished were scripted from twisted minds, instead of real life.
It’s true; while being the primary caretaker and financier of the duo, I’d hoped–prayed even–for the prodigal parent to embrace parenting for the honor and distinction it bears. What I did not expect were the half-truths or the smear campaign that would involve an inundated legal system too burdened to spot a gross misuse of resources even though it was the obvious pink elephant, sporting a leopard print tutu, doing a Poiret in the middle of the room.
To say this has been a difficult season would be an understatement. To say it is a complete waste of time for all parties involved would be accurate. Nevertheless, I’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts for prodigal and present parents which could help you navigate, successfully, to reach your ultimate destination: children who are loved, supported and engaged by both parents.
FOR THE PRODIGAL PARENT RETURNING
You’re back. Great! Word of advice.
The one thing you don’t do, ever, is blame your shortcomings, inabilities and perpetual absence on the parent who’s present.
You’re thinking it’s going to win you points. Think again. It simply makes you look like the crude, dishonest person you pretend not to be. It may work for a time with children who are young. But when they’re older? It only cements your unflattering qualities in their minds. Plus, you create an atmosphere ripe with undue stress, anxiety and tension for the child. Remember, revenge always has casualties.
Are you lying, name calling or attempting to manipulate others to get what you want? If this is your M.O., perhaps it’s best you get the counseling you need before you jump back into the parenting pool.
Resisting forgiveness keeps you trapped and poisons you from the inside out. And suddenly, your children become bargaining chips, instead of blessings; toys instead of treasures; weapons instead of wells of endless possibilities. If all you harbor is hate or animosity toward your ex, trust me, it’s all you’ll have to offer.
Don’t presume to know how your child or children feel about you. Ask! And then listen.
Regardless of the reasons behind your absence, you’re ready to be present and support your child physically, emotionally and financially. Great! But please don’t presume to know how your child feels about your return. And please stop telling them how they should feel.
You should be happy I’m back in your life.
Some of your friends aren’t so fortunate.
Deep down, I know you’re really glad to see me.
You’re only angry because[insert parent’s name] told you to be.
If this sounds like you, you presume too much and it can, and ultimately will, damage your new found relationship with your child. If your child is angry with you, deal with it — don’t continue to deny it. There are counselors, pastors, mediators and the like. Denial is not an option.
FOR THE SOLO PARENT STILL STANDING
If you’re in this predicament or worse, know this: there’s rough terrain ahead.
I’m not talking about differences in parenting styles or child rearing. Those are easy fixes. I’m talking about reputation smearing, intentional fabrication of facts, emotional and mental anguish, and let’s not forget the attempt to guilt, shame or bully you into conceding defeat.
There are days where all you’ll see is red. You’ll want to lash out or scream. You may even entertain a rage-laced fantasy or two. You’ll be tempted to revisit past pain or relive the emotional trauma resulting in the scars you bear today. Do yourself a favor: get emotional and/or prayer support…quick!
Whether it’s a counselor, pastor or other trusted, emotionally-wise person (the operative word here is wise), talk to someone about how you feel and be honest. And stop feeling like anger, hurt or powerlessness is not normal. It is. But the good news? It will pass.
The truth is your best advocate. Use it.
As parents, our natural instinct is to shield or protect our children from the sting of every day life. We go out of our way to avoid hard discussions or sugar-coat things we deem too jarring. Yeah, don’t.
Many years ago, in my attempts to “do the honorable thing,” I kept an important truth from my children. Despite the fact that my intentions were good, the result was backlash and anger. I never made that mistake again.
Your child will have questions. Answer them, honestly. Don’t frame the person or the truth of the situation in fabricated contexts. And whatever you do, please stop painting the prodigal parent as a saint, if they’re truly anything but.
Beware of old emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
You think you’ve got a handle on those old emotions and behaviors? Think they’re a thing of the past? Better think again. When absentee parents return, often times some of those painful memories or experiences come to the surface.
Without so much as a warning, you find yourself battling old insecurities, entertaining half-truths and second-guessing your sanity. On the surface, you seem like you’ve got it handled. Inside, however…you find your blood boiling, hands trembling and anxiety swirling around you like flies around a rotting carcass.
The best offense is a good defense. The only way to defend yourself or protect yourself from the flare up of old things is to fill your mind and soul with noble things. Surround yourself with people or things that breathe life into you–that resonate joy or fulfillment in you.
These are hard times friends. And hard work. But as always, nothing is ever impossible. Nothing.
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