Your Child and the No-Show Parent

Two disappointed girls standing on the front porch with their mom

I hung up the phone and sat for a moment in disbelief, uttering a silent prayer: Lord, please help me. I can't do this alone. On the front porch, my daughters were anticipating their father's arrival, and I would soon watch their hopes melt into tears. He wasn't coming, and this was not their first or last disappointment.

The canceled weekends, forgotten birthdays and missed performances would go on for years. As the messenger of bad news, I continually found myself trying to pick up the shattered pieces of my daughters' hearts.

The broken promises of an absent parent can lead to deep insecurity and confusion in a child. While one parent cannot control the other's actions, she can shape a child's understanding and response to disappointment.

Through the years, I've discovered ways to offer my daughters security for today and hope for the future. Consider these principles as you guide your own children:

Speak the truth in love

While anger and frustration may be justified, avoid the temptation to complain in front of your children. When conveying difficult news, speak with gentleness and compassion.

Give children a voice

Helping your children to identify and express their feelings, both positive and negative, validates their experiences. Teach healthy ways to express frustration, anger, sadness and loss. And share in their joy when the other parent fulfills a promise.

Model forgiveness

Forgiveness does not imply tolerance, but it does require letting go of your anger and bitterness. When you release these feelings to God, you're showing your kids how to deal with their emotions constructively.

Avoid overcompensation

When your children are hurting, you may be tempted to comfort through gifts. No amount of "stuff" will fill the void. Instead, offer unconditional love and support, giving your children the priceless gift of stability.

Affirm God's character

Assure your children that, although a parent may let them down, God never will. Reminding them of God's perfect nature can open their hearts to His abundant love.

When I offered that simple but desperate prayer that I wouldn't have to parent alone, God heard me. What I realize now is that He never intended for me to do it on my own (Isaiah 40:11). In time, I learned to trust in God's strength, healing and guidance. He picked up the broken pieces and restored hope to my beautiful family.

This article appeared in the January/February 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was titled "Let Down . . . Again." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2012 by Michelle Lynn Senters. Used by permission.

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