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Understanding Parental Abandonment: Q & A With Dr. Leah Klungness

Last week’s blog, Understanding Parental Abandonment: My Light Bulb Moment, prompted a lot of feedback in the comments and via personal messages. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Dr. Leah is back to answer some of your questions.

CC: What makes an absent parent come around?

LK: Absent parents do sometimes come around, but life has to beat them up a bit first. Perhaps, all their subsequent relationships fall apart, or maybe their own feelings of immortality are suddenly toppled by a serious illness or accident. Sometimes the birth of another child or the death of their own parents trigger a dormant sense of connection and responsibility to an older child previously abandoned. Unfortunately, there are no magic words (or nagging comments), which ignite a sense of responsibility for a child.

CC: Regarding last Friday's blog, one commenter suggested parents that abandon their kids don’t have a moral compass. What does this mean?

LK: No moral compass means that a person does not know right from wrong. It further means that an absent parent does not have the tools to make the correct moral choices. In short, this reader is suggesting that absent parents lack the fundamental capacity for change.

CC: If an absent parent doesn’t care to meet his child, then why does he/she readily respond to emails regarding an invitation, or other questions about the shared child? Why not just ignore?

LK: The fact that an absent parent answers an email quickly (or at all) tells me that he/she is ambivalent about his/her abandonment. It's likely that his/her response reflects his/her own need to convince himself/herself that he/she is not interested and will never be so. In short: This parent protests a bit too much. They could have deleted the message without opening it. Or read the message and deleted without responding. This absent parent has NOT put the child, or the other parent out of his/her mind.

CC: Absent parents like to use the convenient line: “Because I don't want to see you,” when it comes to meeting and visiting their child. This has happened to me—and a lot of my readers. This puts a lot of guilt on us (no, really). I don't think it's fair for absent parents to blame their absence on present parents.

LK: Your guilt and anxiety are not deserved. Absent parents see an ex and child as a package deal. Many devoted single parents describe themselves in just that way. Check out any online dating site and you'll see this "take it or leave it" description quite often. You are not to blame for the manner in which an absent parent has merged you and your child into one entity. The absent parent is to blame for not sorting out his/her feelings about the present parent and keeping those feelings separate from the child. And distance has nothing to do with it. When people want to connect, virtually or live, they find a way. What absent parents tend not to grasp: It's ultimately going to be the child’s call whether they meet. Simply stated, a child will seek out an absent parent because they’ll need to find clarity and truth about the situation. Just as children grow to develop friendships and other relationships totally independent from their parent(s), the child may also develop some type of relationship with an absent parent, apart from the parent who has been there since day one. Giving your children the emotional permission to fill their own life story in as it relates to an absent parent will be essential. It will be a wonderful testimony to your love and selfless devotion to your child.

Actor Adrian Grenier took matters into his own hands and went looking for his Dad. Read my interview with him here.