There were press reports today about cumulative long-term research which shows that vast numbers of fathers lose touch with their children after a divorce or similar. More men fail to keep in touch if they go on to have a second family than if they just move to live apart. Radio stations called to ask me to do an interview about this; there are two sides at least to this.
Many of the people who bother to write comments online about this story are fathers who feel themselves dispossessed. They say they have tried enormously hard to keep in touch and it hasn’t worked – the mum has stopped them from seeing their children, people have deliberately moved away, the kids only wanted money. Other men are pointing out that women similarly sometimes just leave one set of children for the next. And women are describing fairly awful times they experienced staying at home as single parents with children.
The more important side, rarely mentioned, is how the children feel. In my job, I have met large numbers of children who feel abandoned. There are the children who never knew their fathers [usually Fathers], and those who have seen some fotos but have no memories of fathers. More children are those who recall being dressed up ready for Daddy to come and take them out, and Daddy not coming, or coming so late that it doesn’t happen. The dads who collected their children and dropped them off at Granny’s while they went out – or to work [the same thing in child terms]. There were those children who ‘found ‘ their missing parent on Facebook and got in touch, only to be devastated when nothing developed. And all those children who said to me ’What if I’m like him?’ ‘Why did he leave me?’ ‘Am I horrible?’ and those who worry for their mums and try to make up for whatever they perceive as missing.
There are, too, those children who are relieved to lose a particular parent whom they remember beating up the other parent or the children, whom they remember as drunk or spending all the money.
This sort of thing is so much more complex than a news report can reflect. Ultimately, of course parents miss out from not being a part of their children’s lives. There is the tv star whose father keeps complaining that his daughter wont talk to him – he left when she was 4, she’s now 40+ and showed no interest until she was famous. But why should she? what has she got to gain; what does a 16 year old have to gain from a parent who returns after ignoring him for twelve years? How could they build a relationship? How could they trust?
Children frequently suffer enormously from the understanding that their parents chose not to prioritise them! And parents who dont make enormous efforts to keep in touch, are responsible for causing a massive amount of pain.