Rejection is one of the most devastating and humiliating emotions humans can have. Even if it’s for surface-level reasons, like your hairstyle or your shoes, it can feel deeply personal. It’s bad enough when you feel rejected by a peer at work or by someone you thought was a friend. Imagine that one of your parents turns away and doesn’t look back.
Kids with an AWOL parent do lots of things to try to restore some sense of balance and security. They become strongly attached, sometimes fixated on objects. They may become more rigid with their routines, more insistent about what they want, more repetitive to create security.
Kids also try many different ways to fill in the void of their absent parent. Older kids may become sexual at an earlier age, or they may try to hide from their pain and anxiety by taking drugs and drinking. They may become familiar with strangers far too easily or too affectionate with people they hardly know well. They may have deep insecurities that affect friendships and dating relationships. They may become depressed because they thought they weren’t good enough to keep their missing parent around.
The other parent and extended family members may feel unsure about how to help the child or children left behind. Often children who have been abandoned have some difficulties for years. However, it doesn’t
mean they are doomed to a lonely life or years of misery. Some children are naturally more resilient than others. Some children have more support than others.
There’s no really good way to tell how a child will adapt to rejection or abandonment from their parent. Children continue to readjust to the world around them and their inner selves as they mature. What might have been very difficult as a young child may be easier to comprehend as a teen. Or something that an elementary school child was oblivious to might become painfully clear when they get to middle school.
Mental health counseling is sometimes helpful for a child in this situation. But not every child needs this much help necessarily. And even with all the love, support, help, or counseling, there is no way to truly replace the missing parent. There is no cure for the normal intense feelings of a child who knows they have been abandoned by one of the people they should have counted on the most. No matter why the parent has left, children in this situation have a hole in their heart. They have a long hill to climb, but life can still be good.