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Talking to your child about an absent parent

Not all divorced parents share custody of their children. For a variety of reasons, your co-parent may have little or no contact with your child. Perhaps there were issues with drugs, alcohol or violence that have made it unsafe and unhealthy for your child to be around them. Your co-parent may have moved far away and chosen not to be part of your child's life other than to provide court-ordered financial support.

It's not unusual these days for kids to live with only one parent. Many of your child's friends at school may have divorced parents or parents who never married. However, when one parent is largely or completely absent from a child's life, it can have a serious psychological impact on their sense of identity and self-esteem. It's up to you as a single parent and to other adults in your child's life to be positive role models and to help develop a strong sense of who they are.

What you tell your child about their absent parent will depend on the circumstances. Perhaps your child was old enough to be aware of the divorce. However, it might have occurred when they were too young to understand or even to remember their other parent.

It's important to be honest with your child, within the limitations of what they can understand. No matter what happened, it's best not to speak critically of your co-parent to your child. They might perceive that as a reflection of how you feel about them.

As your child gets older, they will likely have more questions. Be prepared to answer them. Your child should feel free to express any anger or sadness they have about their absent parent.

There are plenty of support groups for single parents. Fellow single parents can help you build a community for your child and provide advice based on their experiences. It may also be helpful to let your child talk with a psychologist who can help them express and deal with their feelings. Your family law attorney can likely provide some recommendations of child psychologists who are experienced in helping children of divorce.

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