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Coping with Inconsistent Parental Access
develop their sense of self and place in the world through their
relationship to their parents. A childís self esteem is built on the
notion that, ďI am of value as a person to the degree to which my
parents take interest in me.Ē Children feel their parentsí interest in
them by the amount of time spent with them. Many parents talk of quality
time, but the best indicator of quality is quantity and consistency.
These days when parents speak of quality, they really mean that they do
not spend much time with their child, but when they do, they spoil them.
This is not good for children. Rather, children need ample and regular
attention from both parents in their normal living situations. Letís
face it, we only do spend time with people we value and children feel
a parent is not active in a childís life, the child may be emotionally
crushed, feeling unworthy. As such, the child may no longer strive to
succeed socially, academically and later, economically. Some children may
even demonstrate these feelings of unworthiness through disruptive
behaviour. Alternately, some children develop rich fantasy lives to
protect themselves from feelings of worthlessness. They tell themselves
their parent must be doing very important things otherwise they would
surely be here. Such children grow up with unrealistic views of other
people and relationships.
custodial parents find themselves in a bind when the non-custodial parent
fails to exercise regular access. They feel the pain of their child whose
heart may be broken and view them as dying the death of a thousand
emotional cuts. They wonder what to tell their children to help them cope,
recognizing the impact on their self-worth.
custodial parents helping their children cope with the absence or
inconsistent access of the non-custodial parent, this advice is suggested:
1. Either directly or through another person, tell the non-custodial
parent, their relationship to the children is important. Believe it or
not, some parents do not fully realize this. They may have had a similar
experience in their upbringing. In bringing this to their attention, you
may suggest meeting with a social worker for them to discuss and learn
about the importance of their relationship to their children.
2. Remain calm yourself. Do not exhibit your anger or frustration to
your children, as this will only escalate their bad feelings. Rather, talk
with your children about their feelings. It is appropriate to reassure
them that you love them. It is also appropriate to explain that the
non-custodial parentís absence is a reflection on difficulties they are
having and not a reflection on the children. Be careful here not to
bad-mouth the non-custodial parent. When you bad-mouth the non-custodial
parent, you bad-mouth your children because they recognize they come from
3. If you know the non-custodial parent is inconsistent, always have a
back-up plan to structure your childrenís time. This is not to say you
spoil them with special attention to compensate for the non-custodial
parentís absence though. Rather, children should not be left with
nothing to do, otherwise they may wallow in their upset and get disruptive
due to bad feelings. It is better that they learn to adapt and use their
is no way to fully protect children from disappointment in life. The key
though is to keep the disappointment from being felt as a reflection of
their worth. By helping them understand the situation and making sure
their time remains structured, you can ease the impact of the situation
and teach them appropriate coping skills at the same time. This will equip
them to deal with other disappointments that life may throw their way, so
they can integrate the experience and then move on to other successes.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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