Real Talk

What Happens When a Parent Abandons a Child?

Family separations are messy, especially when children are in the equation. And at times, kids must face the painful reality that a parent can and will abandon them.

Parents separate for a variety of reasons. While some manage to talk things over, not everyone can keep their emotions in check during that turbulent moment. Things will be said and while some will just change addresses, there are those who just “drop everything and leave.”

Some parents even openly declare that they will be abandoning their family—not realizing the damage they can do to their child.

How can a parent abandon their child like that?

It’s highly frowned upon, yes, but there are parents who abandon their children—choosing to leave them with either their relatives or their partner. Some do it out of spite and frustration, especially when the child behaves similarly and thinks just like their partner. Others give in to the whispers of their relatives, eventually believing that their child is “nothing like them” or “loves their partner more.”

There are other ways they say that. “Nagmana yan talaga sa tatay/nanay niya,” “(Insert family name here) talaga siya,” “Sayang, di yan nagmana sa iyo,” “Mas gusto namin yung kapatid niya,” “Ba’t di siya nasa kabila [other side of the family]?” All these severs the connection and reduces that bond that parents have with their children into something more of an obligation. They’re still capable of parenting, but only doing it because they fear society’s rejection.

In more intense cases, the abandoning parent takes out their frustration with their partner on that child because they see it as an alternative way to hurt the other party.

What happens to the child then?

Nothing hurts a child more than having their own parent reject them. Maybe the abandoning parent didn’t say it directly like “I don’t want them!” or “Ayoko siya!” but they sometimes saying “Di ko na kaya! Lalayas na ako!” and slamming the door in the child’s face are enough to express the message.

Once that door closes, we can only imagine the questions running through the children’s heads.

“What did I do wrong?”

“Why don’t they love me anymore?”

“I made them leave.”

“Please come back. I’m sorry.”

The emotional wounds don’t fade away with Time. They fester and become part of their beliefs. “If no one will protect me, I will protect me.” This becomes their mantra as they push people away and fight off anyone who tries to establish an emotional connection with them. It can take years to re-establish that trust. Possibly, even never.

And if the parent who abandoned them tries to come back, it’ll be a miracle that the child they left behind even gives them the time of day. They’ve been cut off before, so now it’s their turn to cut their parents off.

Some children, as they get older, might take it to the next level as they go to court to request for their legal name to no longer reflect the last name of the abandoning parent. That way, they can truly cut off all ties with that parent.

The parent who was left behind

There is no manual on how to become a single parent. The only thing that does offer some sort of guidance is the law on what legalities to sort out—properties, assets, custody, and parental rights if the abandoning parent changes their mind. However, the single parent now has two things to sort out: their own shattered psyche and an innocent child’s mental state.

In a culture where family is the most important, the failure to maintain a traditional complete family can be crushing. Some relatives will even have the gall to say “I told you that your partner was bad news!” or “Sabi ko nga sa iyo!” Others will throw religion into the mix, further driving the point home on how they failed God in providing their child a happy home.

And worse, some even make the parent feel like less of a person—that he or she is the problem or not enough—because he or she was unable to maintain the relationship.

It’s terribly isolating. With the person who swore to be your life partner abandoning you, the dream of building a happy life for your child shatters into a thousand pieces. Asking your child to help you glue things back together at first sounds incredulous. But the reality is: it’s just the both of you now.

Abandonment happens for a variety of reasons.

In no way will abandonment ever be right. But everyone will always look for something or someone to blame. Partners will blame each other; bemoaning and grumbling at how they could have ever believed they were compatible. Relatives will blame the partner for “not being able to adapt to their [the family’s] culture.” Others will pin it on poor financial or lifestyle choices that endanger the family.

But at the end of the day, it’s the abandoned child who suffers the most. Caught in a complex web of things that they weren’t supposed to handle until adulthood, some of them take on a more jaded approach. Numbers, things that the five senses notice, the law, things proven by fact—essentially, anything that cannot be argued with the abstract becomes their security blanket.

Love? What’s that?

Can that tragic beginning become a happily ever after?

“Happily ever after” is subjective. And for these children, their happy ending means becoming self-sufficient and self-made. They take on strong and independent personas because then, no one will be able to hurt them. Their fortress is quite heavily built and a lot of times, these kinds of people have difficulty forming relationships, building friendships, and working in a team. After all, they’ve been abandoned by the first teammate they’ve ever known: one of their parents.

But when they do open up, they are probably one of the most capable people anyone’s ever met. After all, these abandoned children have learned the necessary skills to survive the harsh world. And once they’ve found a friend in you—once they’ve deemed how worthy you are to be able to climb past the figurative walls they’ve built around themselves—those relationships are made to last.

And as their trusted person, you will undoubtedly feel just how much they are valued.

To the children who were abandoned by a parent, it was never your fault. That parent should have protected you, loved you, and cared for you. And should you choose to be a parent one day, we know you’ll find the strength to love your child the way you should’ve been loved.

To the parents who were abandoned by their partners and chose not to leave their children, we salute you. You didn’t run from the fight. You didn’t back down when the going was tough. Rest assured, the family you created for yourself and your children is one that won’t break so easily.

More on children?

Role Reversal: When Children “Raise” Their Parents
To All Cycle Breaking Parents, We’re With You
Can Parents Learn to Love When They Didn’t Grow Up With It?

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