The 2 words ‘Absent Parenting’ almost sound contradictory, for everyone knows that parenting is a full-time job. You can’t really be parenting if you are absent. After all, a parent’s role is to meet the physical and emotional needs of a child. A parent is expected to give unconditional love, comfort, support, validation and acceptance. They discipline and guide their children, play with them and have fun with them and also educate them and teach them life skills.
But if a child with both their parents grows up feeling lonely and rejected, it is probably a case of present but absent parenting. This is when a parent is physically present but is not available to the child mentally or emotionally. Parenting requires much more than just being there and absent parenting can have very far-reaching effects on a child even in their adulthood and can influence their relationship dynamics with others. Adults who have come from seemingly normal families may feel unwanted and unloved and suffer from low self-worth. There is no history of neglect, abuse or trauma, but they may still require counselling, healing and positive coping mechanisms and it all goes back to their childhood.
What Present but Absent Parenting Means
Absent parenting is when the parent is at home, but is emotionally unavailable to the child. When parents aren’t able to express love and affection to their child or share things with them, it’s a classic example of present but absent parenting. They cater to all the physical requirements of their child like food, clothing and shelter, but ignore or are unable to look after equally important needs. Kids require affirmation from their parents and if they don’t get praised or feel accepted, they get lonely and feel unwanted.
The traits of an absentee parents are,
- They never express their love in any way or say “I love you”.
- Are unapproachable to the child
- Remain glued to the TV or some other screen or are generally engrossed in work
- shun physical affection
- Is unable to engage with the child
Do keep in mind that an occasional bad mood or zoning out for a while does not qualify as absentee parenting. It is only when this behaviour is persistent and consistent that the child starts feeling worthless and unwanted and may suffer other psychological damage. Children are extremely perceptive and immediately pick up their parents’ moods and feelings.
Effects of Absent Parenting
Children need to always feel loved, wanted and nurtured. Parents are responsible for providing shelter and protection to their children. They should teach them life skills so that they are ready for the world outside.
If a parent fails in their nurturing duties because of being emotionally absent, it is bound to harm the child.
Children crave attention and affirmation.
Without sufficient attention and time from the parents, children tend to lose their sense of self-worth. The child might internalise this feeling and feel they are dumb, unattractive, unlovable and worthless. Or, the child might go completely the other way and hide their insecurity by becoming overconfident, arrogant and aggressive.
Children Look Elsewhere for Attention
If a child doesn’t get the necessary love and attention at home, they will look for it elsewhere. This behaviour can become dangerous and they may look at the opposite sex to feel wanted and worthwhile. This unfortunately can happen at a much earlier age than it should when the child is neither physically, mentally or emotionally ready for it.
In extreme cases, they may join gangs or cults as they get older. Humans are social beings and need to feel a sense of connection and belonging. When it doesn’t happen at home, they feel any sense of connection outside the home is better than none.
Such children may develop habits that are self-fulfilling. When they see themselves as worthless, they make choices that leave them open to use and abuse. This reaffirms their belief that they are not worthy of love
Present but absent parenting can cause irreversible damage to children.
Absent parenting can cause a whole lot of fears to come up in children. It can cause the fear of failure, a fear of standing out, a fear of being alone and many more. As they have no faith in themselves, they are too scared to go out and try new things. This in turn, causes a lack of self-worth and self-confidence causing a vicious cycle. Children begin to feel betrayed, angry and lonely which can lead to dangerous behaviour like self-harm and drug abuse.
Steps to Overcome It
As a parent, you have to make an effort so that your children feel important and protected by you.
Be present with your heart and soul for your child as children are very perceptive to disconnection. Make eye contact and talk to your kids. This doesn’t mean just barking orders at them, you need to have actual conversations with them. Physical touch is very important so hug and kiss them whenever possible.
Your child is not really interested in a perfect parent. They just want someone who is emotionally available to them. So, it’s okay to be distracted, zoned out or in a bad mood, as long as this is not consistent behaviour. It’s not possible to give your child attention all the time or spend every moment with them. Balance is the key and your child will understand that you may need some ‘me time’ and honour it.
It’s perfectly fine to say ‘No’ to your kids when required or make a mistake sometimes and this is not going to scar your child in any way. It’s important to maintain boundaries and this will not prevent you from raising children who feel wanted, loved and supported.
Signs That You Are Becoming An Absent Parent
- You are permanently glued to a screen or allow your child to do the same. You allow this to happen even during meals or when visiting friends or family.
- Haven’t asked your children any questions for the longest time ever and listened to what they have to say.
- Don’t reprimand or check the negative behaviour of your child immediately. Instead, you may just express disappointment or disdain and then ignore them.
- Have feelings of unworthiness at being their parent and feel you cannot parent them.
- You are unable to make eye contact while talking to your children or speak truthfully to them. Eye contact and physical touch are necessary for children to feel loved and wanted.
Children don’t require any grandiose gestures to feel wanted or loved. It is the everyday small moments that matter to them and make them feel loved and accepted. It is important to take out the time and be emotionally available to your children or it can have a very long-lasting and far-reaching effect on their behaviour and personality. Parental influence plays a major role in how a child turns out. For more information on the effects of absentee parenting, its effects and how you can avoid it, you could log into the EuroKids website.