Wednesday, January 07, 2009
This week my mother, a holistic life coach, went to the Bahamas. She advises people to help them improve their lives, using time-honored techniques which she has learned from all over the world. She is especially talented at helping people get though hard times. Unfortunately for us, a situation that had been developing for years arose during her absence. She was not here when we most needed her.
For background, about eight years ago my baby sister fell in love with a young man whom I have known since birth. She spoke about him like he could walk on water. She was a dreamer and kind of naïve, and we often talked of their future. Eventually they wanted to get married. Reality soon came crashing down – at their son’s naming ceremony (an ancient African tradition). Her boyfriend looked mortified. I think the reality of being a father hit him hard and he became very scared. He fell into the unfortunate cliché, he immediately took distance from her and their son, essentially disappearing from their lives.
My sister was faced with many difficult issues. She chose not to force a relationship with the man and even had to take him to court for child support … to no avail. He managed to stay one step ahead of the law, never paying a penny. Considering the potentially detrimental effects to her son, my sister did not tell him the identity of his father. This decision seemed to work well, especially since my nephew bonded with another man that my sister knew. For all practical purposes, my nephew thought that this man was his father.
Recently, when our mother was out of the country, my sister decided – difficultly – to tell her son the truth about his father. You can imagine the blow this admission delivered to her son, and my sister called me since our mother was not here to help. I could sense her tears, but I tried to stay focused and diplomatic, knowing that the hard truth was what had to be dealt with.
One question I asked was what she had been telling her son about his biological father. She answered that she had told him his father was absent because he was not prepared to be a good father. She quickly added that this fact had nothing to do with her son and that he should in no way feel responsible or bad about the fact that his father had left.
I have never been as proud of my sister as at that moment. It was clear that she had grown from a self-centered little girl to a woman whose character has been fortified by the birth of her son and all the challenges and happiness that such an event entails. Her maturity is the inspiration for this article.
Commonly, a young mother who faces the departure of her child’s father will find a way to blame the father. My sister – later confirmed by my mother – understood that blaming the father is the worst way to deal with the sad situation because the child will likely feel that it is his or her fault. Obviously, this type of burden is hard on a child. According to some researchers, the child starts to think that he or she caused the problems, thereby leading to difficulty in developing (or maintaining) a good self-esteem. Even worse, the child may grow up thinking that such behavior is appropriate, leading to similar problems involving other innocent victims.
The better method of dealing with an absent parent is to highlight his or her positive qualities. There is no reason to make him or her a hero, but it is important to explain what made that person so special. No matter how much the parent feels cheated by the abandoning parent, there is nothing good in passing on the resentment or other negative feelings to the child. As the child grows, he or she will find other adults who are there to support his or her growth and development, effectively substituting for the biological father. It is worth considering that the child may eventually wish to meet the missing parent. If so, allow it, so long as there are clear boundaries established in terms of ensuring that the child is not exposed to dangerous or negative situations.
It was once thought that girls were more difficult than boys to raise since they are more emotional and express what they are thinking more openly. Boys are similar, except that society dictates that they do not show emotions. Both boys and girls require constant work to develop into well-rounded adults, but boys with no male role model require extra attention since they are the ones who will become fathers themselves. If these boys are given the proper tools –not the burdens – then it is likely that they will not make the same mistakes as their own fathers.