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Absent Parents and the Holes in the Souls of Our Kids

Forgiveness: A crucial ingredient to healing in absent father, single mother homes.

I can’t resist a good Super Soul Sunday and recently stumbled across an episode that stopped me mid-scroll. The segment was entitled, The Secret Pain of Single Moms (raising fatherless sons). I’ve had that status for a while. So, I clicked, only to find myself snorting out sobs three minutes into the episode. While my children are not fatherless, the interaction with their Dad is intermittent.

The trigger for my emotion while watching, was not my own single parent challenges, but rather the poignantly described agony that permeates me constantly. It is the deep void I sense in my boys due to the absence of their father that continues to skewer my heart, compounded by the acute reality that I am unable to fill it. As expressed in the segment, “Kids have a hole in their soul that’s the shape of the father.” I wanted to learn more about the consequences of the absences and what could be done to empower our children to deal with them.

I paused the segment, wrangled my 16-year-old son away from his device and asked him to watch it with me. Surprisingly, he obliged. More astonishingly, he was equally overcome with emotion by minute three of the episode. Damn, Oprah is good. This was good, albeit gut-wrenching. We were getting to the raw and vulnerable core of our emotions, together – a rare moment between my “40-something” self and my eldest teen. We were broadsided by the emotional impact of the segment, despite our fluency with the situation.

Here’s what we learned.

We Are Not Alone

We are certainly not alone. According to Statitsa, in 2017, about 19.97 million children in the United States lived with one parent, approximately 16.77 million of them with their mother only.

It’s Not their Fault

The absence of a parent is not a child’s fault. My oldest son seemed to know this intellectually, yet this point made him crack while watching the segment. “Forgive yourself for believing there is something lacking in you because he is not there.” Ouch. Seeing the impact on my son upon hearing these words gutted me. I needed to reinforce his worthiness, but more importantly, he needed to believe it.

Face It, Own It

We learned that many boys and men end up swimming in anger about the absence of a Dad. It’s a lot harder to pry open the hood and own that pain than it is to armor up against it. Watching the segment was a small step for my son at owning that pain.

He Loves You

There was great dialogue from a father’s perspective explaining that physical absence did not equate to a lack of love. The men profiled shared their own shame, pains, regrets and guilt. And, that until they were able to be the type of father they aspired to be, they did not feel worthy of being in the presence of their children – yet the love was there.

Forgiveness: Let Go and Accept, As-is

Dad’s aren’t superfluous. They are essential to the well-being of our kids. Yet my son learned a hard truth. He needed to let go of the dream of a relationship with the Dad he wanted him to be and cultivate a new one with the Dad that he was. We listened to strong words about forgiveness. What resonated for my son was the need to let go of the hope that the past could be any different. Instead, he could choose to start a fresh path with his Dad, from today forward. This notion was freeing. I too was reminded, and need to remember, always, that even brief moments with the boys’ father, would be enormously healing.

Curating from a Team of Trusted Greats

Lastly, we learned that boys need, and crave, a reflection of what they can become. They want to see someone in their life that reflects them. As their Mom, I can’t offer that. And this is brutal. Since there were voids with his father, from a very young age, my son had learned how to curate teachings from a team of trusted men in his life. This too was reinforced in the segment and prompted great dialogue between us.

Whole in His Soul

He shared his list of trusted influencers including a coach, teacher, his grandfather and most emotionally-stirring for me – my deeply intuitive and grounded fiancé who steadfastly follows through on his every word. We both expressed our gratitude for this remarkable line-up of greats in our lives. While they cannot completely plug the hole in my son’s soul, their teachings, coupled with snippets of Dad, can potentially empower him to stand worthy and “whole” in his own soul.

Here’s hoping, for him, and all of your kids in a similar place. 

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