According to an article in The Washington Times: "In America, the number of single fathers has risen from 600,000 in 1982 to over 2 million in 2011, partially because of mothers leaving their families. In the UK, it is estimated mother (sic) are abandoning their children at a rate of 100,000 annually." Although mostly anecdotal, that figure, according to a survey reported in Psychology Today, is rising at a rate of 12% per year. And The Washington Times' Paul Mountjoy says, "This phenomenon is growing so rapidly that there are support groups for mothers that leave home."
Perhaps this is because women are now in careers and lifestyles that were once in the sole purview of men. And yet there is a stigma attached to mothers who, for one reason or another, relinquish custody of their children. Certainly fathers have been "abandoning" children for millennia with nearly negligible blowback. So long as the law agrees that the tots will be better off with their mothers, these dads get to walk away with little to no scorn. Even deadbeat dads who fail to provide financial support for their offspring often get off the hook too easily. That happens because the onus of responsibility for reporting and pursuing them falls upon the already beleaguered mother who may find it more expedient to let it go than jump through all the legal hoops to seek her just dues.
Even in an age when military women are often deployed to far off countries to work and fight alongside their male cohorts, the men/fathers are hailed for serving God, Queen and country while women/mothers are too often judged, and viewed as "abandoning" their children. But, it is noted, the women are leaving their broods for the exact same reasons men have: better employment prospects, military service, divorce, personal goals, to return to school, to be with another partner or failure to bond with their children. None of these reasons are new or exclusive to either gender. But as author Maria Housden put it when she gave up custody of her children in order to devote herself full time to her book, "I did something divorced fathers are expected to do every day. But when a mother does it, it's abandonment."
Regardless of which parent leaves, the children are arguably the ones that suffer most. The impacts of parental abandonment are, and can be, life-altering in both the long and short term. Feelings of shock, confusion and even guilt can hit a child early on and affect long-term life choices. Grief, shame and fear (of attachment) also impact the delicate psyche of abandoned children. These may affect whether the child/adult will be able to trust others or even feel worthy of others' love and trust. All of this can be exacerbated by the way the remaining parent or family copes with the changed family dynamic. In most, if not all instances, family counseling is the recommended method of minimizing long-term negative impact on all involved.
This article was originally published in June 2014, and has been updated for the
March 2015 paperback release.
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