There can be many reasons why children may experience prolonged separations from a parent. From planned separations like for military families or when one parent must take a job far away, to unplanned situations in the case of mental illness, substance abuse or abandonment.

I’ve received several listener questions asking for guidance on how to best help their child process and work through their parental abandonment issues, so here to offer insight on this subject is Dr. Emily Upshur.

What we know from attachment science and psychological research allows us, as a consistent presence in our child’s life, to use strategies and establish action plans that best support children who are struggling with an unstable parent in ways that can foster resilience, empathy and lifelong emotional wellbeing, in spite of this challenge.


Dr. Emily (00:00):

You see children expressing their feelings in not obvious ways, right? So they’re not usually saying, “I’m so disappointed that I don’t get to see daddy anymore.” You usually see rigidity, behavioral problems, maybe throwing or hitting.

Dr. Sarah (00:21):

We all want to protect our children from feeling pain and suffering. And when that suffering is caused by behaviors or actions by their other parent, there’s often a great deal of work we have to do to manage our own emotions in order to be a support for our child. I’ve received several questions from listeners, asking for advice on parenting during prolonged separations, inconsistency, or total abandonment from their child’s other parent. To help explain the nuances of these difficult situations and offer suggestions for how to handle them all is Dr. Emily Upshur, the co-founder of our therapy practice Upshur Bren Psychology Group. Our own stable and sturdy presence as a parent, helping our child to cope, to feel safe, to feel loved, can have a massive impact. While we’ll talk about specific strategies and action plans that you can use to help your child process their emotions and reactions to this situation in a way that fosters acceptance and resilience, it’s also important to understand that the temporary or permanent absence of one parent does not necessarily mean that our child is doomed to a lifetime of insecure attachments.


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Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast. I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.


Hello everybody. Today, we are so lucky to have Dr. Emily Upshur back with us to answer listener questions. Hi, Emily.

Dr. Emily (04:01):

Hi. Good to be here.

Dr. Sarah (04:03):

Good to have you. So I’m actually gonna have sort of an amalgamation of a couple different questions we’ve gotten. But we’ve had a couple different people send in questions about, in different variations of this, but how to, how to raise children who are experiencing either abandonment or separation from a parent that they once had a relationship with. What, and, you know, sometimes it’s the question is around, like maybe that parent does not have the mental capacity to parent in this moment, they’re going through a very serious mental health issue, or maybe an addiction issue, or perhaps they’ve made a choice to exit this child’s life. And then there are also questions about the separation or abandonment in relationship to like a non volitional one, like maybe you have a parent who is in the military or a parent who has to take a job in a far away place for a while where there’s this sort of, you know, desire to be with the child, but the parent can’t be. So how do we help children cope with all these kinds of separations and potentially very painful times and relationship to a parent figure.

Dr. Emily (05:22):

Yeah, no, I think these are really good questions. I mean, I think maybe starting off with what happens with a non volitional separation is like a good place to start with all of that. I think there’s some really great routines and rituals and sort of things that we know from the research that help children with trim with being able to cope with separations, such as sort of like a, a parent has to temporarily move to a different state for a job or a military family that has a parent relocate in a different location. One of the things that we know helps children so much as routines and rituals, and so sort of integrating the separated parent into a daily routine, even if it’s like one to three minutes is a great way. So that’s maybe saying, just saying a quick goodnight or, you know, doing a little bit of a FaceTime and if that’s not possible, even sending like a little message or a note this day and age it’s, so it’s so nice to have technology in these kind of ways, right?


So there’s ability to create a touchpoint. There are other ways sort of having something we talk a lot about in psychology is transitional objects, right? So like if there’s something that maybe has a joint meeting or a meeting to the separated person for the child, that that child can hold it like a necklace or, you know, even a, like a letter or a hat or a, t-shirt some, some of those types of objects that have meaning and symbolism to the child, it’s really nice to sort of allow the child to have that and have, have that play a role in what’s going on for them. And then I think, you know, one thing we always talk about is, you know, it’s okay to talk about it being hard, you know, and validate that, you know, these separations can be hard and you know, that, that doesn’t mean it’s insurmountable. Like we know you can handle it, but we also know that it feel, it could feel kind of tough with, you know, a parent misses a baseball game or a special moment, or even, you know, a bedtime routine. So I think it’s okay. We, we, we don’t have to avoid the painfulness of that. I think that’s really important. Yeah. Yeah. It’s okay. To sort of recognize that and sort of let that be a part of the lived experience.

Dr. Sarah (07:38):

Yeah. I actually think it’s really important too, because I think I totally get this a parent that is sticking, you know, that is staying with the child and is, you know, charged with guiding them through life with the absence of that other parent. There’s probably a strong pull on that parent to try to keep them distracted and not focused on what’s not there. Right. and to, to sort of let go of that responsibility can be very freeing for the parent, but it’s also really important for the kid because like, I’m all about distractions certain times, but like, we don’t wanna live, we don’t wanna teach our child to avoid the painful thoughts and feelings about missing a person or feeling sad that they’re not there or disappointed that they couldn’t share something with them. And so naming that experience for a child actually very important and helping them to identify the feelings and learn how to cope with those feelings. So yeah, yeah. I think it’s freeing for parents to know I’m, we’re allowed to not, to not, to not like, you know, sort of shepherd them away from all of the things that remind them of the, of the parent who’s not there. 

Dr. Emily (08:55):

Yeah, it’s a lot, I think it’s a lot of work on both sides, right. For both the partners that are, you know, the, the home home partner quote unquote and the, you know, separated partner. And I think another thing that just occurred to me as you were saying that is it, I think it’s also okay for the separated parent to be a normal parent. And by that, I mean, I don’t think they need to, there needs to be an idealization, right? Like I think that they can have the full range of emotions in their interactions with the family and the child. They can be stressed, they can have a good day. They could be crouchy, you know, I think it’s really important to not put them on a pedestal because they’re absent. It’s easy to fill that in with like, and sort of like positivity to your point as the, as the home quote, unquote parent at home, wanting to sort of be careful to make it positive in some sort of way, I think is like, that creates a lot of pressure. I think, to keep it as quote, you know, normal, you know, in the range of normalcy is also important in that way, because that hopefully, you know, in, in these, in the situation that we’re discussing, there will be a reunification and we want, and like real life has these ups and downs. And we wanna be able to sort of maintain that in, in this separation as well.

Dr. Sarah (10:10):

Right? Yes. I think parents who are gone for a really long time who have always planned on coming back when they come back, it’s really challenging because of that potential for idealization right now. It’s like, okay, well, am I allowed to like discipline my child? Because I feel so guilty that I’ve been away from them for so long or, or the other parent has developed all these rituals and routines and structures and expectations with the child. I don’t know where I fit in anymore. So they’re, I think, you know, if you’re ever experiencing this, I think it’s actually really helpful to talk to potentially a clinician or a family therapist to help you guys come up with strategies for reuniting, because I think it can be really challenging for all parties involved for different in different ways. So reunification is certainly something I would recommend potentially support around.

Dr. Emily (10:57):

Yeah. And I think that like what you’re talking about I think is really important, which is sort of a transition plan, both in and out. Right. And so I think that getting guidance in that can be really helpful. Some of these little tips that we’re talking about, transitional objects, pictures, phone calls, rituals, but then to your point, really importantly, like how are we gonna handle questions, discipline choices that in our child’s life with another parent, who’s not actively at home, you know, that’s a great thing to get on, on the same page with your partner, you know, cause there might be game time decisions that usually you would just touch base with your partner quickly that night about. And because you have to know if they can go to the field trip the next day with your, you know, something like that. So it’s nice to have a little bit of a plan in place. Like, are you okay with me making these types of decisions on the fly and what are types of decisions that we want to sort of meet, have a more meeting of the minds and sort of go over before we execute. And that can be both, you know, coming in and you know, when whenever is separated or when they’re reunified.

Dr. Sarah (12:04):

And so that’s a very specific type of separation, right? Where it’s like the all parties involved really want to be together. There’s something happening in the world. That’s making them not be able to be together. And there’s an understanding that more, very, very, very high likelihood that there will be reunification afterwards. Like that’s the, that’s the expectation in the plan. There’s also types of separations that are not so cut and dry and not so, you know, shared like mutual, right. What do we do when we have, you know, a, a volitional separation on the part of a parent perhaps by, you know, separation or divorce starting a different family moving to like in the context of divorce and separation. And I think in that case, I think it’s helpful to sort of split it up into two categories because how the nature of that separation is going to be is gonna inform kind of, I think how we would probably support a family going through that support a child going through that because you’re gonna have, sometimes you’re gonna have volitional separation that is permanent where a parent has made it clear.


They no longer wanna be a part of this child’s life and they’re not coming back. And that is sort of like this permanent loss and that’s gonna look different for a child than the other type of separation that you often see in cases of divorce or when a parent really isn’t able for any number of reasons to really be a parent to that child where there’s actually a coming and a going and a coming and a going and an inconsistent and unreliable presence. But there isn’t necessarily a finite separation, which actually can be far more challenging for a child. So can we talk a little bit about like maybe Wes start with like when a parent chooses to leave for good. How do we process that with a kid? And then we could talk a little bit about like, what do we do when we have a parent who’s coming in and out and in and out very reliably and inconsistently.

Dr. Emily (14:20):

Sure. yeah, I mean, I think, look, I think either an unreliable or inconsistent, or even a planned, you know, 50/50 custody share can be in a different category than this than sort of a more permanent separation. And I think in a more permanent separation, we’re talking a little bit like about actually like mourning, right? Like it’s a little bit different, right? Not in a literal sort of, you know, death sort of way, but in a sort in a, like how do we grieve the end of that relationship and sort of cope with that and self regulate around the fact that that relationship is ending or how do we help our child do that? And I think, you know, I think it’s really important that we validate the sadness, you know, or the range of emotions, I should say, maybe there’s anger, maybe there’s sadness, maybe there’s relief, you know, probably there’s ambivalence, you know, about all of those things.


There’s probably a piece of all those emotions. And I think that they all have, should have a space and sort of like a moment to, you know, feel like you can help your child can be the container. I say this a lot to parents being the container is, is amazing and in and of itself, right. And a lot of parents feel that they’re not doing enough or, you know, but I say like being able to hold all of your children’s reactions and, and contain them without imposing your own emotions or your own feelings upon them in those moments is super, is extremely valuable. You know, like all you have to do is be able to contain it self-regulate yourself within that moment, help to co regulate your child, even your older child in those moments is really, really important. So labeling those emotions and sort of just containing them is really important. And part of that is self-regulating yourself as the parent and also not catastrophizing or imposing, you know, an adult framework on a child’s emotional experience.

Dr. Sarah (16:22):

Yeah. What would that maybe look like? Could you like walk us through maybe some, an example of how, how containing a child’s emotions in the, in the context of like a loss of a parent figure might look.

Dr. Emily (16:33):

Yeah. I mean, I think what we most commonly see, honestly, in where people come through our offices is you see children expressing their feelings in not obvious ways. Right. So they’re not usually saying I’m so disappointed that I don’t get to see daddy anymore, or I’m so angry that mommy is not, you know, here anymore. You really, you usually see some other expressions, rigidity, behavioral problems crying, less patience. Sometimes you see increased in irritability, even, you know, uncharacteristic behaviors of your particular child, maybe throwing or hitting, or, you know, that type of thing, more arguments in their peer relationships. So what you as a parent wanna do is sort of sort through, you know, what’s getting thrown in the air here and how can I label it? Like, oh, you’re, you’re acting really irritable today, but I wonder if it’s because you’re, this is a day that typically daddy would’ve brought you to soccer, right? Like, Ugh. I wonder if you’re feeling disappointed today. That’s not to say the kids are gonna say, oh yes, that’s what’s going on.

Dr. Sarah (17:41):


Dr. Emily (17:42):

But you’re sort of, I, you know, it’s a little bit of what we say here a lot, like throwing spaghetti on the wall and your best reflective parent moment. Right. And your best, I wonder, I think this is what’s going on with my kid. I imagine this is, what’s probably behind this behavior. I’m gonna, I’m gonna label it. I’m gonna just put it out there and I’m gonna tolerate whatever reaction happens after that. Right. So, Hey, you know, I wonder if you’re, you’re feeling a little off today or a little angry today because this is a day that usually daddy would take you to soccer.

Dr. Sarah (18:15):

Right. You know, and I think it’s important to note though, like, even if your kid is like, that’s not, why like leave me alone. That’s actually like the really common response to a child who’s legit really processing their anger and like not processing perhaps, but like experiencing it, internalizing it. And so, but, but don’t, don’t be misled that a really reactive response to that labeling and hypothesizing with your child or wondering, you know, with your child, isn’t landing somewhere on the inside. Yeah. And that you are, I often say it’s like you plant a seed and you put a little drop of water on it, drop of water, a drop of water. Every time you wonder allowed what you think your child might be feeling, if you are accurate. And they don’t say, wow, mom, that was so accurate. You’re putting a drop of water on that seed.


You’re modeling language around emotions. You’re showing this sort of like accepting unflappability to, in the face of their tough feelings. You know, those are little drops of water on that seed. And eventually over time that seed will take all that water in and, and, you know, turn into and like grow a plant out of it. Right. But you don’t get a plant immediately after putting a drop of water on a seed. Right. If these are these little tiny things that you have to do over and over and over and over and over and over as the parent to see the results, but the results are happening. And it’s like, if you stop before you see the results, cuz you don’t think it’s doing anything, you’re actually like you’re interrupting a process that might actually be working.

Dr. Emily (20:01):

Yep. I think that’s a great point. Interrupting a process that might be working is a great way to say that. Right? Like we, we don’t wanna preemptively stop something that could be growing in the right direction. Yeah. And I think the other piece that, that I, that I didn’t say it in the beginning, which is so, so important is, is really, and it’s pretty sophisticated, so it’s hard, but it’s holding both experiences for the child. This is a child who might be very angry at, at this parent or, you know, but they also might feel very protective of them or have like fondness and love and which is appropriate, right. For an attachment figure in a child. So we, we wanna be very careful to sort of hold both of those things for the child or help the child hold both of those things. Like I know you’re really, you might be really angry that daddy’s not here and I know that you really love him.


And it was a nice routine for you. It must feel really hard to have those two feelings being angry and feeling sad and missed daddy. Right? Yeah. Because we want, ultimately in the end we want our children to have more sophisticated sense of emotions. Right. We don’t want them to be black and white thinkers. We want them to sort of, you know, understand nuance in relationships and emotions. And, and so it’s really important that we don’t fall in the trap of being angry, sad, upset, you know, at the other parent without sort of holding both sides of that experience missing. Right. Longing wanting.

Dr. Sarah (21:30):

Right. And I think it’s really hard because we may very well be feeling true anger and rage and fury at the person who has left our family. Right. Like as the parent, right. As the other parent we might not, we might have a ton of empathy for it. We might be really able to hold space for both, right? Like you have a family member who’s going through a lot of mental health issues or addiction issues. And it just isn’t capable of being present in exits. You might really have tremendous empathy and compassion for that person and still, and also maybe anger and, you know, it’s, it’s, we might have that same, you know, varied, multi emotional response. Sometimes we don’t, sometimes we are just very angry and mad that they’re hurting our child. And that I think is when it becomes ever more important to do our own work, to be able to have those feelings.


And you get to have those feelings as a parent, but to have them separate from your role as parent to your child. So like you have your therapist, you have your support network, you have your friends and family that you are processing those feelings with. Cuz you have to, you can’t just tuck them away. They’ll erupt out of you, but you’re not doing that processing with your child. And you’re trying to, again, hold space for their true range of feelings and complex feelings. Because if they have love for that parent and longing for that parent and you have none you still need to name it and validated in the child and hold space for it. And it’s really hard to, it’s really hard to do that.

Dr. Emily (23:13):

Yep. Yeah. I think that’s very, that’s a great point.

Dr. Sarah (23:17):

Yeah. And then I think, and like, so there’s, in some ways, although the permanent loss by choice of a parent can be incredibly sad and painful. It’s almost a little bit more it’s finite, right? It’s, it’s, it’s eventually over time that wound is going to heal hopefully, you know, with the right support when you have a parent who conversely is coming in and out in and out in and out, like reopening that wound and then reopening it and reopening it, reopening it. Or perhaps it’s not even like it’s a, maybe more predictable, like you ha like, you know, in the case of 50/50 custody where like I’m separating and reuniting and separating and reuniting, and in that situation, it’s a little more predictable and consistent. Hopefully I think in the situations where it’s not consistent, not predictable and not mutual on the parts of the parents, that’s probably the most challenging for children to navigate and maybe perhaps the most rife for potentially being damaging to a child’s mental wellness. So we really want in those cases to like, be dialed into a support plan for that.

Dr. Emily (24:29):

Yeah. I mean, definitely I think some of the themes we’re talking about really do resonate. Right. Which is, you know, even in these, you know, sort of more unpredictable situations sort of trying as the parent to be very self-regulated right. And not impose our, our own emotions onto the child’s experience. Right. And the other thing I think we’re talking about is, but in, you know, sort of a more inconsistent or even planned, you know, inconsistencies in, in separations, how do we help hold the child’s experience in, in that sense or how do we help build resilience? And like, I think one really important way that we’ve already touched upon is, again, those same things in terms of like trying to, if when impossible to have sort of these routines and transitional objects again is really important. But one of the other things that, you know, you and I have always talked about is how do resilience comes really from strong attachment relationships?


And, you know, if we have one inconsistent parent that doesn’t mean the end of the world for your child, and it’s really important to not fall into that fear, like, oh no, their, their mother isn’t showing up. And so this is gonna be detrimental to them overall, right? Like this is a disaster, right. I think that’s, that’s too heavy. That’s too much weight. I think we know. And we know from research that, you know, having resilience comes from having one, you know, attachment figure the more the Meers. So like if we can build in other structures where the child has attachments to other positive, you know, parental type figures or even just adult figures, that that’s a really nice way to sort of round out some of the potential inconsistencies in other parts

Dr. Sarah (26:15):

You’re right, right. Cause like, and I think it’s also important to know like what we’re talking about here is not quite the same thing as you know, when parents separate or divorce and they have joint custody and they co-parent, and there is a very sort of amicable and confident and cohesive and reliable custody plan where children. Yes, they’re separating and reuniting with a parent, but this is the new shape of this family and it’s intentional and it’s and everybody’s kind of showing up in the way that they have agreed to. And the children are feeling very held and taken care of. That’s not really kind of, I think what we’re talking about here. I mean that, that brings its own challenges, certainly, but we’re not talking about damaging attachment relationships in this moment. Right. We’re talking about a situation where perhaps you have a parent who’s not showing up in the way they’re that, that the child is needing of them.


Aand so for whatever reason, right, we, we won’t get into all the reasons that it could be, but there’s cuz there’s a myriad, but you’ve got a parent who’s supposed to be showing up on Saturdays due to a custody arrangement and like maybe one out of the three Saturdays, he there, he or she is actually showing up and the child is getting very inconsistent and unreliable messaging from this person that is when we have to start of say, as the other parent in the child’s life, how do I respond to this? How do I help my child cope? Cuz this is very painful for a kid. And it is, you know, something that could damage their attachment systems. But it doesn’t have to. Right. That’s I think what you’re talking about is like how, like as the parent who is there, how do we shore up their attachments to us as the parent?


As the, you know, how do we find other adults to bring into our family system that can represent to that child a secure base, a secure figure who I trust, who I believe will show up for me, who does what they say they’re going to do, who’s reliable and consistent in, you know, all those things that we know help builds cure attachment, like that can really, it’s not to replace the parent. Who’s absent, it’s to supplement and shore up the attachment structures in a child’s life. And we know that that can have a really significant impact on outcome.

Dr. Emily (28:46):

Yep. And I think what you’re touching upon is just an overall concept. That’s very important, which is support people, right. Community and you know, helping the whole family unit feel that there’s like a, a, you know, supporters and helpers that can sort of help this family and this whole child, this child have a better experience. And I think partly, you know, one of the other things is, is being creative, right? With some of this, you know, I I’ve, some of the strategies that we I’ve used in clinical situations are, you know, if you have a parent and you’re not sure if they’re, they’re supposed to come on Friday at six and you’re just not sure if that’s totally gonna happen, you know, as the, there’s been maybe a little bit of a history of inconsistency with that, you know, I say, talk to your kid, have a plan a and a plan B.


Right. And that’s, it’s a great coping skill, honestly, you know, like it’s, it’s, it breaks our heart a little to have to have that. And I understand where that mentality would come from, but you can have a plan, a, you go, you go with mommy and you go to dinner and you sleep over mommy’s house. And, and plan B is if mommy doesn’t come, we have a pizza party and a dance party in the kitchen. Right. And I think that that’s a little bit of a, you know, an adapt an adaptation when there’s a situation that’s sort of unpreventable, right? We there’s a, there’s an agreement and that has to happen this way. And you can’t, as a parent say, no, I’m, I’m gonna draw the line and put a boundary on inconsistency. There’s plenty of situations where that’s, that’s just not legal or difficult in some sort of way.


So I think, you know, being a little creative, having a plan a and a plan B is a really great way of sort of helping grow coping skills. The other thing is, I think, you know, we talk a lot about sup I, you know, you and I talk a lot about support statements and what does that look like? Right. Which is, can we validate and build confidence, right. So can we say, oh, it’s so tough when mommy doesn’t come on Fridays when she’s supposed to, but you know what? I know you can handle this. Like we’ve got this, like, what are some of the things we can do? What are our plan BS? You know? Cause I think partly it’s, it’s, it’s a very hard life lesson, but it is our biggest goal. If we put zoom out is how do we create children who can have resiliency in the face of difficult things?


How can we build their tolerance to right hard emotions and difficult situations and right by instilling our confidence that they can handle it and not catastrophizing. As we said before, not saying my gosh, they, they didn’t show up again. This is terrible. They’re never gonna have a healthy relationship. You know, like going, don’t go down the rabbit hole, see right. Find yourself going down that rabbit hole of worry about your child, based on that relationship, like pull yourself out, say, you know what we’re gonna be. Okay. You know, and how do we build coping in those moments? And how do we instill confidence that, that we both validate that it’s oh, this is so hard. But we, we also say, we know we can get through this. What are the ways we can do that and

Dr. Sarah (31:49):

Helpful. Right. And I think that focusing on that positive, and again, it’s not whitewashing, right? It’s not like Pollyannaish. Like everything’s gonna be perfectly a, okay. Like we need to validate the pain. We need to validate the hardness. Yep.


But we need to link that because that’s, I think really critical for our kids to have to, to know their feelings are seen and are real. And to reflect that reality back to them with a regulated but matched affect, right? Like we talk about marked mirroring, which is when we reflect our children’s emotion back to them, but not in it’s the exact identical raw form. So if our child is crying, we don’t come to them crying to help them know. They’re sad. We, but we do change our affect. We, we lower our tone of voice. We make a sad face. We, we squinch up our face a little bit and we say, oh, you were so sad. I hear so we’re sort of we’re and that’s, that’s the marking part. Like we mark the mirroring. So marked mirroring just means like we bring it down a couple notches.


We, we digest it a little bit before we feed it back to them. So that they feel seen, but they also are being they’re able to observe what a regulated version of that emotion looks like. And I think that that’s really important because it is so easy to just be, to really match their rage or really match their, their deep sorrow. When a parent doesn’t come, when they’re supposed to come and there’s that feeling of rejection or abandonment, like it’s so easy to, in that moment to just be to, to so join with your child’s pain or anger. And it’s really important that we there’s such a difference. It’s such a subtle but important difference between joining with it in completely like raw matched form and helping them to feel seen like, you know, how they are feeling in this moment and it’s real and they are real.


And all of this is actually happening. And to say like, we are going to be able to get through this. We can, and then you focus on positive things. So it’s like, you have to happen in that order. You can’t go straight to the positive because that can feel very invalidating. We also can’t go join completely with the pain because that would also be not containing. And it’s hard. It’s really hard because we are probably flooded with our own feelings in that moment. But I do think like, and this is really also really hard, but this idea of like, okay, how do we help our child actually like set them up for potentially a lifelong processing of their relationship with this in and out or absent parent, do I want my child to carry the burden of hate towards that parent for the rest of their life and what is that gonna do to their wellbeing in the long run.


And they may really hate that parent in that moment and helping a child understand that, that feeling of being so angry in that moment. But that feeling also does fade and like, like all feelings, it moves through us. And then it exits that that’s not something that needs to be internalized as like if, and we, we have to be mindful of like, not vilifying a parent who may be in our eyes worth vilifying. But to really be able to say like, if I could help my child eventually be able to be not right now in this moment, but be at a place in their life where they could forgive this parent or make peace with this experience. Like how do I lay the bricks for that pathway to eventually be something they can walk upon. Like, that’s really powerful gift to give a child to not have to carry the burden of hating a parent. And being able to like, maybe even have the capacity to imagine why someone might do something like this, that wasn’t about, you know, them rejecting me. It’s hard, but it would be a worth contemplating how one might do that. And again, like you don’t have to figure that out by yourself. Like that might be some work you have to do with a professional to help you get there cuz it’s painful.

Dr. Emily (36:04):

But I think you’re talking about, you know, just to sum up this, I think you’re talking about a really important end goal, right? Like to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. Right. Which is we want a child who has, who isn’t scarred in ways that aren’t sort of more healable, you know, we want a child to have healthy relationships and if we can turn approach this disappointment or this relationship with as much well rounded health as possible in the ways that we’ve just discussed, then really in the end, we’re not gonna be Pollyannaish. We’re not gonna be hateful. We’re not gonna be too sad, but we’re gonna have a little bit of all those things. And that creates more resilience.

Dr. Sarah (36:45):

Yeah. It’s so powerful. It’s a, it’s a really hard thing to navigate and it’s there, as you can see, like there’s no one easy answer. There’s no one right way. One thing we didn’t mention too, that I actually think is really helpful is representation like helping children see the families come in all shapes and sizes and to have opportunities for them to like read books where characters have one parent or where characters have different shapes and sizes to their family, you know, so that they’re not just seeing this sort of like cookie cutter, intact nuclear family of like mom and dad and brother and sister. And that’s what all families look like, cuz that is not what all families look like in so many different possible iterations. So being able to show children, families that look like theirs and have relationships with friends and other people in your community who have either equally different or similarly different family makeups that, that I think can also be really helpful for kids who are going through things like this. No, they’re just, they’re not alone. They’re not the only kid who’s, who’s got, you know, a parent at home.

Dr. Emily (37:58):

Yeah. I mean, I think shared experience is very valuable, right? It helps you create the support system that you need and, and that’s for the parents as well.

Dr. Sarah (38:08):

Yep. Well, I hope this is helpful. I know that if anyone’s listening to this and is resonating with this, there’s probably a good amount of pain you’re experiencing. So I just want you to know that we are rooting for your family and we’re hoping for always the best for your children. And if you do feel like you need more support, please do get in touch with someone who specializes in supporting parents through this supporting parent families through this. Cause you don’t need to be alone in this. You should not have to feel alone in this. And it’s a really hard thing to navigate. So yes, reach out to somebody who could help. Thanks for being here, Emily. Yes. Thanks for having me.


Thanks for listening. I hope if you’re experiencing something like this within your own family, that this episode can serve as just one point of support because as parents, we need many, we don’t have to do this alone.

(39:06):Also. Don’t forget that if you’re looking for a resource to help you understand, navigate and support your child through their dysregulation. My course, The Science of Tantrums is on sale right now, but only through Friday. So if you wanna learn exactly what to do before, during, and after your child’s meltdowns, big feelings and behaviors like hitting biting hair, pulling spitting all for 30% off, then act fast and go to drsarahbren.com/tantrums. That’s drsarahbren.com/tantrums to get 30% off. Until next week, don’t be a stranger.


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69. How to support children experiencing abandonment or separation from a parent: Q&A with Dr. Emily Upshur