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The Parents Left Standing

by Shannon Rios Paulsen
January 2014 Shannon Rios Paulsen

There are many different scenarios where parents leave the life of their child. One scenario I have dealt with in my practice was a mother who left her 2-1/2-year-old son in the care of the girl’s father while she left the state due to drug use and another pregnancy. This mother had been a good mother and had been very involved in her son’s life prior to this time. The boy’s father, who was not sure when or if his son’s mom would return, said the following to their young son:

  1. Your mom loves you.
  2. She is sick and has to take care of herself to get better.
  3. I am here for you and love you very much.

If a parent is in prison, one method I have used to tell the child is that the parent is learning to be a better parent and person, which is hopefully true. If you are not sure where and when the parent may return, you can say the following:

  1. I know your parent loves you (all parents love their kids). Do not say negative things about the other parent, you will only hurt your child.
  2. Remember the good things about mom/dad? If possible, talk about these things with your child and the happy memories they have with their other parent.
  3. Mom/dad has made some poor choices but she is a good person inside, this good place is the place you came from.

Have your child write a letter to or draw a picture for the other parent if they are upset or sad or have a happy event they want to share with the other parent. Tell them they can give this to their parent when they see them again. I suggest a mom or dad box that they put the letters in.

Make sure to tell your child how much you love them and how happy you are that they are in your life. Tell them you are here to stay forever, but make sure you mean it. Remind the child of the good times they’ve had and how much their other parent loves them.

Remember you chose to have your children, please continue to choose them. They will be adults before you can blink your eyes. I can tell you that adults are much less forgiving than children. I hope no one ever told you that being a parent would be an easy job. If they did, they were wrong! Sometimes the most amazing things in life were the most difficult at one point in our lives. Don’t check out on your children, check into their lives. They need you.



Shannon R Rios Paulsen MS LMFT is a Life Coach and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  She coaches individuals and parents as a life coach through her life coaching business so that parents can move forward and create healthy lives and relationships with themselves, their children and others.  She is also the founder of  She has worked with 1000s of families of divorce and conflict over the past 12 years as a child family investigator, parenting coordinator/decision-maker, children’s therapist and divorce and parenting educator for the state of MN and CO.

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