Why do fathers decide to leave their children?

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It's not always easy to explain why a dad would choose not to be a part of their children's lives. But here are just a few reasons why this happens.

When fathers abandon their children, it’s not always simple.

It’s easy to write absentee dads off as selfish and uncaring, but simply dismissing them keeps us from seeing the whole story.

Growing up without a father can be confusing and in some cases debilitating. Many believe that having a father figure helps build a child’s sense of security and self-confidence. In fact, UNICEF attributed the low social and emotional well-being in advanced nations to the prevalance of father absenteeism.

The New York Times speculates that out of the millions of fatherless children, most aren’t left behind because of a “weak bond” with their dad, but because of a weak bond between their mum and dad.

In an effort to better understand why millions of children are growing up without a father, here are some of the most common reasons why fathers abandon their children.

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Five reasons why fathers abandon their children

1. Fathers abandon their children because they feel they have no other choice

When they are unable to be the “perfect parent,” this feeling of inadequacy can be overwhelming. They might feel that their kid would be better off without them.

These dads see themselves as “deadbeat” fathers because of struggles with alcoholism or addiction. Basically, they feel their kids would be better off without them. 

“The reason I walked away is because, at the moment, I wasn’t the man that I wanted to be for [my kids],” says an absentee dad named Dwayne on Oprah’s Lifeclass. “I put them on a higher pedestal than I put myself. So, at a point, I wasn’t worthy to be in their life because I wasn’t the man that I would want for them.”

2. They leave their children because they feel ashamed

When a marriage ends, a father may feel like a failure. Each time they see their kids or former partner, it could constantly reinforce this feeling. Though they may intend to or not, they can slowly phase themselves out of their kids’ lives. 

They are overcome with the need to start over, to pursue building a life and family in order to “get it right.”

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3. They leave their children because they hold bitterness over a failed relationship

Throughout the painful process of divorce or separation, resentment for their former partner can build up. If they are unable to establish a friendship or even a civil relationship, this can affect their perceived abilities as a parent.

Sadly, children are often caught in the middle. Some dads can’t get past maintaining a relationship with their kid’s mums long after the romance has ended. For whatever reason, they can’t put the pain behind them and end up abandoning a future where they’re part of their kids’ lives.

4. They leave their children because they feel their only obligation is to provide

Fathers tend to stay out of the picture once they feel that they are fulfilling their financial obligations to their children. 

They may feel that they are playing their part in raising kids, which is to provide. But kids need much more from their dads than economic support. They need their wisdom and guidance. They need to feel that they have a dad who believes in them.  

“But it’s not just about presents… but presence… You create this script of what this ideal father is supposed to be, and then you try to live up to a script that’s not reality… And then when you don’t [live up to it], you feel, ‘I’m not worthy,’ and you pull away.” says Roland Warren of the National Fatherhood Initiative to the Huffington Post.

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5. They leave their children because they can’t stand the feeling of loss

Even if they are no longer in love with their former partner, they can still feel regret over their failed relationship. This results in a feeling of loss or mourning over “what could have been.”

Relationships are difficult. It’s that simple and that complicated.

When a father chooses to leave because they are ill-equipped for fatherhood, it’s not always an easy decision to make.

Though it may seem sudden, when fathers abandon their kids, the act of leaving is often the last in a series of choices they have already made inside their heads long before they walk out the door.

Sources: The Good Men Project, The New York Times, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post

READ THIS ALSO: Helping children deal with divorce: A guide for parents