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  • When mums and dads walk out
  • By Sam De Brito
  • 30/11/2007 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 59 articles in 2007 )
Abandonment is one of humanities core anxieties, the fear of which dawns on us as infants when we realise we're actually an individual, separate from our mums and dads.

When you're a kid this is a very real terror, for abandonment in most cultures signifies death. If an infant is left untended in the wild (or in a city), it's usually game over unless you meet a friendly, lactating wolf.

For most of us though, it is an unfounded dread and those vicious moments of hysteria in the supermarket, when we've lost sight of our mother, are assuaged by her sudden appearance and the much repeated mantra of childhood that "it's OK, mummy and daddy are here."

Some kids (and adults) aren't so lucky and you may have known a poor bugger who turned up at school, his world collapsing, because this primal horror had been realised and mum or dad had disappeared, never to return ...

It's another of society's frustrating hypocrisies that we condemn fathers who walk out on their families, but we despise women who do the same.

You could argue that many respectable men, consumed by career and advancement, abandon their families in every way, save financial. Perhaps we're inured to the phenomenon, conditioned to distant fathers, so the further step of vanishing altogether is not deemed such a tragic development.

However, mention that a woman has done the same to her children and you'll hear gasps from the dinner table; most people seem unable to comprehend the thought of a mother forsaking their kids - they're appalled, bewildered, angered.

Friends told me of a male colleague who had recently suffered this fate, his wife coming home one night to declare her love for a much younger man and her imminent departure from the family home; the kids were his problem but she'd check in with them, she said.

Though her "abandonment" has been tough for the family, it is not as complete as others, where a parent jumps on a plane or moves interstate, leaving total care of the children to the partner left behind.

Another bloke I know has been dealing with the disappearance of his mother for the last few years after she left the house one day to go shopping and never returned; the family is still grappling with whether she suicided, ran off with the circus or was murdered.

When your partner walks out on you, it can have devastating effects - which most of us have experienced to one degree or another - and most of us have dealt with them.

When your partner walks out on you and your kids, however, it must be an experience close to apocalyptic because your children's pain either magnifies yours or subsumes it altogether because you're trying to "keep a brave face" for their sake.

I imagine this has long-lasting repercussions for the children because one of a parent's greatest obligations to their kids is to instill in them a sense of safety, despite the chaos and pain that can be real life.

Abandonment, by realising a child's greatest fear, must leave many kids with a pervasive feeling society is in fact dangerous and frightening and it's a world view that'd be hard to shake once it's taken root.

I'd be interested to hear if this has happened to you - whether your mum or dad has walked out - or whether you've been deserted by a partner or you've been the one to leave. Do you suffer from guilt for having done it? Do your children resent you? Are you even in touch with them?


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