When the father rejects his child

When the father rejects a child, how the mother responds to it proves crucial in determining the course of the child's life

Parent look on sternly as son is sitting afraid

When a father rejects his child, how should a mother respond? If your husband rejects your son or daughter, and you are the only other adult who can protect them from the pain of the rejection, does your maternal instinct make you jump in and protect them come what may? When things continue to go this way, what do you do? Do you think of the survival of your child and what’s best for him/her? Or do you think of your survival and what’s best for you?

These are difficult but important questions. Let as look at some case examples to understand what role the mother’s response plays when a father rejects his son or daughter?

When a father rejects his child…

Case 1: When the mother is unable to act forcefully

Sudhir’s mother chose her survival over her son’s. As a child, Sudhir’s father abused him verbally and physically for the slightest reason, like not coming instantly when being called. In adolescence, Sudhir got his monthly allowance with a barrage of put-downs like ‘you good-for-nothing eating away at my wealth’. Even as an adult, Sudhir got caned in front of guests because he scratched the car while backing it.

Sudhir’s mother pleaded meekly for the abuse to stop. But because of her own financial insecurities, never asserted herself or considered walking out of the marriage.

She failed to protect her son from the painful wounds of paternal rejection and abuse. And at the age of 24, Sudhir was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Sudhir is 32 years old now and even today crouches in a corner and trembles on hearing his father’s footsteps.

Case 2: When the mother fails to take a stand

Ajit did not suffer such a fate despite having a similar childhood. Ajit always wanted to become a fashion designer and as a child, he would dress up his sister’s dolls, and sketch pretty women. But the mere idea of it was blasphemy for his father. When Ajit advised his mother and sisters about their clothes, his father labelled him ‘gay’ in a derogatory manner. Not only did he reject Ajit’s talent and creativity, but also rejected him as a son and as a human being.

Ajit left home after one such humiliating encounter, while his mother stood silently on the sidelines. Today, Ajit is an extremely bitter, but hugely successful fashion designer. He is a workaholic, and gets into unmanageable rage attacks with his family and staff. Even today, Ajit looks for validation from his father; he couriers expensive gifts to his father and calls up his mother to ask if his father liked them. He still feels depressed with the thought that the only other adult, his mother, who could have stood by him, chose to turn away when he needed her the most.

Case 3: When the father rejects but mother stands by

For Rohini, things turned out different when her father rejected her. Rohini’s mother was a teacher and father, a self-made businessman. Her father gave her everything that money could buy, provided Rohini behaved like an obedient daughter, which meant ‘no talking to boys’. Things went wrong when, at the age of 19, Rohini was found with a boy outside an ice-cream parlour. There was pandemonium in the house. Her father threatened to stop Rohini’s allowance and called her a ‘whore’. When Rohini’s mother tried hard to reason with him, he called her a ‘pimp’ and threatened to throw both of them out if they didn’t toe the line.

With her mother’s support, Rohini rebelled by shifting to a hostel. She kept in touch only with her mother, who continued to support her actively, and counselled her to be her own person and do her own thing. Today, Rohini is self-empowered, and is grateful for the support and good counsel of her mother.

How the mother responds is the key

It’s then clear that when the father rejects a child, how the mother responds to it proves crucial in determining the course of the child’s life. The mother has to choose between her own welfare and that of her child, especially if she is needy and insecure. Often mothers choose wrongly, putting themselves above their children, with disastrous consequences.

Happy mother with her son
When the father rejects his child, the mother’s unconditional support is crucial

When that happens, the family becomes dysfunctional as its members are unable to attain the desired goals of safety and security, closeness, nurturing, self-expression and mutual respect. As a direct result, symptomatic behaviour—emotional and mental disorders, addictions, psychosomatic ailments and juvenile delinquency—occurs in the children.

Children of self-centred and psychologically immature parents who do not make the welfare of the children their number one priority tend to feel like emotional orphans. When they cannot find emotional fulfilment at home, they start looking for it elsewhere. In their misguided attempt at creating a family for themselves, they often end up associating with anti-social elements. This, of course, only multiplies their problems.

A child very naturally expects the primary caregiver, the mother, to ensure her safety and security. She turns to her mother to be nurtured physically and emotionally, and also expects the mother to step in as the nurturer, when the other caregiver, the father rejects her and is rather uncaring. When the mother fails to do all this, the child feels abandoned, is devastated, and has many mixed emotions like anger, anxiety and depression. But when the mother takes charge, the children become independent and empowered.

Case 4: When the mother takes charge

Seema was regularly verbally abused by her husband. Her coping strategy was to immerse herself in raising her children, giving them good education and earning through private tutions. One day, her husband launched a scathing attack on her son and daughter saying demeaning things. He even refused to finance their higher education. Seema took charge like a tigress protecting her cubs; she had had enough. She could take the abuse herself but would not stand him rejecting her children. She filed for divorce on grounds of mental torture. Both her children worked hard and went on to have successful careers.

They felt grateful for the courage their mother had displayed in walking out of the house with the inner conviction that she would nurture them even with her modest income.

Why a mother’s role is scared

Existence has entrusted the mother with the sacred work of nurturing life in the form of the children born through her [referred to as life’s longing for itself by Kahlil Gibran], and therefore you need to live up to the trust placed in you as caregivers to these children. Kahlil Gibran says in The Prophet,

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.


An earlier version of this article appeared in the January 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing Magazine

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Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Dr Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre

1 COMMENT

  1. This is a mind-blowing article – Dr. Minnu & Dr. Rajan, thank you. Your very concrete and specific examples really bring to light how not to behave in these situations. Because ‘keeping the peace’ is a major cop-out and you have clearly demonstrated that so well! This is going to be a huge help not just in my life but also in the counseling that I do. Thank you – and I look forward to more such illuminating cases from you.

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