I have a seventeen-year-old son. I have never felt that he loves me, but only that he needs me. He recently graduated from high school. After that, he moved in with his father’s family, who mean everything to him, even though his father took off and left us, and I have been both mother and father to him.

The truth is my conscience is bothering me because maybe I was so busy working that I didn’t give him affection.

Dear Friend,

It sounds like you feel lonely and abandoned. You feel that your son doesn’t fully appreciate all the sacrifices that you made for him. And you wonder if you could have done anything differently that would have caused him to stay with you instead of going to live with his father.

Parenting is never easy. But when you have to do it alone, plus be the sole breadwinner of the household, it is even more difficult. You are to be congratulated for having provided the resources and opportunity for your son to finish high school. He is much too young now to understand all that you did for him, but one day (probably when he has a teenager himself) he will thank you for all the ways that you provided for him and cared for him.

Most children will forgive their parents, no matter what the parents have done. This is why even children who have been severely beaten or abused by their parents still want to continue to live with them. The fact that your son has forgiven his father for abandoning the two of you is completely normal. For your son, it is something that happened in the remote past that doesn’t really apply to now. The younger your son was when his father left, the easier it is for him to ignore the fact that it ever happened.

Boys need male influences in their lives to help them develop as men. This is why single moms should make sure that their sons spend time with uncles, grandfathers, or close male friends who can be trusted. In your son’s case, he just wants to spend more time under the influence of the closest male, his father. His decision does not indicate that he is rejecting you or that he does not love you.

How can you develop a more positive relationship with your son? Be positive! Don’t try to make him feel guilty for leaving you. Don’t complain about how difficult or lonely it is without him. Don’t ask him what you did wrong, or why he doesn’t love you. And don’t try to turn him against his father, or bring up how his father didn’t treat him right when he was younger.

When you spend time with your son, talk about the future and not the past. Make the time with him enjoyable and fun. Treat him as a young adult and not a child, and respect his decisions. That way, as time passes he will want to spend more time with you. And you will be able to develop a friendship with him that wasn’t possible in the past.

To enable you to avoid bitterness and regret, we recommend that you also develop a personal relationship with God. You can tell Him your disappointments and even ask forgiveness for your failures. He can give you the wisdom and patience that you need to build a great relationship with your son. And He can comfort you in your loneliness. He is a personal God who deeply cares about you.

We wish you well,

Linda and Charles