How to Survive Prison: Parenting from Prison
Can Your Relationship with Your Child Survive Incarceration?
Children of prisoners—more than 2.7 million of them across the U.S.—often pay a terrible price when a parent goes to prison. First of all, they've just lost a mom or a dad. And that mom or dad has been locked away. Can you imagine the emotions these children are suffering? Fear. Insecurity. Abandonment. Guilt. Shame. Loneliness. Anger. Grief.
Sometimes, sad to say, the children may be relieved when a parent goes to prison. At least in prison Dad or Mom can no longer hurt the family … or themselves.
Assure Your Child They Are Not Responsible for Your Absence
In most cases, children still love their imprisoned parents deeply and miss them terribly. So, if you have children, please don't let your own loneliness, anger, guilt, or pain keep you from doing everything you can to build strong relationships with them, even while you're separated by prison. Even if you don't think you've been a very good parent in the past, you can now use this time to make a fresh start in parenting.
Children often think they are somehow to blame for a parent's imprisonment. They may wonder: Did I do something wrong? Did Daddy go away because he doesn’t love me anymore? Did Mommy start using drugs because I was bad? Reassure your kids—again and again if necessary—that you are in prison because of what you did, not because of anything they did. They are not to blame.
The biggest risk may be admitting to your kids that you have made some bad choices and asking their forgiveness for the ways you have hurt them. This may not be easy, but by taking this step, you will begin to rebuild strong bonds with your children. Be willing to risk receiving their anger or other strong emotions. Accept that their feelings are normal and don't make them feel guilty or ashamed for having them. Be open to letting them talk through their feelings and concerns with you. This helps them see that you are a safe person for them, someone they can trust to be there for them.
Parenting from Prison
If you're an incarcerated parent who wants to preserve your relationship with your child, we encourage you to download the Prison Survival Guide. We have compiled 10 tips that will help you get started. You will also find helpful information on how to maintain good physical and mental health, as well as tips on preserving your marriage.