How to Raise a Child When a Spouse is Imprisoned

By Hannah Smith, Parent Herald July 26, 10:36 am
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There's a reason that the family members of a person that is incarcerated are called hidden victims - it impacts the entire family. Children are especially impacted, but studies have found that the child's relationship and social support system can help alleviate many of the issues these children face.

Children that have incarcerated parents are at higher risk of:

  • Criminal involvement

  • Antisocial behavior 

  • Psychological problems

  • Economic well-being concerns

  • Educational attainment issues

Economically, when one spouse is imprisoned, the family's income falls 22% and remains 15% lower even after the imprisonment ends. Education attainment is also an issue with higher rates of suspension and expulsion.

How Parents Can Lessen the Impact

Parents that are not incarcerated can lessen the impact on their children if they create a strong family structure. Life will go on, and it's important that a criminal charge not lead to a lifelong issue for your children.

Key methods of raising a child when your partner is in jail are:

  • Updates. Keep your spouse in-the-loop. Your spouse may not be there day and night, but he or she will want to be involved in the child's life. It's important to keep parents updated on the milestones of their children. If your child made it on the baseball team, share this with your spouse and celebrate the achievement together.

  • Respect. Speaking badly about your spouse will have a negative impact on the child's emotional attitude. You do not want the child to disrespect the other parent under any circumstances. Rather, it's important to speak about the parent's bad choices and to help your child understand that there was a choice.

  • Listen. Children have feelings, and while parents may brush some of these feelings aside, it's doing a major disservice to the child. It's essential that parents listen to their children and help them overcome the emotional struggles that come with one parent being imprisoned.

  • Contact. Unless the other parent is abusive, it's important to encourage contact between the child and parent. Contact will allow the child to forge a relationship with their parent. Visits are also crucial and will allow the child-parent relationship to form.

  • Lean on others. You want to create a strong social and family environment. Keep relatives close, have family members over for dinner and allow your child to have the family environment that it seems all other children have. Some parents will also lean on God for strength and support. If God helps your family then by all means use god as a tool to overcome these difficult times.

Some prisons have programs designed specifically for children and their imprisoned parents to form bonds. These are ideal programs that allow for camps where kids may come to the prison on certain days and really get to know their parent on a more intimate level.

Parents should also join support groups. You'll be going through a lot of emotional turmoil, too. Take this time to meet other moms or dads of children that have a parent imprisoned. This will allow you to find your own sense of community while your spouse is in jail.

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