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Parental Abandonment

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"Every superhero needs a tragic family story: Spider-Man's parents... Dead. Batman's parents... Murdered. Superman's parents... Exploded. I actually had the best requirements."
Benjamin Engel, Who Am I (2014)

A stunningly large number of heroes and their coteries are lacking in the parent department, either through death or in that they just are not talked about. Even if both parents are alive, they may well be emotionally or physically distant (although that's just Parental Neglect). Everyone is, for the sake of the plot, Conveniently an Orphan, whether they actually are or not.

This is a very convenient way for characters to be able to run off in the middle of the night to fight Evil, get sucked into another world, etc. without having anyone responsible for them making a fuss. In fact, one of the first things a creator of stories about children or teens having adventures needs to do is explain a lack of parental involvement.

It also allows for the Ordinary High-School Student to be revealed as a super-powered demon fighter, or intergalactic being without the need for a messy Retcon answering the question an alert viewer would ask about why the parents didn't know about this. It's simply a case of the child following in their parents' Secret Legacy.

Of course, if you go back far enough, you'll reach a time when most young adults in Real Life actually were orphaned or abandoned. Adults died younger than they do now, and people with chronic diseases like schizophrenia or tuberculosis were often sent away from the family to recover or die. It was also easier to abandon a family member, given the poor communications of the times, sparse documentation, and the lack of a police force. Because of all this, it's quite common for a fictional character from the 19th century or earlier to mention being orphaned with no more emotional reaction than a shrug, since the experience was considered a normal part of real life. A good example is Jane Austen's Emma, where the title character's mother died years earlier, but is barely mentioned. This is also Truth in Television for many animal species, where the involvement of the parents with their offspring ends with at best to leave the eggs in a place outside the reach of predators.

Note that the parents in question don't actually have to die for this Trope to be in effect. Note also that in a few cases listed below, parents are hardly even mentioned — which makes things incredibly awkward.

If only one parent is missing or dead, then it's a case of Missing Mom or Disappeared Dad. If the specifics of their absence aren't explained, they're an Ambiguously Absent Parent. When several siblings lack their original parents, the first born will receive a Promotion to Parent. Parental Abandonment is also a leading cause of Dark Magical Girls. One standard method for achieving it is to make your characters Blitz Evacuees.

In families with servants, this can lead to the Old Retainer acting as a Parental Substitute. If they were traveling abroad when both parents died, the child may be Raised by Natives. If the parents die in the wilds, their surviving child may be Raised by Wolves. It is also possible the parents left them out there to die, expecting them to be a meal, not an adoptee.

When the parents had to separate from the child in order to protect it, this results in Moses in the Bulrushes. When the parents had to leave the child in order to give it "a better life", then it leads to Give Him a Normal Life. When a parent trades their child in exchange for something else they need, then it leads to Baby as Payment.

In animation, cases of parentis absentia can be caused by budgeting; it's cheaper to animate one character (usually Dad) than to have two characters basically doing the same thing.

Parental Abandonment is a common feature of a Dark and Troubled Past (though children lucky enough to find a Parental Substitute generally avoid such a fate). It is a common feature of a Tear Jerker. If the hero ever sees their parents again or must discuss them, they may reveal their Abandonment-Induced Animosity.

It should be noted that parental abandonment does not always mean either or both parent(s) leaving, but also the child being ignored by the parent, knowingly or unknowingly.

May entail Tell Me About My Father. Or rarely, mother. For reasons of economy, the child is seldom interested in both parents. See also Parental Neglect, Hands-Off Parenting, When You Coming Home, Dad?, Missing Mom, Disappeared Dad, and Refused Reunion. Parental Abandonment en masse may create a Teenage Wasteland.

Compare Free-Range Children when it's the children who voluntarily go out on their own accord. The reverse form is the Missing Child, but there can be interesting crossover: the child may seem to go missing because of the abandonment of/distance created by their parents, and the parents either don't notice or get concerned and finally realize they love their offspring.

For the opposing extreme, contrast Helicopter Parents, My Beloved Smother and Fantasy-Forbidding Father.

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  • Lancaster from Find Us Alive talks in Episode 14 about having to work and couchsurf his way through college without support from his family. Later on, he explicitly admits he was kicked out as a kid, but doesn't elaborate on why.
    Lancaster: Didn't, um- didn't really have the support of- ...I was kinda on my own, in a lot of ways.

    Professional Wrestling 

  • Tamagotchi: For each new generation it gives birth to, your pet Tamagotchi from the previous one simply leaves with no explanation, forcing you to care for the new baby yourself — from the Plus Color onward, the parent doesn't even stick around for more than a couple of minutes. Averted for the Version 5 series, where the parents do stick around.


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Alternative Title(s): Parental Deprival


Gothel Abandons Cassandra

In order to lose the royal guards chasing her after kidnapping Rapunzel, Gothel ended up leaving her daughter Cassandra with the guards and never came back for her.

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