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How does a single parent explain a willfully absent parent to her little one?

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 

A very dear friend of mine is having a bit of a crisis. Her incredibly verbal almost 3y.o. child is old enough to realize they don't have a daddy. The biological father, is, to put it nicely, a deadbeat. He was not there for LO's birth. Well.... he was technically in the delivery room, but so high on heaven-only-knows-what, he was asleep the whole time!! He has never supported his child in any way, shape, or form-- financially, emotionally, etc. His only tie to this child is his DNA. To add to the situation, biological father is physically abusive, and there are police records to prove his "anger management issues" toward mom. Mom and biological father have been split up for some time, and I'm so proud of her for having the strength to leave him.

She asked me to post online on her behalf (she does not have regular internet access). LO is beginning to ask questions about daddy, and mom knows that the questions will get more difficult to answer as LO gets older. For those of you who may have a similar experience & are gracious enough to share your story, how do you explain the parent's absence to a child? When do you bring up the fact that he made a choice not to play a role in LO's life? the abusive relationship? his criminal record? etc etc etc... If ever? Mom has no idea how to explain things, and is worried about sharing too much. She and I agree it's not exactly appropriate to reiterate the abusive relationship details I've shared here to a young child. She told me that she wants to know how other people in similar situations have explained the absence of a very emotionally toxic biological parent. How do you answer these tough questions? What do you feel is appropriate to explain, and when?

My friend is very fortunate to have awesome parents who are amazingly involved grandparents. She often comments that she doesn't feel like a "real" single mom because of all the help she gets from them-- including a roof over their heads. I often remind her, when she's down on herself for the less-than-ideal situation LO was born into, that the love LO is showered with daily from Mom, Grandma, and Grandpa is amazing, and that is so much better for LO's well-being than staying with biological father would have *ever* been! I will say it 'til I'm blue in the face-- LOVE is the most important thing you can give a child! For now, LO just gets the simple answer "You don't have a dad." LO often tells people that Grandpa is their Daddy.

As a mom who has been fortunate enough to have a supportive partner, it's difficult for me to find advice to give her. She has often expressed her guilt. shame, anger, etc over LO's circumstances regarding the biological father. I want to give her support as a friend, and she asked me to put this out there for her in a forum. Thank you so much for any advice.

post #2 of 21

I just told her our family didn't have a daddy but we do have a mommy and a grandma and made sure to point out all kinds of different families and read stories that shows all kinds of families. In our case I knew dd #1's father would never be involved so there wasn't a risk of him coming back into the picture later in life. I did the same with child #2 (a DI baby) and at 7 and almost 13 they are still fine with it. A lot of its going to depend on how she acts around the child when the subject comes up. I've made it a point to not talk about bio dad or say anything bad about him even if I am very thankful he is out of our lives and we have never had to deal with him because he had some serious issues. I have pointed out that a dad is a man who sticks around and helps to raise the child and when the birds and the bees come up I will point that out again and that men whose only contribution is sperm is not a dad, he is simply a donor that helped to create the child I love:)

post #3 of 21
Thread Starter 

Thank you for the response.

One more ? your response made me think of-- Any age-appropriate books about different kinds of families anyone can suggest? One of our personal favorites is Todd Parr's "The Family Book."

post #4 of 21

The only one I can remember is Heather has 2 Mommies and I remember it because my mother had a fit about it which of course made me want to buy MORE LBGT type books lol. There are a lot of books on different families, try looking for books lists suggested for families lead by Single Moms by Choice.

post #5 of 21
Thread Starter 

I suppose the library is always a good choice for "trying out" books and seeing if they're right for your family thumbsup.gif

post #6 of 21

I'm in a similar situation as your friend. My DS is just 1 but I think a lot about what to tell him.  And people are constantly asking me about "his dad" for various reasons, so I have to correct them and say, "You mean my ex-husband" because I want to train them now while DS is still young and can't understand them.  My ex was African and I am white so DS is biracial, but very light-skinned.  Most people don't realize he is biracial, but do see that he is darker skinned than me and looks different from me and his older brother (from my previous marriage) and they ask me things like, "Where does he get his curly hair from?" I am trying to figure out how to answer people and honor his African heritage while not using the words "father" or "dad." As he gets older I plan to refer to my ex as my ex-husband and DS's biological father but to make a distinction between that and a dad or father -- I agree with Satori's approach.

post #7 of 21

I don't really have an answer- I seperated from my children's father when the oldest was 2.5 and I was 14 weeks pregnant with #2. In the beginning, I tried to get my ex involved in his kids' lives, tried to keep in touch with his family and all but they want nothing to do with my boys. It IS for the better, but we deal with that daddy questions on a daily bases. My five and a half year old says he doesn't have a dad and I explain that he DOES but his dad has problems and doesn't want to be a family.. my son says no, "papa" is not my dad. We talk about him in a positive way, occasionally I get out pictures of ex and his family.


My little boy is 2.5 now, never met his father and he talks about daddies all the time. For awhile, he called me "mommydaddy" and then he started calling big brother daddy- he still does that when he's playing.


I found a poem about an absent father, in a book randomly, just before Father's Day when my son was having a hard time because of the upcoming Father's Day breakfast at his preschool. I wanted to read it to him but I had to read it out loud to myself several times to get over crying!

http://www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index.aspx?isbn13=9780060278649 here is a link to the poem. My five year old didn't really respond to the poem at all but I've read it to him a few times.


Mostly what I do is focus on the positive in our family like "We don't have a daddy but we have Uncle and Grandpa and Grandma and so and so" and explain that all families are different "In our family home we just have Mama and two brothers but in some families they have no mommy but they had two daddies or two mommies or some kids like with their grandparents- all families are made special!"


My older son went through a phase last year where he would ask me if a random man could be his dad- it broke my heart! He asked if our neighbor could be his dad, if his friends dad could be HIS dad, etc. So i know there is an emptiness there but not sure what I could do about it.

post #8 of 21

I've always told my older son (now 18) that he did have a father, and that his father loves him, but didn't know how to be a Daddy as well, so that's why he left.


My younger son has a different situation (abusive absent father, as opposed to just an immature absent father, a "Dad" who's not his father, as opposed to just baby and Mama, like when my older son was little), so I haven't figured out yet if I need to, and how to tweak it, if/when it comes up.

post #9 of 21

I didn't read any of the other responses but my 13 year old's father hasn't seen her since she was 21 months old by his own choice.  His support is garnished so he at least provides that.  But when she was 2 1/2 she started asking.  She went to a home daycare and the woman's husband was home early from work one day and helping out at snacktime settling everyone in the daycare room while the woman prepared snack and it got my daughter thinking.  She came home and said, "XXX has a daddy.  Do I have a daddy? Where is he?"  I kinda hesitated for a second but I told her of course she has a daddy.  Everyone has a daddy.  Her daddy lived in Massachusetts.  And that was enough for that time.  I directly answered her question that she did have a daddy and where he was.  She didn't ask again until she was about 3 and she asked why he lived in Massachusetts.  So I responded with the "there's all different types of families" discussion.  Some families have a mommy and a daddy and a baby.  Some families have two mommies and a baby.  ETC ETC ETC.  We talked about all the non-traditional families we could think of in our lives.  And that was enough for a long long time.  I think she was 5 next time she asked.  By that time I was married and we talked about how she had 2 daddies, one that made her and one that lived iwth her and raised her.  It helped that my husband was the child of divorced parents and his mom remarried because he told her that just like her, he had a dad who wasn't in his life and a dad that raised him and took care of him since he was 10.  Just last year I finally showed her a picture of her dad, the ONE that I have.  She asked me why he wasn't in her life and I pretty much flat out told her that I didn't know and that we were VERY young when she was born and that we both made different choices in where we saw our lives headed.  I didn't want to badmouth him but I'm NOT making excuses for him either.  I reminded her how lucky she was to have sisters and a dad in her life and let her decide how much we discussed.  She didn't say anything else but I know she's still processing it.  I saw in her open diary in her room a week later saying that she saw his picture and she HATES him.  shrug.gif 


I don't know where things will go from here but my goal has always been to keep my mouth shut unless she specifically asks and to only answer what she's asking.  Countless articles I've read say that children will only ask what they are ready to hear and instinctively protect themselves by tuning out or walking away from anything else.  If they lose interest, they arent' ready.  I'm hoping I've made the right choices but I guess time will tell.  

post #10 of 21
Thread Starter 

Thank you all for sharing. I'm sure my friend will appreciate all the advice.

post #11 of 21

You could tell her that her dad was sick and not well enough to be a daddy to her. Later when she's older, explain that he is an addict, and he may never recover, and that being an addict messes up a person's brain so they aren't able to care much about other people. That way she understands it's not necessarily that he's a "bad" man, and she knows that it has nothing to do with HER. She is the most precious daughter anyone could ever ask for, and someday she'll understand more about adults who make bad decisions. You are the luckiest mommy in the whole world that you get her all to yourself! And she is lucky to have 3 grown-ups who love her sooooo much, she will always have lots of support and love in her life. 

post #12 of 21

^^^^Forum crashing, but when Mom gets a cold or, worse, if she gets something that lands her in the hospital, I would worry that the little girl would be scared that Mommy will be too sick to be her Mommy and she'll then have nobody at all. 

post #13 of 21

Exactly plus its not something the child will understand and they will constantly be asking if the other parent is well yet.

post #14 of 21

I'm not sure which is worse, a completely absent father or a father who is in and out of the child's life and constantly disappointing the child.  My daughter is 17 years old.  Her father has been there only part-time and I have sole custody.  Until she was about 14 years old, she always defended her father.  He could do no wrong even though she would be hurt by his actions.  Now, she chooses to not see him most times because he continually disappoints her.  Just yesterday, she was telling me how she is upset she doesn't get to spend time with him and within a year he won't get to spend time with her at all.  She leaves for college next June.


I think being honest from the start is the best policy.  Making up stories will only give the child hope that things will improve at some point in the future.  Also, when the child learns that mom lied about why the father hasn't been there, that child is likely to harbor deep resentment for the mom.  Be honest. Always, no matter the age.

post #15 of 21

I agree completely.  I think you could soften the blow for a younger one and try not to badmouth the absent parent but it's ALWAYS best in any situation(whether dealing with children or adults) to use complete honesty.  

post #16 of 21

What I have done with my L (5) when she asks(and she does) is that daddy is special upstairs(and I tap my head for emphasis)..I say that he isn't like other daddies...he has problems that he can't control and it makes it unsafe for her to visit him...she seems satisfied with this answer...And she can remember him from before we moved and even then knew something wasn't quite right about daddy...Same with Bio-mom....she seems satisfied for now with those answers...I have found honesty to be the best path..you just have to water it down for their age and what they can comphrehend...

post #17 of 21

Hi!! I'm new to the forum...just found this topic, because i was searching for answers about how to deal with my almost 4 year old's questions about her dad :(( I kind of have an idea how to explain, but hearing some cons and pros from you would be so helpful...

Little background first. My daughter's dad was never a dad from day one, so she never knew she also had one, just like all the other kids. I've taken a proactive approach when she was just a little over two and asked whether she would also like to have a dad (because she kept repeating " mom and dad" while playing with her toys). And she said "yes". So i told her that one day we'll find her a good daddy. And that was enough for the time being. Her biological dad is never going to come into the picture, so that's not a threat. My legend almost had started to materialize just recently. I am dating a wonderful man, who would be a good father to her and a good man to me. It is still too early to push fatherhood on him, or to convince my baby girl that he is her daddy. And all would be fine, since there really is no need to rush things. BUT...a few weeks back my daughter was talking to some boy at the playground and he asked about her dad. of course he didn't understand how could she not have one and suggested that maybe he had died. My daughter then came up to my sister and asked bluntly "is my dad dead?"...Startled, my sister replied "of course not. he's away and he'll be coming back". I was in shock when she told me, because that blows my theory completely, and it has another very negative side effect: my daughter now believes her daddy is coming back and does not want to accept the new man in our lives ((( Of course, if he was ready, there would be no problem...i would have just said that "oh look, daddy's back"...but, like i said, cannot rush someone into fatherhood.

I think she is too young for me to go into biological vs nonbilogical. I want to rectify it by concentrating on the "LOVE" aspect of it. What i want to tell her is that her daddy is somewhere out there and he will find us. and when he finds us, she will feel it in her heart that this is THE daddy who is here to love her, lover her mom, protect us and make our life more fun.

That way i'm not lying...well, not totally...i don't know where the biological one is, it's best for both of us that we don't find out; and the real one, the good one will come along one day, only if she keeps her heart open.

Or is this too much of a burden to put on a 4 year old? Keep in mind, she is a very happy and loved little girl. My parents are as supportive as can be, so there is no lack of attention.

Any thought or advise would be very helpful....

post #18 of 21

I'm posting so I can remember to come back later and read these. I have a somewhat similar experience. My daughter's father now has a protective order against him because he was threatening us. She hasn't seen him or heard from him since April. She overheard that he was in jail and she knows that he was doing mean things. Sometimes, though she'll tell me she wishes her dad wasn't mean anymore because she misses him. :(

post #19 of 21

I don't know that there is really anything that the mom can say at this age that will change how the child feels. The less she says the better in all honesty. The kid will grow up and will have feelings and wonder why other kids have dads. When they grow up they will have a better understanding of life. I would say that the best thing the mom can do is to simply stay positive and focus on loving that child. She is very fortunate to have the help of her family and friends! Have her check out oprahs site there is a whole discussion that has gone on about being fatherless.


At some point the child will accept that daddy is gone and that life goes on. It seems tragic and it really is but since she has such a strong support system I think she will be fine. I have not seen my verbally and physically abusive dad since age 3, and I am so thankful now that he was never in the picture. It's preferable to have two loving parents, but I don't think it's an end all to not be raised in a traditional way. 

post #20 of 21
I will have to address the situation in a few years and am processing some of the previous responses. I think there is not getting around that a child might have some hurts or questions about an absent parent. Responses should be age appropriate but are kids so fragile that we must glaze over the truth? Families are so very diverse, but really having a honest response to the question do I have a mom/dad and where is he or she deserves a real response. At some point we tell kids where babies really come from. Why would we lie about the how? To protect our kids or to protect ourselves?

I plan to say, you have a dad but he decided he could not help take care of you. But I wanted you, so here you are. When he expresses his hurt I will be there with him to validate what he feels. When older I will elborate as asked with facts. Not to bash his father but to give my son the opening chapters in his own story. I won't make him pretend to think his family is like everyone else's when he can clearly notice the difference.
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