What to tell 4 yr old about negligent father? - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 5 Old 02-14-2013, 06:44 PM - Thread Starter
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I need advice on what to tell my almost 4 yr old son about his father’s neglectful behavior. I don’t want to get into the whole back story (way too long) or whether I should leave or not. I am a stay at home mom, so don’t have the resources to leave now anyway. That said, I need advice on how to interact with my son about his father’s behavior.


In a nutshell, his father is more concerned with preserving his own free time and will neglect his son and frequently even ignore him. He is a narcissist and very self-centered. He has left town on business without even telling our son that he is leaving. He sometimes does not call him for a couple of days (when he is not on speaking terms with me mainly). And, when his father does call from a trip, our son doesn’t want to talk to him at length or at all lately. Most evenings, he will only play with our son for 10-20 min because the news is on after that or he is tired and wants to lay down. Increasingly, my son would rather now continue playing with me than his father, though he still sometimes plays with his father but it has to be within that 45 min to 1 hr time span before the news comes on.


And, when he does play with our son, he is checking e-mail as well. He is 100% devoted to his job. He doesn’t know how to cook. Can’t fix anything, etc. so I am the one that has to deal with all of that and get no help on anything on the homefront. He basically just provides the money. Period.  


Also, he hasn’t spoken to me in a month (long back story which I won’t get into, but another sign of his childish and dysfunctional behavior) and does not eat meals with us as a result (yes, we all live together). I don’t know what to tell my son about this behavior. I really want to badmouth him and have a few times, but I also know this is not a good idea. Still, I don’t want my son to think that this is normal behavior and to model it as an adult since he is absorbing everything and the groundwork is being laid for the person he will grow up to be. Our son doesn’t ask why daddy is not eating with us anymore and this has now become the norm. Also, because it’s just the two of us, I do end up having the TV on for him to watch during dinner, which is something I vowed I would never do. I just can’t keep him sitting there staring at the wall while I get dinner ready and I need him to be distracted so I can work, so that probably helps in distracting him from his father not being there too. I just don’t want my son damaged by a negligent father and for him to grow up thinking that all fathers are that way. I don’t want him to be anything like his father.


So, any advice on how to deal with this whole situation (other than leaving which I cannot do now so I don't even want to get into that topic) and ensure that my son is not adversely impacted by it? What do I tell him when he asks about his father (i.e. why isn't he eating dinner with us, not talking to you, etc)? Or, even if he doesn't ask, I feel like I should say something about some of the behaviors but I know I'm walking into a minefield...


I wasn't sure where would be most appropriate to post this, but since I feel like I am single parenting, thought this would be a good start.

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#2 of 5 Old 02-14-2013, 07:05 PM
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I lived through it, already. Be neutral and honest about his father's behavior. Badmouthing would be harping on it, or exaggerating. Just truthfully talking about what is appropriate and what is not, concerning his father's behavior, or commiserating when his father disappoints him, is fine in my book. My son is now a teen, and recognizes poor behavior in others much more accurately than I did at that age. I think it's because I didn't try to shield him or justify his father's behavior.
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#3 of 5 Old 02-14-2013, 08:11 PM
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The most that would be acceptable would be to say "I miss daddy eating with us. I wish he was here." But honestly you shouldn't say anything. If you do not like how things are then you can get out. It's that or you and your husband seek counseling and sort out your relationship. You are a stay at home mom, child support and spousal support would be awarded to you. There is no way the situation will improve or change in a positive manner, and you bad mouthing your husband is setting a bad example so either you can live the way you are or you can leave.

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#4 of 5 Old 02-16-2013, 09:03 AM
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Mama, you are in an abusive relationship.  Not talking for a month is about control.  Read 'Why Does He Do That' by Lundy Bancroft.


My X was verbally and emotionally abusive to us.  I did bad mouth him to the kids, in that I had to say it was not right for papa to scream at us all the time.  They were shaken and scared, and needed to know that other people don't act that way.  Honesty is the best policy sometimes. 


What helped us, a bit, was when we lived next to a very mentally ill alcoholic woman, and when her behavior became really erratic I had to talk to the kids about what a mental illness was, and how though it was really an illness, no different than cancer, that we often felt different about it because we, and society, felt that she should be able to control her behavior- but that she couldn't control it any better than a patient can control her cancer.

So then later, after I left him, they understood that he had a mental illness that was less severe than our neighbor's, but that he wasn't able to control it.  My 5 year old could understand this, and we talked about still loving someone with cancer, and that it was okay to love him, I would say 'Of course you love him, he's your papa!' with enthusiasm...but that we could love him and not his behavior.


I think you need to get your kiddo in counseling- afaik play therapy is what is used at his age.  If he starts counseling now, he will be used to going, and when later he is able to express his feelings verbally, he will already be in the habit of going to counseling.


FWIW I was a stay at home mom, we were very poor and I had no resources.  The court made him pay all the utilities and mortgage, including internet, for the year plus the divorce took.  I work 2 jobs and live in a small duplex now and often cry myself to sleep.  But it is so  much awesomely better to cry about the kiddos fighting, than to live with him and cry about his abusive behavior.

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#5 of 5 Old 02-16-2013, 11:32 AM
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Provocativa, you make some really great points! Especially about loving ex for him, not his behavior. I've been thinking along those lines when someone said to me hate the crime, not the criminal. I'm trying to talk to my boys about that as we have had to talk about how their dad is a compulsive liar. He really doesn't know when he is lying and when he is saying the truth. He doesn't understand how harmful and wrong lying is (thanks to his ahhhhh mother) and so we can't hate him for his lies, we can just hate the lying.

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