What to Say About an Absent Dad

5 02 2017
A mother and daughter have a serious talk.

Listen and respond patiently to your kids’ questions about their dad. (GETTY IMAGES)

“Dad questions” come suddenly and at unlikely moments.

Unfortunately, there are no magic answers to your kids’ questions because the circumstances that lead to solo mothering differ widely.

For some moms, solo motherhood was a deliberate life choice. Such moms may have used reproductive technology or simply planned their pregnancies with a cooperative partner. Other women become solo moms by chance. What began as a shocking surprise evolves into a welcome and life-changing event. Divorced moms often cope with dads who are only inconsistently present or entirely absent in their kids’ lives. Other divorced dads rush into another relationship and create “new” families that sadly – and predictably – don’t include the kids from a previous marriage. Exclusive relationships sometimes break up leaving the mom unexpectedly and disproportionately responsible for raising the kids.

If you feel angry or upset just anticipating these questions, make addressing your own emotional needs a priority.

Begin by writing down exactly what fuels your anger or brings tears to your eyes. Express your disappointments, regrets and sadness over how your expectations were never met. To add a healing and ritualistic touch, consider shredding or burning what you’ve written. If you decide to keep what you’ve written, take care your kids don’t inadvertently stumble upon your private writings. If you chose to vent your feelings online, that’s your personal choice.

No matter what path you choose, it’s challenging to express and sort out painful feelings. If you feel overwhelmed or increasingly upset, seek help through a support group or from a mental health professional. Taking these brave steps forward will ensure you’ll be ready to answer your kids’ inevitable questions about their dad.

Here’s what you need to know to get ready:

Know what to expect. Most kids begin asking Dad questions around the age of 4 or 5. Before that, kids believe all families are just like theirs. Kids at this age begin to notice different types of families at day care and at neighborhood or extended family gatherings. Of course, media influence kids’ perceptions, too.

Begin the conversation by talking about what makes your family unique. Build on your kids’ observations by talking up the unique advantages and positive qualities of different family types. Celebrating differences in other families sets the stage for your talks about your own unique family. Instill in your kids respect for the life choices other people make.

Keep your conversations age-appropriate. Stick to basic facts. Keep your explanations simple. Your kids are unlikely to understand what commitment, trust or intimacy mean. Reveal more information slowly as your kids mature. Avoid changing the subject when their questions persist or are posed at inopportune times. Kids often ask the same questions repeatedly. It’s fine to say you simply don’t know or to turn the question around and ask your kids what they think might be the answer. Above all, listen patiently to encourage your kids to talk about their feelings.

Don’t lie. Lying never works. When kids eventually discover the truth, the loss of a present and loving dad will be compounded by their loss of trust in you.

Strive to remain positive. Keeping your message positive will be incredibly demanding, especially if their dad is neglectful or routinely dodges his responsibilities. Kids who have been neglected or abandoned will express rage, hurt and anger. Comfort them as only a mother can. Resist the urge to say things which may be factually true, but terribly hurtful to your kids.

Think long term. Staying positive to protect your kids requires all the strength and maturity you can muster. Look for opportunities to say positive and truthful things about their dad. Keep in mind that everything you say about Dad becomes part of how your kids view themselves. So, when you take the high road, your kids gain added measures of happiness and confidence. Think of harsh words about their dad as sharp arrows. Protect your kids from such wounding words just as you would protect them from physical danger.