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What Explanation Can I Give My Child About Her Absent Father?

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Mother and daughter talking in kitchen
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Question:

My daughter will be four next month, and she's starting to ask questions about her absent father, such as, "Why does everyone else have a daddy and I don't?" Also, her friends are starting to ask questions, as well. What kind of explanation am I supposed to give her about her absent father?

Answer: In truth, there isn't much of an "explanation" that will entirely resolve, once and for all, your daughter's questions about her absent father. Most likely, this is an issue that will come up many more times over the course of her childhood, in the form of your daughter repeatedly asking you the same questions over and over again (because repetition is comforting to kids), and also in the form of other kids' curious questions.

Talking Points for Questions About an Absent Father

As a way of dealing with it, I would suggest developing a set of "talking points" -- your own set of words and phrases to weave into the conversations you have with your daughter about her absent father, so that your word choice is consistent.

If possible, this explanation should include the actual reasoning the absent father used in making his decision not to be involved in her life. For example:

  • He was young and he wasn't ready to be a father.

  • We lived far away from one another.

  • He needed time to deal with some issues of his own.
Please note that these explanations don't justify his choice not to be involved. They are simply intended to inform your daughter that the decision was not about her.

On Bashing an Absent Father

When it comes to raising healthy, well-adjusted kids in a single parent family, you already know how important it is not to bad-mouth the other parent. However, it is critically important that you provide some type of explanation for why he is absent. Here's why:
If the absent parent isn't absent because of their own issues, then by default, the child will conclude that they're absent because of them -- either because of something about them, or because of something they did or didn't do.
And, of course, that's a conclusion you want to avoid, because it will undermine your daughter's self-esteem over the course of a lifetime.

Therefore, you have to walk a fine line between alluding to the issues which led to the absent father's decision not to be involved in her life, and making sure that you're not doing anything to turn her against him permanently.

Why? Because there is always the chance that he will resolve those issues and, at some point down the road, be ready to play a positive role in your daughter's life. In addition, even if you never hear from him, she may decide on her own at some point that she wants to meet him.

On Sharing Memories of an Absent Father

Finally, it's also important that you share with your child any positive memories you have of her father. These will become the snippets that she holds onto and uses to build her impression of who he is as a person -- something that she will likely consider as she grows older and explores more about who she is as a person.

If possible, make a list of the memories you want to share, and begin to incorporate them into your conversations about your daughter's father. Then, when she begins to wonder to herself, "How am I like my father?," she'll have more information to go on than knowing only that he is an absent father who abandoned her.

Remember, too, that all of these conversations should be blanketed in love. You can't change the fact that he's not involved in her life, but you can remind her that you are, that you're not going anywhere, and that you love her completely and unconditionally.

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