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Talking to Your Kids about Where Their Dad Is


One of the hardest things about being a single mom is that kids often crave more time with their dad. This may seem unfair, because you're shouldering all the burdens alone, but it's true. There is something innate inside kids that makes them want to get to know their dad. What should you do when he's just not around?

As a single mom, you've already faced your share of really tough experiences. Parenting alone, in and of itself is challenging. Then, you have to deal with a number of other issues, like making ends meet by yourself and make sure your kids are provided for. One of the hardest things about being a single mom is that kids often crave more time with their dad. This may seem unfair, because you're shouldering all the burdens alone, but it's true. There is something innate inside kids that makes them want to get to know their dad.

Your kids may not understand or appreciate that their dad isn't the man they hope him to be. Even though you know the truth, it's important to shield them as much as possible from the pain of feeling like they are unwanted by their father. There will be plenty of time for them to understand his character when they grow older and can process that information. Expect that your kids will eventually ask where their dad is, so prepare for that conversation.

  • Abandoned – If you and your family have been abandoned by your ex, it's important to protect your kids from that level of rejection. Kids can't process the concept of abandonment and may turn it onto themselves. You never want your child to blame himself for the bad things his father does. If your kids ask where their dad is, after he hasn't been home for a while, be as honest as you can according to their age. Don't lie, but protect them from the worst of it. It's ok to tell your kids that their dad needed to go away and spend some time alone and that once you hear from him, you'll let them know.
  • Abused - If your ex was abusive and you put him out of the house, chances are your kids already have some idea about this, from what they've seen or heard. Don't get into details. Share with your kids that their dad had to go away and get his temper under control, just like they have to do sometimes. It may sound like a gross over-simplification, but because your kids still love their dad, it's important that they are allowed to do so without worrying that he's mad because of something they did.
  • Disneyland Dad – Your ex may be the kind that shows up with gifts and exciting trips and cool stories to tell, right before he disappears again. These ups and downs are heartbreaking for kids and as the mother, your heart probably hurts for them too. They get their hopes up, and get to see their" amazing", "wonderful" dad for a few days only to live without him for weeks or months on end. If they want to know why he keeps disappearing, let them know how much their dad loves them and wants to see them. As hard as it is for you to say, they need to hear it. Then you can share with them that sometimes people get so busy they forget to make time for family, but that it doesn't mean they're not loved. It just means that when he is there, they should make the most of it.
  • Incarceration – Unfortunately for some families, the other parent is in prison because of a crime. It's not that unusual and it's hard for kids to understand why their dad, whom they love, is labeled a "bad person". Be careful not to use these labels yourself so that your kids don't feel they can't open up to you about their feelings. Without going into detail, it's ok to explain to kids that when people do something wrong, there are consequences. Kids understand that. If you aren't comfortable taking them for a visit, have them write letters and when they receive letters back, read them first and then share only the positive parts.

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