How to Answer Kids' Questions About Absent Fathers

It's natural for kids to have questions about why their father isn't in their life. As painful as it is to be the one stuck doing the explaining, these questions are ones you cannot ignore. As a result, be prepared with what to say, how to say it, and when to say it.

While you might not want to share every gritty detail with your son or daughter regarding why their father is absent, there are ways to answer their questions that help children feel more secure. To accomplish this, it helps to do a little planning advance.

For instance, knowing what questions your child might ask as well as having some pre-prepared responses will help you avoid feeling put on the spot or caught you off guard when your kids ask about their dad.

Common Questions About Absent Fathers

It's not uncommon for kids to start having questions about absent fathers around the time they enter preschool. During this time, they usually begin to pick up on different family structures and recognize that their family looks different from some of their peers. Naturally, they will have questions.

Some of the most common questions kids ask about absent fathers include:

  • Who is my dad?
  • Why doesn't he live with us?
  • Is he coming back?
  • When can I meet him?
  • Does he miss me?
  • Why do other kids have fathers and I don't?

Unfortunately, there isn't one single explanation that will entirely resolve your child's questions. What's more, this issue will resurface many times as your children try to make sense of their situation. You also may notice that your kids ask the same questions over and over again.

Just be open and approachable. Allow your kids to ask questions without getting upset. And, strive for patience and thoughtfulness as your child works through this process.

What's more, keep in mind that young kids often view their lives with "self-referential thinking," which means they naturally think the world revolves around them. As a result, it is not uncommon for kids to assume that their father's absence is their fault or that they are unlovable. Consequently, you want to make sure they know that they are not to blame. The following tips will help you think through this difficult talk.

Consider Talking Points

Try planning ahead for your child's questions by developing your own set of talking points. Come up with specific words and phrases that you want to weave into the conversation. Be sure you have a simple explanation as to why he is no longer in the picture. You also want to avoid being critical of him and instead have a few positive comments that you can make about him.

If possible, your explanation should include the actual reason your ex shared with you when he left. For example:

  • 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.

While these explanations don't justify his choice to be uninvolved, they can confirm for your kids that his decision was not about them.

It's very important that your children understand that nothing they did caused their father to leave. You may have to emphasize this several times before it sinks in.

Many kids believe that they are to blame and that they are unlovable. So, you want to do all you can to reassure them.

Tell the Truth

It's only natural that you want to protect your kids from pain and heartbreak. But it's never a good idea to lie to them or withhold too much information about their father. As a result, be sure you stick to the facts, but share them in a sensitive and caring way. You also want to avoid oversharing.

Consider the ages of your kids when deciding what is and isn't appropriate to share with them. Young kids especially are often fine with a simple answer. For older kids, knowing in real terms why Dad isn't around can be a huge relief, especially once they realize that it isn't their fault.

And, whatever you do, don't tell your kids that their father is dead. Eventually, the truth will come out and children usually end up resenting their moms for this lie when they get older. Instead of pretending that Dad doesn't exist, tell them the truth. They may not like what you have to say, but in the end, they will appreciate it. Just remember to keep your personal feelings, fears, and worries to yourself. You don't want to project these things onto your kids.

Validate Their Feelings

When your kids start to share their feelings about their dad being absent, be sure to listen. Don't want to try to fix it, but instead validate how they are feeling. Many times, the easiest way to validate your kids is to mirror what they are feeling or saying.

In other words, comments like "I know it's hard," and "I can see that you are angry; I feel angry sometimes too," are a great way to let your kids know that you understand how they feel. Conversely, avoid writing off their feelings, telling them to get over it, or saying something trite like "It is what it is." None of these things are helpful nor do they help your children cope with the multitude of emotions they are feeling.

Avoid Bashing an Absent Father

When it comes to raising your kids as a single parent, you already know how important it is to avoid badmouthing your ex. Consequently, you don't want to give more negative information than is appropriate. However, you should provide some type of explanation for why he is absent.

Remember, kids will come up with their own explanation if you don't give them one. And, the reasons they'll come up with could be more damaging to their self-esteem than the truth.

It is not uncommon for kids to wonder if they are "bad" (genetically speaking) like their father. So, it helps tremendously if you can share a few positive traits about their dad.

To make this situation a little easier, have a few stock answers or descriptions about their dad prepared ahead of time. This way, your answers aren't infused with your own anger, fear, or sadness in the moment. While your feelings are completely valid, you don't want to put this burden on your kids.

Overall, you are walking a fine line between explaining why their dad isn't around and making sure that you're not driving a deeper wedge between them. In the event that a relationship becomes possible in the future, you don't want to be the reason your kids are unwilling to connect with their absentee father. So, try to include a few positives about their dad and keep the personal attacks to yourself.

Share Positive Memories 

It's also important that you share any positive memories you have of your kids' father. These memories will become the snippets that your children hold onto and use to build an impression of who their father is as a person. Remember, these memories are something that your kids will likely consider as they grow older and are trying to figure out who they are 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 kids' father. Then, when they begin to wonder to themselves, "How am I like my father?" they'll have more information to go on than knowing only that he abandoned them.

Identify Father Figures in Their Life Now

Sometimes kids get hung up on the fact that their family does not look like everyone else's. If this happens, point out that every family is different. Some kids live with their grandparents; some kids live in foster care; and some kids have two dads and no mom at all. You want your child to accept their situation and not feel like they are missing out on something. After all, you have more than enough love to give.

It's also helpful to point out all the father figures they have in their life right now. These men might be grandfathers, uncles, neighbors, or close family friends who are willing to step in and spend time with your kids in order to fill that void they may be feeling. So, while their biological dad might not be in the picture, there are other "dads" who are.

Give Them Tools to Cope

When children have been abandoned by their father, they must be constantly and repetitively reminded that they are not to blame. This may take years of repetition along with truthful conversations about why their father left in order for them to come to terms with their feelings of abandonment.

One way they can cope with their situation is by building emotional resilience. For instance, encourage thankfulness and positive thinking when they are dwelling too much on the fact that Dad is gone. Help them make a list of all the things they have to thankful for as well as a list of things that make them happy.

Then, when they are tempted to feel sad about their situation or get discouraged that their life might be a little harder than their neighbor's, they can return to that list and update it. Or, they can read through the things that are great about their life and dwell on those instead.

Another way to cope with negative feelings is to keep a memory jar as a reminder of all the positive things that have happened in their lives so far. This jar can be referred back to as well when they are feeling down and need a reminder of the things they have to be happy about.

Journaling, meditation, and prayer also are helpful because they provide an outlet for negative feelings. And finally, if you feel your child needs additional help, talk to your pediatrician and ask for recommendations for counselors or programs that may be beneficial for your child.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that all of these interactions with your kids about their father should be blanketed in love. You can't change the fact that their father is uninvolved. But, you can remind your children that you are there, that you're not going anywhere, and that your love is complete and unconditional.

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