It’s a heartbreaking predicament to be in to see your kid hurting over the absence of their other parent. It’s easy to avoid conversations or offer vague answers when they come to you with questions or wanting to talk about the absent parent. However, this will only make a hurtful situation even more painful because kids will naturally formulate their own explanations when you don’t give them one. Of course, speaking to a child about such a complex matter is no easy task, so here are 11 things to keep in mind when speaking to your little one about an absent parent.
Avoid speaking poorly of the absent parent.
Yes, it’s terrible that this person has made the decision not to be in their child’s life, but regardless of what happened or how you feel about your child’s other parent, they are still one half of your child. It will always hurt them to hear one parent put down the other.
Children can recognize when you’re not being genuine. It’s tempting to try to guard their feelings by making up stories about why the absent parent is not around, but honesty is the best policy.
Keep the conversation age-appropriate
Perhaps your child’s absent parent struggles with addiction or has a mental disorder that is keeping them from being an active participant in their child’s life.
Share positive stories
Despite their unfortunate decision to be absent from their child’s life, you probably shared some good times. Be sure to tell your child about those times. They will appreciate hearing them.
Although you’re being honest with your child about why their other parent isn’t present in their lives, it’s best to keep the conversations age-appropriate. Children don’t need to know every gritty detail about why your relationship with their other parent didn’t work out.
Highlight the absent parent’s positive attributes
We all have positive qualities. While it might be easy to dwell on the negative, your child would benefit from hearing positive things about their absent parent as well. As previously stated, your child is biologically one half of their absent parent and it’s not uncommon for children to wonder if they have taken on the negative qualities of their absent parent.
Try not to include your own feelings or thoughts
It’s pretty deplorable for a person to abandon their child, but children eventually grow into adults who can assess situations and come to their own conclusions. As much as possible, try to avoid tainting conversations about the absent parent with your own feelings regarding the situation. Your child will be able to look back and see who was there and who wasn’t.
Emphasize that it’s not their fault
Often times, children internalize the absence of a parent and blame themselves for it. Remind your child often that their absent parent’s decision has nothing to do with them.
Give your child space to express their feelings
Your child will likely experience a range of emotions concerning their parent’s absence and they may not always want to discuss these feelings at the most convenient times. Regardless, give them the space to express themselves.
Allow time for questions
There will definitely be questions — many, many questions. Some will be as simple as “What was my mom’s favorite color?” Others will be as complex as “Why does my dad take care of his other children?” Try to honor their curiosity and feelings and answer each question to the best of your ability.
Explain family looks different for different people
When one parent is missing, for a child, it can feel like their family is incomplete. Be sure to emphasize that this is not the case and explain that there are many different types of families.