How to Answer Kids' Questions About Absent Fathers

What to Say When Your Child Asks About an Absentee Father

Dad holding his young son and walking away.
Prepare to answer your child's questions about an absent father. Photo © Fuse/Getty Images

It's natural for kids to have questions about why their father isn't in their life. Painful as it is, as the remaining parent, you'll want to be prepared with what to say, how, and when. While you might not want to share every gritty detail of why their father is absent there are ways to answer that can help your child feel more secure. The following tips for answering kids' questions about absent fathers will help you through this difficult talk.

Common Questions About Absent Fathers

It's not uncommon for kids to start having questions about absent fathers around the time they enter preschool and begin to pick up on different family structures. Some of the most common questions include:

  • Who is my dad, and 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. Most likely, the issue will resurface many times. You may also notice that your child asks the same questions over and over again. It's important that you allow your child to ask these kinds of questions. 

Talking Points for Questions About an Absent Father

You can plan ahead for your child's questions by developing your own set of 'talking points' — specific words and phrases you'll want to weave into the conversation when your child asks about his or her absent father.

 

If possible, your explanation should include the actual reason your ex shared when making his decision not to be involved in your child's life. 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 not to be involved, they can help affirm for your child that the decision was not about them.

It's important that your child understands that nothing they did caused their father to leave. 

On 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. So you don't want to give more information than is appropriate. However, it is critically important that you provide some type of explanation for why he is absent.

Why is that burden on you? Because your child will come up with her own explanation if you don't give her one, and the reasons she'll come up with could be more damaging to her self-esteem than the truth. 

Therefore, you have to walk a fine line between alluding why your ex chooses not to be involved and making sure that you're not driving a deeper wedge between them, in the event that an ongoing relationship becomes possible in the future. It's important that you take the age of your child into consideration when deciding what is and isn't appropriate to share with them. 

On Sharing Memories of an Absent Father

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

Remember, too, that all of these conversations should be blanketed in love. You can't change the fact that your child's absent father is 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.