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 have to have questions about an absentee father. As the remaining parent, you'll want to be prepared with what to say, how, and when. The following tips for answering kids' questions about absent fathers will help:

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.

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 her.

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.

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 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.