What Do We Say About Daddy?

Many of our children ask questions about their fathers, and right now, with Father’s Day approaching, we are all thinking and talking more about it. When we made the decision to become an Single Mother by Choice, this subject was, for many of us, the one which we were most concerned about, and rightly so. Deciding to raise a child without a father has a real impact on our children and on us.

If you have some understanding of child development, that can be very helpful in feeling more comfortable in talking with your child about this important subject. For example. toddlers initially get their view of the world from their parents, and take their cues about how to feel about most things in life from them. So if you tell your toddler, when s/he asks about their “daddy”, that some families have a daddy and some don’t, the child will usually be fine with that, particularly if you say it in a neutral way. The trick is to find the balance between being overly concerned about the question vs. dismissive — either extreme is not helpful.

It’s useful to think about this ahead of time, reflect on how you answer questions that are truly neutral to you, and use those answers as a guide. For a young child (and this changes as the child matures but always remains a factor), your tone is at least as important, if not more important, than the words. Children pick up on your feelings and absorb them subconsciously, and are impacted by them.

It’s important to allow your child to talk about the subject freely, and to express his/her ideas and feelings about it, in order to get a glimpse of what the child’s concerns are at that moment. At times, this might include listening to them say things that are irrational, untrue and/or upsetting. It can be hard to hear what they’re thinking sometimes. However, if you remember that young children’s feelings can be very fluid, and what they say or feel about a subject at a given moment may change dramatically later on, that can help.

They may ask you the same questions over and over as they process the answers. Toddlers need a lot of repetition as they are learning new concepts. Try and keep your answers simple, and in direct response to the question asked. If you’re not sure what your toddler is asking, ask him/her to say a little more about it so that you can best answer the question. For example.when my son was young and we were talking about my being a single mom, it took me by surprise to learn that he thought that “single mother” meant “mother of one child”, and had no idea that it also meant “unmarried”.

The nice part of dealing with our children’s questions is that we will have many opportunities over our lifetimes to re-visit the subject at different stages of development. Their ability to comprehend complex subjects like this one grows incrementally throughout their lives. The most important thing is really for you, the parent, to work on being as comfortable as possible with your having chosen to be an SMC. Your comfort level and ability to give a balanced response will be a tremendous help to your child.

Jane Mattes, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and the Founder and Director of Single Mothers by Choice.


23 thoughts on “What Do We Say About Daddy?”

  1. Single Mom by choice. I adopted my son on my own. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but it sure hasn’t been extremely difficult. He is now 4.5 and asks about a dad. I tell him not all families have a dad and that I love him enough for a mommy and a daddy. He has a wonderful and strong bond with my father and my brother and they step in to attend Fathers Day at the school. He has also asked about growing “in my tummy” and I just told him that he grew in my heart. For now, that seems to be ok. I know there will be lots more questions and bridges to cross. I believe that if I continue to give honest and age appropriate answers, we should manage just fine.

    1. Chai, thank you for sharing your practice how to tell about dady. I have made decesion to SMC when I was 36 years old and now my daughter is 3.5. I know one day she will ask about a dad.

  2. so my situation is unique and im not sure how im going to explain things to my child. his father didnt leave, i did before he was born. his father was abusive and dangerous. how does one toe the line between not insulting the other parent but not lying either? i cant say he didnt want him. but it was unsafe to stay.

    1. You might consider seeing a child psychologist for some counseling on how to explain it to your son at different ages and stages of his life.

  3. Since I have a father I can not comprehend how my daughter will feel or identify. I can only do my best to help her grow into a well rounded person. Part of that will be listening to her express how she feels about not having a dad or knowing who her bio father is. I do hope she will get to experience having a father as I still hold hope for marriage in my life at some point. And I have made contact with her donor siblings, so that she can have a connection with other kids just like her as well as biological relations with the same “daddy” DNA.

  4. My own tentative plan at this point is to foster strong bonds between my (hypothetical) child and my male friends. I have a good strong group of friends and I think there will be ample opportunity for the child to have male role models. I struggle with the thought of denying a child a father, but I do think he or she can choose whom to see as a father. Of course I would prefer not be a single mother, but not being a mother at all just isn’t an option.

    1. I totally agree with you. I definately think a 2 parent family is best, and wish I had a father for my daughter. Maybe some day I will, but hope that my male friends will give her some of the affirmation she needs as she gets older. I also plan to have her connect with her donor siblings to help her understand that she is not the only kid with a donor daddy and to provide that place that only bio relatives seem to fill. Adopted kids always want to meet their bio family, it helps to fill in something for them that they don’t get with their day to day family. I think it is the same for donor kids.

  5. After reading the article, I am still not sure if the SMC believes that a “father figure” is necessary or if having no father at all is believed to be the moral equivalent of having both a mother & father?

    Does a father play a necessary role in the life of a child?

    Does your group foresee a day in which all moms can decide whether or not they would like to include a father in their child’s upbringing?

    1. Michelle, we’re not proselytizing and we don’t think that all moms should become SMCs. We’re just saying that it’s possible to raise a child without a father.
      Loving men in our lives are a plus, but since so many children grow up in families with unhappy marriages and divorces, we feel that it may be less damaging to a child to have one stable, loving parent than to have two who are fighting and unhappy much of the time.

      1. while i come from a string of ‘traditional’ families. but it was full of mental and physical abuse. while there was some love also, but alot of abuse. for a while i though i didnt even deserve to be a mother. but i made peace with it and here i am a single parent to my miracle 2 year old girl. and i couldnt be happier. we have a strong bond already, so i know without a doubt she will understand and appreciate all the sacrifice i made by myself to bring her into this world; i loved her before she was even conceived. i know she already feels that now. xoxoxo

  6. Those statistics are from research on mainly teen and divorced moms, many of whom struggle financially, and do not apply to most SMC families. 99% of our SMC families have moms who went to college and are in their mid-thirties when they become mothers. The SMC moms have careers that provide a good income for their families. So at this point, after the SMC organization has been around for 30 years, we can actually say with confidence that our children are doing fine.

    1. Thank you for addressing this, Steve. Many of us SMCs are confused with divorced families but we are not. My 12 year old son is a typical boy with many advantages. Fortunately, when I planned to have him, I had a good career. He is in private school, plays sports, plays the violin and piano. He also loves to play video games. He is surrounded by a loving family and friends. Did I mention that I am pround single mother by choice? The best decision I ever made when I was 35 years old.

  7. Are prospective single mothers by choice taking into account the statistics on children who grow up without fathers in the home? They are far more likely to take drugs, be violent (for boys), or promiscuous (for girls). Boys are also much more likely to go to prison and children of both sexes are more likely to drop out of school.
    Why would anyone intentionally create a situation which would otherwise be viewed as a tragedy?

    1. Perhaps Steve because the men we meet are not interested in being fathers, and we are definately interested in being a mother. One good parent is better than 2 crappy ones. It is not ideal..but until the men of this generation decide they want to be husbands and fathers it seems to be the only one for many women, myself included.

  8. I can’t tell you how invaluable having found this site is. I am currently getting ready to TTC through IUI. For a long time, growing up, I told myself I would never subject my child to life without a father as mine died when I was 8 and I was devastated by it. Daddy was my hero, and I loved him more than anyone. But as I grew up my desire for a child of my own strengthened and I realized I had a different view on fathers than a child who had started life without one and didn’t have the traumatic event of losing one. I TTC with my ex for two years and it didn’t happen. When he left for another woman, and less than a year later their daughter was born I realized I could take life by the horns, so to speak, and make a family on my own. But as the time for my first IUI draws closer I have wondered what I will say about being daddy-less when the time comes. Having these suggestions here as a springboard have helped ease my mind, knowing I have a starting place to consider and other mothers who are doing the same thing.

  9. My boyfriend and I have been together for 8 months. Currently, we are in love, but I am well aware that it has only been 8 months, and we may not feel the same after 1 year, 2 years, etc. He has two teenagers from a previous marriage. My boyfriend says he is more than willing to be a sperm donor and not have custody. However, I am concerned that if our relationship does not last, then he may want custody and/or financial support so I have been strongly considering using a sperm donor through an agency (who agrees to be contacted by the child after she/he turns 18 years old). My question to you all is: How important is it to the emotional/psychological development of a child to know her/his father? Is it importnat enough that I should choose to have the baby with my boyfriend rather than a stranger sperm donor even though it means risking custody/control over the child later on?

    1. June – I’m so glad someone else is having this problem. (Sorry, that sounds rude. But it’s a relief I’m not the only one.) I’m in a relationship too, nearly 3 years. I’m older (29 to his 22). And I’m anxious over the biological clock. He however has his Master’s degree and finding a job on his mind. I knew the age gap would cause problems…and we were at different stages in life. But he was adamant to date me. I want a child while I still can, and I feel like if I were to wait, I may wait myself until it’s too late.

      I’ve also been considering/thinking if it would be wise to have him as the biological father, knowing he isn’t ready for a traditional family setting. And if using a donor would be better. But what concerns me more is, what if I use a donor, or him, and the relationship continues? Wouldn’t being pregnant with his/or someone else’s child put stress on the relationship, dooming it to end? Or inadvertently make it stronger. (But I’d feel sleazy if forcing him into fatherhood kept him around/in the relationship.)
      I almost wish I were single and making these decisions. This whole “boyfriend who is but isn’t ready for fatherhood but is considering being a donor sperm” situation is getting more and more complicated…

  10. This is a great post. At my daughter’s preschool (she is 3), there is going to be a big father’s day picnic and the children are all busy making something for their dads. (They did the same thing for mother’s day). I told my daughter about the party and then said to my daughter, “Do you have a Dad?” and she turned to me and said “No, mommy. I have a mom and a grandma.” We then discussed that in families with a dad they celebrate Father’s Day, but our family doesn’t have a dad so grandma is going to pick her up from school early that day and do something special with her and my daughter squealed with delight. I also talked with her teachers and asked that they encourage my daughter to make art projects for her grandma or someone else (not a daddy or daddy-figure) and they agreed. I think/hope Father’s Day will work out this year, but it does take some clear discussions and planning with those around you.

    1. This is a great answer and one I hope to use a few years from now. I will make sure to encourage her day care and all other adults in her regular life to acknowledge the family she has and not what she is missing out. That family’s with dads celebrate fathers day and those without don’t. My daugher has a grandpa and I hope for many years that we will celebrate with him.

  11. My daughter used to say she wanted a daddy and I would listen and then ask her why… one time she said “because I want to go fishing like Little Bear”.. I explained that she could go fishing with me and we went. So for her is was about seeing only the father take Little Bear fishing. So I try to give her lots of examples of the things Moms can do. Now she is 6 and she sometimes asks when our daddy is coming (like he is on back order!)… I explain that I don’t know if she will have a daddy but things change all the time. She seems to be adjusting to the idea… (now… what do I say about her wanting a “baby brudder”?)

  12. This is so accurate and the stance I took when my 3 year old would ask from time to time. She’s now 4.5 yrs and hasn’t broached the subject in a while. I also used examples from Disney movies she’s seen or books we read to point out different types of families. We have friends who are now getting divorced and that is a good example to show how families can change but that the love stays constant.

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