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.
Having some understanding of child development 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.