“Why doesn't Daddy want to see me?”
Now that my son is nearly 4, he has some curiosity about the father he's never met. According to Misito, I may never be able to fully satisfy his interest. “Unfortunately, there is not an answer that will completely resolve your child's questions once and for all,” she says. “In fact, the child will ask the same questions over and over again about the ‘absent’ parent.”
Don't panic. Be patient and answer the questions clearly and consistently each time. Avoid bad-mouthing the absent parent, no matter how hard it may be, because your child may develop a relationship with him one day. “The most important thing for parents to remember is that they must keep all negative feelings about their ex to themselves,” Misito says. “Although this is easier said than done, the effects on the child can be detrimental.”
Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., the author of Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men, suggests saying something positive—but honest—about the absent parent to address any questions. (“I know he is really good at running, just like you.”) Drexler cautions that showing a picture of an absent-by-choice parent isn't the best move. “A growing child needs to be able to focus on successfully passing through his own developmental stages without distraction, worry, or preoccupations that are not solvable—like an adult who refuses to visit his child.”
Don't be surprised if your child breaks your heart and says “But why doesn't Daddy want to see me?” When he does, try this: “I don't know why your daddy has made the choice not to visit us. But there is one thing I do know for sure: His choice has nothing to do with you.”
“Mom, why do you sit down when you pee?”
Doug Downey, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Ohio State University, in Columbus, coauthored a study about the benefit of single moms raising daughters and single dads raising sons. Apparently, there is none. “The research revealed no evidence that a same-sex advantage shows up after a family breaks up or even when the children reach adulthood,” explains Downey. While this is excellent news, it doesn't mean we won't get tongue-tied when cringe-worthy questions come up.
“Mommy, why don't you stand and pee like me?” Jack said to me after he barged into the bathroom and caught me with my pants down. “Almost all parents are caught in the buff by their children at some point,” Drexler says. “The best response is to be relaxed and tell them that they've done nothing wrong by glimpsing you.” Wait until your child starts to ask questions, then answer simply: “I sit to pee because I have a vagina, and you stand because you have a penis, and it works best like that.”
Interestingly, when it comes to body parts and bodily functions, single moms don't have it much different than mothers in traditional two-parent households. “In mom-and-dad families, the average amount of time fathers spend with their children is still substantially less than the time spent with Mom,” Drexler says. “My point here is ‘Relax, single moms,’ because for most boys, it's usually the mother who explains issues related to the body.”
When inquiring children want answers to loaded questions, short and sweet is best. “Keep the response simple, factual, and age-appropriate,” advises Klungness.
Finally, consistently remind them that you'll always be there. I've learned there are many ways to do just that. One day when I was loading Jack into his car seat, we both heard faint chirping coming from atop our condo's garage.
“What's that?” Jack asked. When I looked closer, I saw a bird in her nest, surrounded by downy chicks. The mother was calm and still as the little ones mingled around her. “Jack! That mommy bird has baby birds.” I lifted him up to see.
“Whoa. What is she doing up there?” His big brown eyes looked so curious, and a bit concerned, too.
“She's taking care of her babies.”
“Cool!” said Jack.