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The F Word: Talking to Your Child About an Absent Father

Last night, as usual, at 7 P.M. I told JD to pick out some books and meet me on the couch for our nightly date. He selected a Thomas book (Erin Zammett Ruddy thinks Thomas books are creepy). He also chose Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?, Where the Wild Things Are and Chicken Little (a story about an awkward chicken and his desire to save the day and make his Daddy proud—this book was a gift). JD loves it. I hate it and I change all the “Dad,” “Daddy” and “Father” references to Mommy.

There once was a little chicken whose name was Chicken Little! One day, something fell on Chicken Little’s head. He thought the sky was falling! But his dad  mom said it was really just an acorn.

I don’t do this to avoid talking about JD’s father with him. Whenever JD brings up his father (and he does), I speak openly, kindly and simply. I just don’t feel the need to bring him up and draw attention to his absence, especially when JD is about to go to sleep and have sweet dreams.

I’m in the midst of potty-training. It’s going OK and a friend recommended I purchase Elmo’s Potty Time for JD to watch. JD loves Elmo, so I ran out and bought it. The whole way home we talked about how cool Elmo is because he goes pee-pee in the potty. I popped the DVD in and joined JD on the couch. The movie started. Seconds in, I realized the entire movie was narrated by Elmo’s Daddy and I should have known considering there is a reference to his daddy in the book, Potty Time With Elmo. The line is, Remember when we went to the store with Daddy Mommy and picked out Elmo’s first pair?

During the movie, JD said "daddy" and was more interested in the furry red monster-man—not the fact that Elmo was peeing and pooing in the potty. We haven’t watched the movie since. But, here’s the thing, I don’t turn the T.V. off when Olivia is talking to her daddy or Dora or Franklin…I just don’t deliberately show movies or read books that have an emphasis on DAD.

Some of you may think I’m being a little too overprotective of JD since I’m going to lengths to avoid the word “Daddy” and believe me, I felt like that too. I felt like a crazy person. That’s why I brought it up to the Pediatrician a few well-checkups back. To my surprise, she agreed with me and said there was absolutely no need to bombard JD with Daddy movies or books—or to bring the topic up on my own, but to keep doing what I’m doing: Answer his Daddy questions, openly, kindly and simply, when he asks them.

Deborah Roth Ledley, PhD, licensed psychologist advises: "A child's worries and thoughts are much simpler than ours and the last thing we want to do is start projecting our own worries and negative thoughts onto them. So, when very young children ask questions about their absent parent, try to be very simple and general. Something like, 'sometimes mommies and daddies don't get along well and they decide that everyone will be happier if they live apart,' or 'some kids live with their mom and dad, or just their mom, or their grandma. Families are all different.' Then, ask the child for their follow-up questions. As the child grows, the discussion will too -- one day at a time." Read Single Parenting 101: A Primer for Solo Moms and Dads.

I try to be as proactive as possible. There was a big Father’s Day party at JD’s school this year. His teachers are aware of the fact that JD’s dad isn’t around, but I still reminded them to make a gift for my brother Brian (who JD affectionately calls “Big Bri”) since he took off the morning from work to attend the party. JD was thrilled! They played, made a turtle magnet and ate donuts.

OK, I’d love your thoughts. As single parents, do you avoid books and movies that bring attention to a missing parent, too? How do you respond when your kiddo asks about an absent parent?

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