Over the weekend I took JD to his school’s annual summer carnival. There were games/prizes, spin art, pop corn, hot dogs, cotton candy and a chance to soak teachers (JD nailed his Pre-K 3 teacher) in a dunk tank (all proceeds benefited a local child with a severe illness). After we played games and ate, JD ran around the fenced in playground area with his friends and I hung back at the picnic tables and chatted with the parents. JD’s best buddy, *DJ’s dad, *Pete was there with his three boys alone, because his wife, a nurse, was working a weekend shift. In between chatting about the Lice scare (we're still all clear!), JD’s upcoming birthday party and the play-list on my iPod (loving Adele and Regina Spektor at the moment), Pete asked me about JD’s dad. What did I say? What should a single mom say when someone asks? First off, RELAX.
Look, I don’t think there’s a black-and-white, expert answer here, like there is when it comes to explaining an absent parent to a pre-schooler. Read this article I wrote to learn what to say and how to say it, based on the cognitive limitations of your child. (I interviewed a child psychologist. Heck, I was curious, too!)
“Can I ask, I mean if I’m being too forward—but where is his dad?” asked Pete.
I didn’t flinch and my stomach didn’t feel like the rollercoaster just dropped. I think this has to do with the fact that I’ve been a single parent for nearly four years and I’ve been writing about my journey as well.
“His dad and I were in a committed relationship. We got pregnant fast and decided to keep the baby when I was five-weeks-along. At 11-weeks he changed his mind. He moved to Indiana. He’s married with a child now,” I said and took a swig of water. I was completely un-phased by my honesty, or the fact, that other parents I didn’t know at all were in earshot.
“Wow, so did he ever meet him?” Pete asked.
“Nah,” I said. And I ended it there. And then I changed the subject by whirling my head around and saying, “Where did my kid go!?” I didn’t feel like talking about it anymore, but I understand that people are curious. I said as much as I wanted to.
“Wow, well, I mean you’re doing a great job with your son. I see you running in here in the morning and running back in here just before six. I’m married and it’s hard,” Pete said.
“Thanks, I’m used to it. We have a system—we’re a team!”
Single parents write me often and ask me what I suggest saying when someone abruptly asks where, Dad (or Mom) is. My advice is to just say what you’re comfortable saying. As a writer, I’m constantly drawing from personal experiences and creating work. I’m an open book and I believe that my real-life stories can help people, even if they simply make them feel less alone in their single parent journey. I have no problem talking or writing about my life (and I hope this will encourage JD one day, not to keep his feelings about his bio-dad bottled up -- until great explosion). I’m not ashamed of it at all. I don’t find it annoying when people ask about JD’s father, nor do I consider this educated adult's absence to be a reflection of JD or ME. Everybody has a past and people need to own their stuff. I do.
Adrian Grenier, star of Entourage and raised by a single mom, says this about absent parents: "To me, it’s selfish. It’s uncomfortable for him to raise a kid—that’s unacceptable. Ya gotta get over it—it’s not about you anymore." Read my exclusive interview with the charming actor here.
What do you say when someone asks where your child’s dad (or mom) is?