Ask Jessi: I’m a Single Parent- How Do I Explain Why?

June 5th, 2010by Jessi Arias-Cooper



A Reader Asks:

I’m a single mom with a six-year-old daughter. Her dad hasn’t ever been a part of her life and I’ve always been okay with that. I know it sounds stupid, but I never thought about what I’d tell her if she asked questions. Now she has a ton of them, especially since she sees that her school-friends have mommies AND daddies. I want to be honest, but the truth is brutal. He didn’t want me, and he didn’t want her. How do I explain to her why our family isn‘t normal?

Jessi Says:

Whoa, whoa, whoa…hold the phone! Who says you’re NOT a “normal” family?

I LOATHE that word, because there is absolutely, positively no such thing as “normal” when you’re talking about families in general. “Normal” has been equated with the cookie-cutter concept that a family should be a married couple, man and woman, with one or more biological children.

Intolerance Touches a Nerve

My family has always been “different.” I was a Mexican-Hungarian kid before freckly, white mamacitas with frizzed-out afro puffs were cool. There wasn’t a lot of understanding of love-over-race in the early 80’s, and while I didn’t ever think there was anything wrong with my family, other people sure did.

Fast forward to now. I have three sons, one of whom happens to be adopted. People have asked me how it’s possible to love my adopted son as much as my biological ones. Really? What kind of crazy question is that?

We’re going to throw out the word “normal” because it’s a label, and belongs in the trash with moldy fish sticks, old gossip rags and other such rubbish. The moral of the story is to resist labels that make you feel like there is something wrong with you or your situation.

Talking To Your Daughter

Now, I’ll hop off my soapbox and answer your question. First, it doesn’t sound stupid at all. Your priority, since you saw those two little pink lines, was to take care of your daughter the best way you could. It makes sense that you weren’t spending precious energy contemplating a possible conversation.

As for what to tell her, a balance between honesty and discretion is called for, because of her tender age and self-esteem. Telling her “Dad didn’t want you” could stir negative emotions that might hurt now, and for years to come.

Feeling unwanted stings for everyone, but a child has very little life experience. She doesn’t have the capacity to sort out such a complex emotion and grow from it. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, or add pressure, but answering her questions in a negative way could cause trust and intimacy issues (especially with men) that she could hold onto through adulthood.

So what do you say?

  • Don’t delve into the specifics of your relationship with her father. It has more potential to hurt rather than help
  • It may sound clichéd, but tell her that things just didn’t work out between her dad and you, and that’s okay
  • Not every family is the same. The love is what matters
  • Point out that some children live with their grandparents, just their daddies, or just their mommies, like her
  • When she has more questions, answer them positively, and at a simplistic 6-year-old level

Every parent gets surprised with tough questions that deserve straight-shooting answers. It’s not easy for any of us, but it’s a part of parenthood just the same. If you stay positive and concentrate on what makes your family special, everything will be okay.

The Jessi wants to know: What do YOU think? Chime in below!

Jessi Arias-Cooper is the senior writer and an editor for Advice4Parenting.com. She is a work-from-home mother of 3 boys and has been married for 10 years. If she had time for hobbies and interests outside of parenting and keeping house, they would be jewelry making, baking, watching bad B-movie horror flicks and creative writing.

If you have a question for Jessi, click here and ask away!

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9 Responsesto “Ask Jessi: I’m a Single Parent- How Do I Explain Why?”

  1. Lindsayon June 5, 20102:54 pm

    Jessi,

    I totally agree with your answer. There is no such thing as a “normal” family. Families all come in different shapes and sizes. Some families don’t have daddies and some don’t have mommies and some don’t have either. The important thing is that families love and support each other.

    Lindsay
    .-= Lindsay ´s last blog ..Connecting with Local Mommy Bloggers =-.

  2. Jessi Arias-Cooperon June 5, 20103:49 pm

    Thanks, Lindsay! I feel that it’s important to embrace your family for what it is. Beautiful. No two are the same, and that’s the way it should be! ~Jessi

  3. Jamieon June 5, 20104:59 pm

    You hit the nail on the head. When my 12 now almost 13 year old asks the questions I can now be a little more honest. I won’t be the one who tells him the truth though. When he asks why his dad and I aren’t together I tell him because we don’t get along well. Then I get the “why can’t you get along” question. I’ve always told him that we fight a lot and yell at each other and that’s not what being a family is. He understands more now than he did. He still asks questions, but the answer stays as “your dad and I couldn’t get along.”

  4. Jessi Arias-Cooperon June 5, 20105:40 pm

    Thanks, Jamie! As he grows he’ll continue to understand more and more. There will always be questions, and time goes on he’ll make his own observations. Ultimately, he’ll realize that things worked out the way they did for the better of your family situation, if he hasn’t already. Hang in there, mama! ~Jessi

  5. Fozzon June 6, 20108:50 pm

    You are completely right.

    Kids are tougher than we give them credit for and sometimes we try to shelter them from the truth. But I feel if you are honest and explain in a simple way, they can understand. Never make it about them or point blame at anyone.

  6. Jessi Arias-Cooperon June 6, 201010:13 pm

    Thank you for your feedback and input! You’re absolutely right. Pointing fingers and playing the blame game isn’t going to help your little one understand anything. Sometimes things just don’t work out between adults, and it’s never the child’s fault. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. ~Jessi

  7. Peter Hanfileti, MDon June 10, 201010:46 am

    I totally agree with you Jessi. In my experience as a pediatrician interacting with parents, these questions and issues come up a lot. I would like to just add that by the time verbal questions are popping up, the child has already “felt” the energetics of the situation over months or years. This is the reason I recommend exactly what you have said, to find that balance between honesty and discretion based on the child’s age and level of understanding. Trying to keep difficult topics a secret from kids just doesn’t work. I think it’s much better to give them an age-appropriate explanation to go along with the feelings they are detecting already.
    .-= Peter Hanfileti, MD´s last blog ..BodyTalk and Your Child =-.

  8. Jessi Arias-Cooperon June 10, 201011:21 am

    Thank you so much for your feedback. It’s very true that kids “pick up” on sensitive issues on their own, and an honest approach, at their level of understanding, is best for everyone involved…even though it’s not easy. ~Jessi

  9. anaidaon June 21, 20108:18 pm

    absolutely true. but we need to tell them the truth.. though it is very tough.

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