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 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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