I must admit I thought I had a bit more time on this one so I was taken back when my sister informed that Bear Cub (my son) had asked her, ‘Aunty, why doesn’t my daddy live with me?’ He has a very close relationship with my sister and will often ask her ‘life questions’. At three and a half we are also at the ‘why?’ stage so she knew a fobbed off answer would not suffice and rarely does with Bear Cub anyway. He has a friend he likes but they argue a lot and wind each other up so my sister used their friendship as an example saying mummy and daddy are better friends when they don’t live together and see each other all the time. He seemed to accept this but did ask me about it again a few days later
As Bear Cub’s Father has not lived with us since just after his first birthday I’d hoped it seemed ‘normal’ for him as it was all he’d really known. I wasn’t sure if he even ever remembered his dad ever living with us at all. I’d expected the question when he started school when children would inevitably talk more about their families and perhaps ask him where his daddy was. Any friends we do see during the day often have husbands or partners at work so Bear Cub would rarely see ‘dads at home’ to feel that his situation was any different to anyone else’s. However, he’s an observant and smart cookie and figured out the situation for himself.
I never lie to Bear Cub and always try to plainly explain to him the truth about things whenever possible – but obviously in a way he can understand and digest appropriate for his age. There are a number of answers I could have given and not one of them particularly nice – ‘Mummy and daddy don’t love each other any more’, ‘Mummy and daddy argued a lot and didn’t get on so are better friends when we don’t live together’, ‘Mummy and daddy are friends but not special friends anymore’. I somehow wanted to take out the negative as I knew whatever I answered would be faced with a ‘why?’ I think I ended up saying a combination of all of these statements leaving out the details of why we no longer got on or loved each other. I didn’t want him to think that it was any negative or bad reason that his daddy didn’t live with us anymore but the reality of course was.
In some ways I wished I’d given my response more thought but then I realised I felt that way just so I could sugar up an answer that whichever way you looked at it, realistically, was just not ‘nice’.
It is right and normal that all parents want to protect their children from harm, bad experiences or negative feeling in the world for as long as possible, however, the question came up now at three and a half years old and he wanted to know. Therefore as he questioned, he deserved a response – without one he may have made up his own conclusion possibly even taking some blame himself which would be a more awful scenario.
The question was a reminder for me of the failure I feel that my son has not had the secure, stable, loving upbringing from both parents I’d always envisioned – one he so innocently deserves. It is far from ideal and a life away from what I’d hoped and planned but, it’s our reality. In truth, Bear Cub does have a loving and stable home and I do a good job as a mum (most of the time). It’s not how it was meant to be but it’s how it is. I’m sure I could have handled the situation better but then you always think that when you over analyse things afterwards. To balance the negativity in the truth of the matter I never speak ill of Bear Cub’s Father and instead try to point out the positives to him.
There is a helpful book called ‘Where’s Daddy?’ if anyone is facing or thinking about the same question coming up.
Where’s Daddy? is an invaluable guide for mothers and fathers with broken families. It will help them answer children’s questions concerning separation and divorce. And provides forewarning of the doubts and problems which may arise later. The authors make an ideal team to discuss the subject: Jill Curtis is a well-known psychotherapist and her daughter, Virginia Ellis, with two small children, has been through the pain of separation followed by divorce. The book is based on a questionnaire sent out to hundreds of separated and divorced parents. The wide variety of their replies revealed the confusion, problems and agony caused by lack of advice and knowledge of where to go for support. Where’s Daddy? Contains a list of resources and helpful addresses
I only wish I’d read it before Bear Cubs question came up but I’m sure there’ll be plenty more interrogation along life’s way.
Any tips/stories/advice of how others have dealt with this scenario would be greatly received.
This post also appears at More than a Mum