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To wish parents in 'traditional' families would explain to their children that families come in all shapes and sizes?

(145 Posts)
acceptableinthe80s Mon 04-Mar-13 16:23:17

Just overheard yet another friend ask DS (4) where his daddy is. DS hasn't even asked about his absent father yet, i've raised him alone since birth.

I realize it's a perfectly normal question for a child to ask, however all his friends parents know he doesn't have a daddy and one in particular has asked him several times in front of the other parent. Is it really too much to expect a parent to explain to their kids that all families are different and some children don't have a daddy/mummy and that it might be a little insensitive to keep asking?
I do think it's a case of just not thinking it's necessary as they themselves are not in that situation so it doesn't affect them.
I know two young children who have both lost their mothers too and it's just so upsetting for the children to keep being asked about them.

So AIBU to expect parents to explain these things to their children in order to spare the feelings of the children affected, not to mention the awkward questions they can raise for single parents?

CloudsAndTrees Mon 04-Mar-13 16:29:52

It's the sort of thing that parents deal with when it comes up naturally. I expect that most of the parents of children that ask these questions will explain it to them at some point, they just might not have felt the need to until their children were exposed to the situation somehow.

YABU if you think that all parents should make a point of explaining it before they go to pre school and are of an age where they could ask.

YANBU if you just want a child who is repeatedly asking to be told to stop.b

Dahlen Mon 04-Mar-13 16:30:14

Do you think this is maybe hitting a nerve slightly and that's why you feel so strongly? (Genuine question, not a sarky one.) I've raised my DC without their father too and I've never really felt I've anything to answer. But then I have discussed different family types with my DC and have done since they tiny. I want my DC to grow up thinking there is nothing odd about same-sex couples having children, single parents, nuclear families, extended families, friendship families - it's a rich cultural world out there with room for all of us.

My DC have simply accepted that daddy isn't around and doesn't live with us without feeling marked out as different or that their family is somehow less valid. It's worth bearing in mind that nearly half of all children don't grow up with both biological parents now, so it's hardly that unusual any more.

For children who have lost parents through bereavement it must be harder though. sad

MrsTerryPratchett Mon 04-Mar-13 16:35:25

This is so hard. I know someone who has just found out that her DS (10) has been writing notes to his absent father and hiding them. The father has never been there but he sees all the families around him with fathers and feels the loss. Although you can expect the families to ask their DC to be a little more polite, I think you are going to have to deal with this for a long time. Strategies for DS to deal, rather than hope the world becomes more polite and R, maybe.

MarmaladeTwatkins Mon 04-Mar-13 16:35:53

I think you're being a bit ridiculous, sorry.

You can't expect small children to never ask these questions of other children. What are we parents in "traditional" families supposed to say to our DC? "Don't ever ask any other child where their mummy or daddy is in case they haven't got one"?

I say this as someone who grew up without a dad in her life so I'm not coming at it without experience. I just wouldn't have been arsed if someone asked me where he was (and they did!)

slatternlymother Mon 04-Mar-13 16:36:00

I'm fairly sure they talk about this in school, don't they?

DS has had a thing in nursery as well where they talk about different family 'shapes'. You might have a square (2 parents and 2 children), a triangle (2 parents and 1 child or vice versa) or a heart (parent and child), or whatever.

They haven't spoken about same sex parenting yet, but he's only 2! I'll probably explain that to him as soon as I get get him to grasp it, as there are 2 same sex parent families at nursery at the moment. I probably won't wait for him to ask me.

YANBU, people should educate their children to view these social norms as normal. It's how we create a new, more tolerant generation.


I have DD1 who is my exs. He is very much involved in her life and she is very close to her Nanna and family on that side.

I then have DD2 with DP. And so many people refer to DP as daddy when talking to DD1. But she doesnt realise and then looks at them funny for talking about her daddy when hes not there. grin

Its not anyones fault, they arent to know, but it is embarrassing to always be correcting people.

If it was one child repeatedly bringing it up I would get annoyed!

Nicknamegrief Mon 04-Mar-13 16:39:09

YANBU to expect parents to at some point explain that families can be different to their own.

YABU if you expect a child of 4 not to ask a question over and over again. I have been asked at least five times today what we are having for tea today. Children can be insensitive despite their parents best intentions.

mindosa Mon 04-Mar-13 16:39:44

Well I dont think parents can run through every permutation and combination. Children think anything rather than their own set up is different.
I explain about different skin colour, same sex parents etc but they will ask anyway

HollyBerryBush Mon 04-Mar-13 16:39:51

Not at 4 no. Thats when children are inquisitive and without malice.

Although I find it bizarre that the topic comes up randomly at the school gate, which is mainly women picking up children, that it would occur to a 4yo that a daddy wasn't in the family dynamic.

BubblegumPie Mon 04-Mar-13 16:44:36

I buy books showing different families for DD, for example Daddy, Papa and Me.

We are a 'traditional family' I want DD to grow up to be a caring, understanding, tolerant individual and that doesn't just happen, you have to help them along.


MammaMedusa Mon 04-Mar-13 16:46:22

I think you need to remember that children don't judge and don't place the same importance on things we do. If "where is his daddy" was answered with a calm and factual "he has no daddy, not everyone does" then he would probably move on to the next question.

I don't think it is a good idea to suggest that certain questions can't be asked, to a small child that almost suggests there is something shameful about having no father which is not what you would want them to think.

CloudsAndTrees Mon 04-Mar-13 16:50:41

It can be a negative when parents talk to their children about these things in the wrong way when they are still too young to really comprehend.

I work in a nursery and we used to have a looked after child with us. One of the parents had obviously discussed this at length with her own dc, who would bring up the fact that Sarah didn't live her mummy on a regular basis. If Sarah did anything she shouldn't have done, the staff would be told to be nice to her because she didn't live with her Mummy, If Sarah snatched a toy from another child, the child would be told they have to let Sarah have their toy because she didn't live with her Mummy.

Sarah was generally fine with the fact that she didn't live with her Mummy, she was still young and knew no different. It wasn't a big deal to her until this other child brought it up all the time, which wouldn't have happened if the parents had not talked about it.

x2boys Mon 04-Mar-13 17:15:14

at 4 kids are just getting to that inquisitive stage though we have a traditioal family mum dad two kids but my boys also have an older half sister from my dh previous relationship its complicated but they are only just getting to know her now i just try and answere questions as we go along for example my oldest ds [age 6] was saying his grandma and grandad my mum and dad were also his sisters grandma and grandad and i had to gently explain that they were nt.

acceptableinthe80s Mon 04-Mar-13 17:17:51

Thanks for all the replies so far. I think i could have worded my OP better.

marmalade Of course i don't expect parents to tell their children not to ask questions, just to explain that there are families of different dynamics to theirs so that when they're told X doesn't have a daddy it's not a big deal.

hollyberry It's not school gate chat, generally it's play dates or meeting up with friends who have kids.

dahlen Like yourself i've talked a lot about different families with ds, he has no problem with the questions, just looks at me blankly. He'll often just say ' i have a papa' as he's very close to my dad and spends a lot of time with him.
So not a raw nerve as such, i just don't want him to know too much too soon iykwim. I'm perfectly to happy to answer his questions but he hasn't actually asked any yet.

The repeat offender is a 6 year old girl, my friends daughter, and even when her mother tells her to stop asking she just continues. Saying that she always does the complete opposite of what her mother tells her so maybe a different tactic required there.

wannaBe Mon 04-Mar-13 17:39:15

thing is children will ask - that's what they do.

Tbh it sounds to me as if this is more about you and the fact that this questioning may lead your ds to ask questions which you yourself are not yet ready to answer. It's also entirely possible, likely even, that your ds has been talking about not having a daddy when on these playdates when other children mention their's which is perhaps why the question has been asked by the other children.

When I was at school there were several children who were adopted/didn't have parents living together/whose parents essentially left them at school and never came back/didn't bother with them. We were all aware of it because the children made us aware of it. We had one little girl who had come from a children's home (this was a boarding school) and had been dropped off by her carer from there. She was subsequently adopted by one of the school staff, and it was common knowledge that mrs x (whose name now escapes me) was now this child's mum...

I'm afraid it's a fact that when you live in a situation which is not traditional the questions are likely to come from elsewhere if you haven't brought them up already. I have a cousin who was adopted by my grandmother, and he found out when he was five because a child at school said to him "your mummy isn't your real mummy," said child had probably heard it from parents, not necessarily even directly but often adults don't consider just how much children do take in when they're having conversations. My nan at that point hadn't told him but the situation forced her to do just that.

I know I'm rambling but unfortunately I think yab a bit u to think that this is someone else's issue to deal with - your ds doesn't have a daddy, that's a fact, children who do have one will be curious about that, and it's likely your ds is even curious about it but because you don't talk about it or is too young to articulate, hasn't asked the questions yet.

Floggingmolly Mon 04-Mar-13 17:50:17

If your friends daughter is really a "repeat offender", then that is bratty behaviour and needs to be addressed. It's almost a form of bullying - to latch onto someone's obvious discomfort at a situation and use it against them. Ok, she's only 6, but you need to make sure the mum clamps down hard on this now.

sydlexic Mon 04-Mar-13 17:51:15

When DS was small I caught him staring out of the window looking very upset and worried. I asked him what was wrong and he said "Mummy I am worried about the baby cloud, it's been there on its own for five minutes and it's Mummy or Daddy is nowhere to be seen".

It was only at this point tht I realised he thought everything came in perfect little families. We had a chat.

Viviennemary Mon 04-Mar-13 17:56:44

I think it's best till it crops up naturally and not to make a big thing of explaining. And not make a big deal out of it.

Gay40 Mon 04-Mar-13 18:00:38

Kids like to know the structure of a family in a way they can relate to. I also think most parents talk about it when it crops up as opposed to thinking "oh, X is of an age where we talk about same sex parents" or whatever.

Unfortunately they do repeat themselves over and over but sometimes because they cannot make sense of the situation in the structure they know.
Bullying, however, needs to be nipped in the bud immediately.

Although DP and I have raised DD together since she was very tiny, most kids realise that two mums is quite unusual, so I suggested to DD that she use any explanation she fancied to get the message across. She elected to refer to me as her stepmum in any explanatory conversations, although she was keen to stress to us that it wasn't how she thought of us in her head. But most children knew a step parent as someone who lives with your parent and loves you as well.

Whatever works, I said.

FierceBadIggi Mon 04-Mar-13 18:01:46

I don't think little children will get the sensitivity angle of not asking questions. Also, surely the attempt is to normalise diverse family relationships, so you're not wanting a child to feel sorry for one without a mother/father, just to realise lots of people have different set-ups.
Slatternlymother - my ds enjoyed the book And Tango Makes Three - pictue book of true story of gay penguins who adopt a chick! So then when same-sex families at nursery come up (if it does) you can say "yes, like the penguins".

acceptableinthe80s Mon 04-Mar-13 18:02:12

I think you might be right wannaBe. It's not that i'm not ready to answer though (believe me i've though about it a LOT), it's just that DS hasn't asked and that's what makes these instances awkward. I almost wish he would ask so we could have the conversation and he would be able to answer any questions.

As far as DS is concerned my dad is his 'dad', though he knows he's his grandad they are very very close and spend lots of time together.

I posted a while ago on lone parents about this and decided to just wait until he asks rather than volunteering information but now i'm not so sure confused.

RedToothBrush Mon 04-Mar-13 18:02:32

Not sure what you expect. Is it other families responsibilities or your responsibility to say that other children don't always realise that they are different - and maybe not the other way round? Kids are going to always ask stuff like this; if its not this question it'd be something else you might be sensitive about.

Its up to you to reassure and make sure your own family unit knows they are ok as they are no matter what anyone might say or question about it. Have confidence in your own set up; don't expect everyone else to pander to it.

KitchenandJumble Mon 04-Mar-13 18:09:28

Perhaps the little girl who asks repeatedly is actually trying to ask something else. She may be curious about where babies come from, and perhaps her parents have said something like "Everyone has a mother and a father." So she may be trying to work out how that can be if your DS' father is not present in his life. I wouldn't immediately jump to the conclusion that the child is teasing or even bullying him. Sometimes children repeatedly ask a question that has already been answered, but they really want to know something else. They just can't figure out how to ask.

Teapot13 Mon 04-Mar-13 18:10:04

Why would you assume the parents haven't tried? My DD is three and she keeps asking about things that I have explained numerous times because she just doesn't grasp them the first time, or maybe she wants the answer to be different. It's entirely possible the parents have given a sensitive answer and the kids ask anyway.

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