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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?

Kytti Fri 08-Mar-13 01:21:24

One of my dt's keeps telling everyone her Daddy's gone. "No, my Daddy's gone. He's not here anymore." He's actually at work. (sigh) But that's how she explains it. She's 3.

My elder 2 children were discussing getting married (yes, aren't I a smug traditionalist?) and ds says "you can't marry x, girls can't get married to girls!" dd replies "yes they can, because Sue and Peggy (v good friends of ours, the names have been changed to protect the innocent) are married, and they're both girls." "Oh, OK" says ds. On they went with their game and ds now knows same-sex couples are OK.

I've never sat them down and discussed it either. I don't think I have to. What I do need to do is answer their questions honestly and as objectively as I can.

Morloth Fri 08-Mar-13 01:38:09

I am "I'm alright Jack' about our family set up. Because it is alright.

Other people's arrangements are none of my business and are therefore not my problem and if they are not my problem then they are not my business.

I do the giraffe thing, that is our reality and it is a good reality.

Little kids are still learning the social rules, they don't get it right all the time. They do however grow out of asking personal questions in inappropriate moments if you teach them to.

And we come back to Not My Business/Problem.

Stickwithit Fri 08-Mar-13 01:46:31

I've talked about this with DS (5). Each time we talk about it he seems to grasp the concepts, including the fact that DP (who is DS' daddy) and I aren't married but live together and love each other very much.

However despite my best efforts he still tells me that 'x' or 'y''s daddy does not live with them as if it is unusual, and he still assumes DP and I are married.

I help in school which means the children are aware that I have a different surname to DS. This causes much hilarity amongst the children as they, (including DS), just don't get it.

What I am trying to say is that sometimes, despite parents' best efforts to educate their children about this type if thing, it does take a while to sink in. partly because they have so many external influences incorrectly stereotyping the typical family, and partly because at such a young age they struggle to imaging that everyone else doesn't have the same family set up as themselves.

StanleyLambchop Fri 08-Mar-13 09:20:59

My DD was teased in reception because one girl said she could not have a daddy because he had never picked her up from school (he is at work!) The following week she was teased because we didn't have a car, based on the premise that this girl had never seen DD being driven up to school (we live 2 minutes walk away!) Some kids will always find something to tease /question others about. I have taught my DD to shrug it off. BUT-as I am not with her all the time, I have no idea if she goes arround saying similar to other children!! So I would not be too smug that your own children will not do the same to others when they are out of your ear-shot. Kids are kids!

I think the "Not my business/ problem" attitude can be pretty problematic in itself.

For example I did my teacher training in a small village school in Devon and felt there was an attitude that we don't need to teach about multi-culturalism or equality or the problems of racism here because it doesn't come up (we're all white here) And yet there was one boy in the school who was Chinese and he did get bullied by some other children. As a student teacher I did what I could to raise these issues - which actually came up very naturally in the topic we were looking at - it was about "Food" so provided a good opportunity to look at slavery in the context of the sugar triangle etc.

Where issues don't seem to come up naturally as often it can be even more important to make sure they are addressed.

My DD too considered the possibility of marrying her best friend. And why not ?!
We're cool with it.

QuickLookBusy Fri 08-Mar-13 09:47:54

I think most dc do come across different families-RL, TV, books, in their own families.

But I think it wouldn't matter how "exposed" a 4yo was, they would still be inquisitive enough to ask the question "where's your Dad?". To them there could be a lot of answers- at work, living down the road, living in another town, in the army etc etc. I think they are just asking a normal question.

Morloth Fri 08-Mar-13 19:35:00

Racism is everyone's business and problem.

Other people's personal arrangements are not.

You can teach kids that people can do whatever they like as long as they are not hurting anyone and not get down to specifics.

Well Morloth, the way I'd see it is that acceptance of diversity (including within families) is everyone's issue.

Obviously I see an analogy with the issues of racism, hence my post.

Morloth Fri 08-Mar-13 20:04:31

Diversity is good and best achieved I believe by letting people be.

I simply dont care how people set up their own lives and I expect the same in return.

What right do I have to have an opinion (negative) or otherwise on how a family is structured? If the children in the family are OK (loved and safe), then as far as I am concerned it is all good.

I dont need to understand why soneone wants to live as they do in order to support their right to do so.

difficultpickle Fri 08-Mar-13 23:20:28

I still think it doesn't matter how open you are about why your child does not have a father in their life it won't change the fact that they are different from the majority of their peers. Very very few children want to stand out. Most want to be the same as their friends. If their friends have mummies and daddies and they don't, for whatever reason, they will feel different.

I think it is important for children to know that the life they live may not be the same as some of their friends. However that education should be done without judgment and that is the problem. Some people like to think their way is the only way and pass on those attitudes to their children who then demonstrate that in school in the comments and questions they say to those who are different from them. sad

Dromedary Fri 08-Mar-13 23:51:02

bisjo, out of interest, at what age do you find that children feel bad about not having a father because it makes them different from their friends? Teenage or earlier?
My DC1, age 10, sometimes comments on how her life is different, and so much more interesting, than the lives of her friends. For instance in that they all have technology (games etc) and she doesn't, and that means that she spends her time doing much more exciting stuff. The different family set up she is in doesn't bother her at all yet. This may change. My younger child is more aware of differences and I think it does bother her a bit, in a "the grass is greener" kind of way.

difficultpickle Sat 09-Mar-13 00:05:54

Way earlier. Ds has asked questions about his father since he was 2.5. He realised he was different from his school friends at the age of 4, he was quizzed and hurt by questions from the age of 5 and that continues. He is 8. He is incredibly mature for his age and appreciates that some children are curious to the point of rudeness and that is from ignorance or are simply parrotting what their parents say. Personally I find it hardest when dcs ask him questions and make comments in front of their parents and their parents say nothing when their children are being really unpleasant.

However the absolute worst are those parents who say things to their dcs about ds thinking their little darlings won't repeat it to ds (which of course they do). The majority of children are absolutely fine but ds did have a problem with a small core of children at his school and that was completely down to the attitude of his parents.

I've raised ds to appreciate that everyone is different and has different attitudes and that doesn't mean there is a right way or a wrong way to live your life. He has been exposed to spectacular privilege but also witnessed first hand (in Africa) immense poverty. He is growing up to be a caring and tolerant boy who thinks deeply and is incredibly caring. He is different to his friends and part of that may be because he has no contact with his father but I also think he would be different anyway, just the type of character he is. For whatever reason he is a child that people remember meeting and talking to.

Dromedary Sat 09-Mar-13 00:23:12

He sounds great - we certainly need more people who are different in a good way, think for themselves, etc. It's possible that your DS would find the family difference easier to cope with if he wasn't an only child - that may be a part explanation for why my 2 DCs are less bothered about being different. I also think that people we know have been more effective about talking behind our backs rather than to our faces, than those you describe. But I do think that there has been some prejudice (with people not stating the reason for it). It can help to make friends with others who are different in some way, or just have a different attitude from others and are not in a local clique. I've noticed that I tend to make friends with people from overseas, with less parochial viewpoints.

Kayano Sat 09-Mar-13 09:02:53

Don't wait for him to ask and just never mention a potential father figure to him. Be honest. I'm adopted and there were loads of books explaining different family set ups.

However we used them as well as from an early age (3) being told the truth about the situation. If you just tell him but then say you love him enough for two then he will be totally used to the idea and not get an unpleasant surprise when he is a bit older and realisation starts to dawn on him.

But I've never been in your a
Shoes, I just think if I hadn't grown up knowing the truth I would have probably been more disappointed when I realised and had to ask for myself. He will need to know his father is not a closed topic

TolliverGroat Sat 09-Mar-13 09:44:54

My great-aunt was a single parent in the 1950s. She raised her daughter alone and her daughter went on to marry and have two children who are now in their late 30s/40s. However, it was only last year when my great-aunt was eighty-eight years old that anyone asked her about her daughter's father, even down to what his name was. She'd been waiting for her daughter or grandchildren to raise the subject, while they'd been assuming that as she'd never brought it up it was something she didn't want to talk about. Eventually my mother (who knew that the granddaughter was curious) sat them down together, initiated the conversation and left them to it.

difficultpickle Sat 09-Mar-13 10:25:30

The one thing I have been careful to do is not give too many details to ds about his father. He knows his name and where he lives as it is on his birth certificate but other than that he doesn't know anything else. I don't want his father to become a real person to him as that will just make it harder on ds when he cannot see his father. Keeping as a somewhat empheral figure works better. What I have never done is lie to ds and I have always done my best to answer ds's questions honestly. What I also have never said to ds is tell him what his father called him the last time we spoke - "the non-aborted foetus". That was when ds was 5 and I was still in contact with his father and trying to encourage him to see ds.

The one positive is ds has friends whose parents are divorced, some acrimoniously so, so he understands that it is better not to have contact with his father than to experience his parents fighting through him as some of his friends have to deal with.

I think ds is pretty well adjusted all things considered.

IfNotNowThenWhen Sat 09-Mar-13 10:56:31

I think that children WILL ask questions about each others lives, from the age of 4 or so, and that is absolutely fine.
Obvs, if a child is being actually rude, they need to be be pulled up on it, but simple curiosity is fine.

It's good to let children know that all families are different, just like it's good to let them know that people come in different shapes and sizes etc .

However, in your case OP, I do think that it's you who are feeling a little sensitive on the subject of your ds's dad, and are understandably worrying about him feeling different.

I agree with Kewcumber in that it is your responsibility to talk it through with him, and find out if he has any questions. Also, to make sure he knows that he can ask you anything at any time.
What you don't want, is to build his fatherless state into a big thing, something he senses he should be ashamed of.
I am very casual with my ds about the fact that his dad doesn't live with us, and doesn't see him much.
It's just how it is. When he was small, if he encountered a dad at a friends house, he always assumed they were visiting! When he started school, and realised most kids live with their dads, he did feel a bit strange about it, but again, I am very matter of fact, and don't make the <sadface> when we discuss other family set ups, and our own.
I used to feel a bit uncomfortable meeting other school mum's etc , being the ONLY singleton in ds's class, but the better I have got to know them, the more I can see that a "normal" set up can be quite strange too!

Sorry, rambling, but do you see what I am saying?
Yes, it's nice when parents teach tolerance, but you have to be comfortable in your own skin, and your own little family. Then ds will feel comfortable too, and it won't matter what anyone else thinks.

Happymum22 Sat 09-Mar-13 12:15:45

My DC's father left me when they were 2, 7, 10 and 15, he saw them infrequently and had a particularly bad relationship with the older two. Even the eldest two used to get comments like that. DD10 came home in tears one day as they were doing a DT project which involved making a mini fairground ride. Something needed screwing together and the teacher suggested one of their dads could help them that night. Another girl persistently had told DD 'Can't your dad do it' 'Why not?' 'You must be lying you can't just not see your dad' and then this girl got in a strop with DD. I had helped my DC learn how to explain to others their situation.

The number of other incidents like this was huge and it really upset my DC however much I tried to explain some families are different and so their DC find it hard to understand. When DC are young, I agree, they can say silly things however much their parents reinforce about differences. But by aged 8 I'd expect DC to really understand.

DS had a teacher when he was in sixth form, I couldn't attend parents evening (I was a teacher at the time and had to attend a parents evening at my own school) and so DS told her. She said 'can't your father attend' DS explained his father never sees him and lives far away. She came back with 'Oh, i'd still think he could come or your mother would manage to organise her commitments bettwe. never mind.' DS was furious and took it upon himself to speak to the headmaster about the teachers insensitivity.

IfNotNowThenWhen Sat 09-Mar-13 16:17:46

Jesus happymum. Depressing to hear some teachers can still be so insensitive. Good for your ds though [ds]

IfNotNowThenWhen Sat 09-Mar-13 16:18:38

That was meant to be smile

<was temporarily distracted!>

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