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Absent Father - how do you explain to a 5 year old?

(38 Posts)
Scoobsmam13 Sun 30-Mar-14 14:27:07

My DD is five and a half. Her father has been in and out of her life since we separated when she was 1. Before it has been for a few months here and there, but he has usually maintained some kind of contact. This time however, he saw her last four months ago (having seen her every weekend before that for a good few months) and hasn't been seen or heard from since. At first I said to her that he lived a long way away and it was difficult for him to come visit. I also said I thought his phone may be broken or lost, however she is a smart cookie and I know these excuses are no longer washing with her.

The door is always open to him if and when he makes contact, but I am sure for one reason and another this is going to be the way it always is for her with her dad, and that this time he won't be back any time soon.

I am conscious DD may be starting to think I am telling her fibs, but its hard to know how much of the truth I should tell her.
I would appreciate any tips and advice from anyone who may be going through this or indeed be on the other side of it with a child of a similar age.

Monetbyhimself Sun 30-Mar-14 20:33:37

Does she ask about him lots OP ? Does she get upset or is it more in a curious type way ?Is this pattern if erratic contact likely to continue or do you think he won't be back ?

starlight1234 Sun 30-Mar-14 20:47:28

My DS...I was honest and said I didn't understand what he was in touch but if he wanted to see his son it was something his Dad had to arrange ( it was far more complex than that but a very simplified version of what needed to happen)
He hasn't seen his dad in 3 years..It comes round like a revolving door ..I do my best to be honest with him...but not put his Dad down or make excuses for him... I do tell him that not all men are capable of been great dads but he is lucky as he has an amazing mum ( I am not that self confident or arrogant just want him to realise he isn't badly off) I avoided saying that because he is such a waste of space and incapable of thinking of anyone but himself...

I also thought it was important not to say he would never see him again but not give him false hope.

Scoobsmam13 Sun 30-Mar-14 22:15:11

She has stopped asking if she will see him, but keeps making up stories about places he has taken her and things they have done together which I know haven't happened. I think he has a form of depression which has been with him a long time and I don't ever see this changing. The periods of time absent get longer and longer so I don't really know if he will ever be back.
Thanks starlight1234, this was kind of the way forward I was thinking. Like you say I don't want to give false hope, but at the same time I don't want to crush her heart. She misses him so much (even though from what I understand he wasn't great at doing anything with her when she did see him).
It had crossed my mind to send her a card now and again and just put love dad on the bottom. Was this something you ever considered? Or perhaps thats opening a big can of worms?

Monetbyhimself Sun 30-Mar-14 23:00:34

Oh that's so hard sad

I think I'd avoid sending her cards pretending to be from him just in case it has repercussions in the future.

I found pastoral care at school really good when my kids were struggling. Might be worth asking them to keep a special eye on her especially around things like Fathers day etc.

Scoobsmam13 Sun 30-Mar-14 23:24:17

I know you are right. I feel like she is almost suffering a loss and am looking for ways to try and cheer her up and make her think maybe he is thinking of her (even though I am doubtful he is, he is good at blocking out emotions). I think it will probably backfire on me at some point.

Her school have been great. I hadn't heard of pastoral care, I am googling it now to find out more. Thank you!

summermovedon Mon 31-Mar-14 07:14:35

I would tell her age-appropriate truth and not make too many excuses for him. Let her know you don't know. It is true. And let her know that you love her more than the world, and that you are reliable, trustworthy, and always there for her. (obviously not in a slagging him off way). I would also help her work through her feelings gently and let her know they are normal and ok to feel them. And then at 5 I would distract her by going to asda and picking out a kids magazine or small toy, because her dwelling on all the above is not good either.

Scoobsmam13 Mon 31-Mar-14 10:38:55

Thanks summermovedon - I do find distraction still works at her age, thank goodness!!
We are very close and she does say to me when she is missing him and she feels sad. Its just horrible when she asks if he doesn't love her anymore, or if she has made him cross, or if he just doesn't want to see her sad

cestlavielife Mon 31-Mar-14 12:48:39

tell the truth say "I don't know" .

don't make up cards from him etc, that is wrong.
he isn't santa or the tooth fairy...

if he has a mental illness you can explain that in a simple way.

if it gets to impact on her daily life you can ask for help via gp eg play therapy.

starlight1234 Mon 31-Mar-14 21:33:19

No cards are a way they have to grieve for the loss of the parent ... no matter how painful it is..

My Ds found DVD a few months ago which had his name on it and wanted to watch it..I warned him it had Daddy on it but he could watch it with me if he wanted to... he said shall we say booo when we see him... I said he could have whatever feelings he wanted and I had my feelings...

Some children need more information than others...My DS I have had to give more and more as he has got older...I can see one day I have to sit down and tell him it all but he is 6 at the mo and doesn't need that info to deal with.

I have constantly told him each time he has asked it isn't his fault and nothing he did ..he reached the point where he rolled his eyes and said I know its not my fault...

I think if she feels sad..let her be sad for a bit then go and do something fun... I think that natural thing is to want to protect her but this is something you can't control.

For my Ds one of the difficult things has been when other children ask..We have now agreed that he says he doesn't know and he is happy with that..

Scoobsmam13 Mon 31-Mar-14 21:52:42

Thats really helpful starlight!
The card idea was a passing thought. If I had been sure about it I would have done it so something was telling me not to. You are so right, I can't control it, or how she feels about it. We are not quite at the stage where she is being asked by other children, although I am sure it is round the corner.
Im new to this site, only signed up yesterday. I wish I had done it ages ago. Friends and family are a great support, but none of them are in the same situation.

Meglet Mon 31-Mar-14 23:18:30

We've never had the problem of XP coming and going (he went 5yrs ago) but I've explained to the DC's that some grown ups aren't very good at being in a family and decide they don't want to do all the things family do. They also know XP 'was a bit grumpy', which is a huge understatement because I had the police involved. He never sends cards but they do know he pays money every month. And they have a photo of him holding them as a baby in their rooms. So while he is very much gone (and for safetys sake I hope he never appears again), I still speak about him honestly and answer questions (they know his name, what he does for a living) but I haven't sugar coated it.

Make sure school know what is going on. They will have seen it before and hopefully be able to support her too.

MexicanSpringtime Tue 01-Apr-14 06:46:16

Yes, you don't have to knock him down, but don't for heavens sake, build him up.
I was a single parent from the start but found that when her father visited I was making too much of a fuss and she was seeing him as really special. So I decided to be a bit more honest and cool about it. My daughter is nearly thirty now and has a good relationship with her dad, but because she knows all his limitations and as an adult decided to enjoy what he has to offer without expecting more.

mypussyiscalledCaramel Tue 01-Apr-14 09:03:16

My xh stated in the divorce that he wanted nothing to do with our D's because it was too emotionally draining.

My D's was 3 then, he is now 8. One year in school they made fathers day cards, he made his for his big brother.

Over the years he has asked me about his dad and I have never lied to him, but told him age appropriate truth.

Last week he asked me why his dad left. I told him it was me who left and the reasons why. It has clearly sunk in because he randomly mentioned his dad to his grandma and said something along the lines of, I don't like my dad because....

It's not easy for me to sugar coat his dad, he was abusive and had also had 7 other kids and 2 ex wives who he chose to ignore.

Unfortunately, of late, I have referred to his Dad as an arse, because he is missing so much of our son.

Scoobsmam13 Tue 01-Apr-14 16:08:44

I really appreciate hearing everyones past experiences. I don't know why I was so unprepared for her questions, its really not that much of a shock that XH isn't around.

Meglet I think saying some grown ups aren't good at being in a family is one i will keep in mind for when i am asked again. And I think you are right mexicanspringtime, I REALLY don't want to build him up and think i may have been at danger of doing that to say what she wanted to hear rather than what she needs to know.
XH also sees my DD as "emotionally draining" as he certainly used that term in the past. I am not sure how 5 hours a week can be emotionally draining??? but hey ho.

DD has been ill the past weekend and yesterday. The last few times she has been poorly she would ask for him, she hasn't once mentioned his name probably a week now. He too is most certainly an arse!

Thanks guys! smile

sezamcgregor Wed 02-Apr-14 13:00:20

I've also never had XP in our lives, but have had a good conversation with DS and explained that when I found out I was PG, XP and I had a chat about it and he said (I forget how I worded it now) but that he was too busy to have a baby and things that he wanted to do, places he wanted to go etc. but I really wanted my darling DS and so we decided that he'd go and have his fantastic, fun, (responsibility free) life, and I'd have the baby by myself - and isn't it SO cool is just being us two.

It comes in waves that he asks questions about his dad, and because I haven't contacted XP about DS since said conversation/row it's going to be like Pandora's box when he does eventually want to know who he is.

I find being DS's mum very challenging sometimes and write DS letters which I seal and put in his drawer of stuff for when he's older explaining what's going on, what's a challenge, what's great etc and hopefully give him a better understanding when he's older of what it was like making the choice to be a single parent without XP around and just how much I adore him at the same time.

It's always hard knowing what to do for the best.

If you speak to your XP, why don't you ask him for a reason to give to your child? Not being angry or mad at him, but just say "when they ask, what shall I say?" OR "if you can't/don't want to see DC, could you write/email/text instead?"

Posts like yours is one of the reasons why I haven't been in touch with my XP.

Smokinmirrors Wed 02-Apr-14 13:44:32

I don't sugar-coat either. Ds first asked about where is daddy, when he was two - I was not expecting it at all and said 'he ran away'. Which he did.

Not sure that was the best thing to say. A couple of years later he asked if daddy ran away very fast 'like this..' then he ran across the room really fast. Lol. I explained a bit more - no, he drove my car up to London and caught a plane and didn't come back.

I explain now (he's 6) that daddy was a silly man and didn't want to be a dad as he wanted to do other things, but that when he left he DID know that I would do a very good job of being his mummy and that he knew I could love ds enough for both of us (me and x i mean)

Ds and I often have chats. We snuggle under a blanket and talk about things. He says he thinks about his dad quite a lot. I say that's fine and it's not surprising, and if he has anything to ask me, then he can and I will tell him.

He doesn't have a very high opinion of his father though does want to see some good in him - eg, when I repeated the other day that Xh knew I would look after ds very well on my own and love him enough for us both, ds said 'well that was quite kind of him really'


It's very hard. Ds would love to have a dad. It's hard as we live in a tiny rural place and most of his mates have married parents who are together.

I also remind him that families are all different - some little boys have a dad but no mum, other have a dad and mum who don't live together, others have no mum or dad (orphans in africa etc)

I have made a big 'Dad Box' to show him when he's old enough. Containing love letters, photos, pictures of Xh holding him as a baby etc.

I don't know where his dad is now. He pays nothing, never has. I hope he never returns and have to say I would be upset and concerned if ds wanted to find him one day. But I wouldn't stop him. I would help, but he would have to know the full truth about his father if he did.

starlight1234 Wed 02-Apr-14 23:33:40 are doing far better than me...I have saved mental health letters and letters from the court saying he withdrew and a cafcass report slating him hmm

Lioninthesun Thu 03-Apr-14 00:07:35

Reading this thread with interest as DD (2.8) has just started asking why she 'doesn't have a daddy' over the last 2 weeks. Also a Grandma but she at least has the valid excuse that she is 6ft under as to why she has no contact . It's also taken me by surprise and has come on top of a house move, potty training, dummy removal and a recent trip to A&E (she asked the Dr if he was her daddy blush). I feel completely drained but think I held it well by saying 'Daddy has gone but he works very hard in London and loves you very much. Would you like to see some photos of him?' sadly when she did she kept saying "Yes please! I'd like see Daddy now, pleeease?" which broke my heart and I had to distract her before I cried. I hated him at that moment for not giving a shit about her over the last 2 years. I almost want to contact him just to tell him she is hurting, but know it isn't worth opening that door. His new g.f would think it was a ploy and stomp on it and he probably doesn't want to know anyway. I need to stop being bitter about it, but it is hard!

Lioninthesun Thu 03-Apr-14 00:10:56

Starlight I spent yesterday re-reading emails between myself and ex's mum. It reminded me how much crap he put me through and why we are so much better alone. I do think they are worth keeping, but am not sure when (if ever) it is a good time to divulge. I don't want to sugar coat it either, but I don't want her to feel damaged in any way more than she has to, by knowing what an arse her father was (half of her genes). My mum had huge issues with my dad and I was constantly told everything I did badly/wrong was because of my being his daughter...

Lioninthesun Thu 03-Apr-14 00:14:41

Sorry to post again but am also wondering if I should still be saying 'Daddy loves you very much' when in reality he hasn't bothered at all since she was 6mo and has instead actively attempted to get out of her life by trying to fool CSA no less than 5 times since then (most recent failed DD's Jan-Mar) despite living in London and earning a great wage. It felt like the right thing to say, but perhaps is more damaging seeing as he will probably never say it himself?

Poll32 Thu 03-Apr-14 05:01:04

I am going through the same thing and was about to start a thread, but I see one has started.
My son is coming up for 4 and hasn't seen his dad for 6 months. He saw him 4 times over a 3 month period and prior to that there was a 14 month gap! My son has been asking a lot of questions so I told him he was in Africa (true, but don't know if he is back) which is why XP can't visit. He has a present from XP which he cherishes so I know he misses him or misses the idea of him. He hadn't asked me lately, but he always plays games and ether is always a 'daddy'.
I contacted his father recently and got a Skype address from him, but as yet a Skype conversation hasn't taken place. Could you Skype your XH? Does anyone else do that? I don't if it's a good idea or not. I know it will wind me up! XP is married now and they have a son together.... I'm not sure if I've given you any advice, but I understand -it's difficult to know what to do for the best. I don't want my son to be hurt and I don't want him resenting me either. My son's behaviour towards me is awful, but I'm hoping that's just his age.

sezamcgregor Thu 03-Apr-14 08:46:08

Typical - after posting on here yesterday, I overheard DS telling a child at swimming that he doesn't have a daddy because he didn't want him when he was a baby hmm

Another talk is needed methinks!

He says that he really wants a dad - it's difficult as I don't really have many positive male role models around and apparently, I should have at least one.

Lioninthesun - My mum also used to vent by telling me all of the (very nasty) things my dad put her through. Thing was that I heard it so much and from such a young age, I didn't understand properly (or care!) about what it meant until I had my DS at 21.

Poll32 - My DS has had a lot of challenging behaviour - my local SureStart was (and still is) a BIG help. They've helped get a lot of things put in place at school. I'm also due to go on a Positive Parenting course - I'm staying optimistic!

starlight1234 Thu 03-Apr-14 12:17:36

Lioninthesun - I have not told my son his Daddy loves him...My struggle with it likely one day he will be a daddy.. so I don't want to think that this is how you behave to a child you love... We have gone through him telling people I don't see my daddy because he doesn't care about me...We have spoke about we don't know what he thinks and helped him come up with an answer for other people.

I also don't know if I will ever show my son the information I have..It depends what he needs to known when he reaches an appropriate age.... He actually wants a black and white answer and I can't give him I will say I don't understand why..

I do tell him we were in temporary accommodation for a while...I don't tell him it was a refuge but if it ever comes to telling him that info he should understand I haven't lied simply not gone into detail.

I find this is a recurrent conversation we need to have at every stage of development.

cestlavielife Thu 03-Apr-14 12:29:34

no you cannot tell your child what the father thinks if you do not know what he thinks - you are not in his dad's head.... only his dad can tell him/show him that he loves him.
how can you possibly know if his dad "loves" him? unless there is clear evidence ..... and what that actually means if he does say it? my exp says he "loves" his daughter yet he doesn't respect her space or age (she is 14 now) and has no concept of understanding why she wont see him... "but I love her!" is his is more than just saying it....

has the dad said that? even if he does - how does he show it? if someone says well I love you/him - what does that mean exactly?

don't say it or if he asks say "I don't know" honestly or ask him back - "how would you know if someone loved you?"
how do people show that they love someone?

if you say "I love fishfingers" what does that mean? if you say "I love mum" what does that mean?
does it have to be shown by someone saying it?
can it be shown in other ways?

let him talk and process in his own way.
read story books, comment, etc. play with dolls, let him tell you the story of how he sees dads and mums, let him draw family tree.

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