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How do you explain to a child that their father is absent by choice?(47 Posts)
I have two teenage daughters with my ex-husband, and a two year old son with my ex partner. My son's father left us suddenly when he was five months old and has had minimal contact with him since. We were in a long-term relationship, and my son was planned, FWIW.
I could give countless examples of how he has completely neglected his son (including when he refused to come and stay with him when I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance and later required surgery), leaving my then-17 year old daughter to care for my son and miss out on important exams until my sister could make the three hour drive to look after him, but sadly, it's simply a case of him having no interest in being a father to his son. No birthday cards or gifts, didn't contribute anything until I applied for child support, never asks me about how he is, for pictures of him, anything at all.
I have a partner now who I've been seeing for about a year. He is an absolutely wonderful man who is brilliant with all of my children and has taken on the role of father to my son, who adores him and calls him 'daddy'. My partner has been there for all of the hard stuff, the night wakings, the appointments, he's there whenever my son is sick, gets him (and us) anything he needs, does housework, washing, shopping, you name it. He's also been there for all the amazing things too; my son learning to talk, sing, count, recognise colours and shapes, the hugs, the kisses, the games, the cuteness and the endless love. He's awesome with my daughters as well and I honestly can't picture my life without him in it.
My question is: how do you actually explain to a child that their father chose to not be a part of their life? When my son is old enough to realise that his 'daddy' and his bio father are not the same person, how do I explain? He didn't die, or get sick, or have to leave the country, or anything similar, he just can't be bothered. I honestly think about this sometimes and can't fathom what I will say. To complicate things further, I have a fabulous relationship with my ex partner's sister and father (my son's aunty and grandfather), and they spend a lot of time with us. So eventually my son will realise that they've made a choice to love him and engage with him, but his own father hasn't.
I would love to hear how you navigated this if you have had a similar experience. My ex-husband and I have a fantastic and very positive relationship, and he's always been a very hands-on father to our daughters, so I've never had to contend with a situation like this. I know my son is only two, but I want to be prepared for the day when he starts asking questions, or understanding that his family unit is different to other people's.
I can't bear the thought of him feeling unloved or unwanted, but I don't want to lie to him either. Any advice would be appreciated
Tell him some men are not very good at being daddies, even though they are biologically fathers, and some men are very good daddies even to children they aren’t biologically related too
If I was in your situation, I'd wait until he was older and had more of an understanding about relationships
@ArriettyJones that's very true! Not too specific, either! Thank you
@debrasmith yes, I'll be waiting until he can comprehend what I'm saying. He's far too little now to understand
It’s a bit early and it really depends on what you mean by minimal contact.
The actual issue for me is the new partner of a year being called daddy. It’s not a very long relationship. Whilst it’s up to you most people would be only cautiously introducing new partners after a year. Then it would be as a partner not a parent.
Just make sure your son knows this is all about his bio father and not about your son. The bio father has made a choice not to be part of his life because he could not prioritize his son. It's very, very sad but it's not your son's fault.
For what it is worth my son has two bio parents, (I'm his adoptive mum) and they could't priorities him so they are not parenting him now.
Rather than waiting until he is old enough to understand, I'd simply make it a reality of life now that the man he calls daddy chose to be in his life and his birth father didn't. That way there will not be a massive shock when he is older. It must always be in age appropriate language. This is what we are told in adoption circles. The truth in age appropriate language.
He just needs to know he is loved, and very much lovable. It's a shame his birth father has chosen not to be involved but I think being honest is best.
He has effectively got two fathers, a birth father who isn't involved and step dad who is. But as you and your partner have not been together very long his primary relationship will be with you and his sisters.
Thank you for the responses. To clarify further, my son actually started to call my partner 'daddy' without any prompting or encouragement from us. He had only just turned one when our relationship began. We have been in a relationship for a year but have known each other much longer as friends.
I agree with PP- be very careful. It's lovely now, but a year into a relationship is not very long and if the relationship breaks down he may well never see the man he knows as daddy again.
I completely agree with Italian Greyhound. It’s best to explain to him as early as possible that he has another daddy who helped to make him who didn’t know how to be a daddy. He may not fully understand at a very young age but he will realise as he gets older. He does not need to be told that his bio father chose to abandon him because that is likely to leave him with a sense of rejection. Your new partner sounds great with him but to get him playing such a huge role in your son’s life in such a short space of time is way too soon.
Not sure how your son would start to call him daddy independently if nobody else is doing the same in your household . I assume his older siblings haven’t been? And even so, he could’ve been corrected.
I also agree you’re in very dangerous territory, for your son to be referring to your boyfriend as his father after only a year, is concerning for him, he should be calling him by his first name.
A year isn’t long, it’s still honey moon period. You’re talking like this relationship is for life. As you already know, relationships break down.
I think I’d start correcting my son now, because if this relationship goes wrong it could be deeply damaging for your son. That would be two daddies. What if it goes wrong and then you meet someone else, how many daddies can he have?
Address your concern in a few years, firstly calm your engines and start making it clear to your son that he needs to call your boyfriend by his name.
I'm in agreement about calling DP daddy. That's setting DS up for something utterly horrific. And having your bio dad not want you (which he will realise it as at some point) is horrific. Having the man you call Daddy disappear compounds that to an unimaginably awful degree.
As you say DS is still v small. Correct him when he calls DP daddy. Tell him his name. It's not like he's hearing anybody else call DPDaddy so it shouldn't be hard. Don't have to make a big deal about it. He says Daddy, you say John? You mean John? Ok. Same as if he called a ball a cat.
Then for his bio dad, I agree about getting it in as early as possible so it's never a shock. Because that shock is a mixture of loss and rejection and painful. Those feelings may always surface, but family is a very wide context so having you and his sisters listed as his family would be fine. Then DP can be in same category as aunt or uncles or friend, for now.
Btw saying that your relationship with DP may not end isn't to be critical. It's because none of us knows what is going to happen. If he was going to marry you and adopt DS that would be entirely different (not sure if he could adopt him anyway but as an example to compare). That you guys have been friends for years is a massive advantage, but it's not the same being friends as in a committed relationship with commitments and dependants and living together. It's nice that DS loves him and that DP sounds amazing, but you need to ring fence your DS's emotions. His dad disappearing is something he will have to grapple with one day and you want to put as little on that plate as possible.
You quite simply don't he'll figure it out when he's older DO NOT bad mouth the bio dad it will not work out well for you ! You simply say as mentioned above he has another daddy that helped make him
You simply say as mentioned above he has another daddy that helped make him
Christ don’t say that, the questions that will lead to don’t bear thinking about. And he doesn’t have another daddy that helped make him and her boyfriend is not his daddy nor should he be referred to as such after a year.
I would be very cautious about your relationship, a year is early days. You risk another trauma to your kids if it breaks down.
I would correct your son and use your partner's first name.
I’d wait until he’s older and shows interest himself. Ensure he knows he has a biological father but don’t make a big deal out of it.
When he’s older tell him that his biological father wasn’t grown up enough to cope with being a parent, that it was nothing DS did wrong. Be honest without being disparaging.
Does your son know that Daddy isn't his bio daddy?
You should correct him now. You should've corrected him before. He shouldn't be calling your current dp daddy!
My father isn't my daddy. My father left ehen I was four and my sister was 6 months. My daddy has been around since I was 5. I don't remember him not being there. My parents told us nothing about it until I was 17 and my sister was 14 because that was when my father had a breif fit of conscience. That was horrible.... finding out half way thru a levels.
Fast forward to now.... my daughter and I have been without ger father since she was 8 months old. I met someone new when she was 2ish. Because he has his own boys we've been very careful about what she calls my oh. She went thru a stage of calling him daddy but we corrected her. So aged 2 and a half she came to her own conclusion she doesn't have a daddy... just a mummy and my OH. Her father bothers about 3 times a year. She thinks he's a friend for now.
Regards how to do tell her... don't do what happened to me. For us its a staged process. For now as she goes to school and learns shes been asking questions about family and babies. We have got as far as once mummy loved someone else enough to have a baby. But that person doesn't see us much by their choice. She hasn't connected all the dots yet... but by doing it at her pace its pitched at her level. Its staged... and I answer her questions truthfully and factually. Shes perfectly happy. Not upset and accepts it as it is. This is the right way for us.
Do it at his pace.... he will ask you but please be open and honest with him early. The other way round was not ideal.
I’m in the same situation op, 4 kids with ex. But he doesn’t seem them through his own choice, hasn’t done in about 3 years. I asked for advice and people said to say that maybe he will explain when they are older why he doesn’t see them. So that’s what I’m going to go with. I’m not going to try to justify it I will leave it up to him.
You have to be honest.
My father left when I was two years old and my brother a baby. He was having an affair. He was a policeman. He ended up marrying the woman he had an affair with, and had two new children. He completely abandoned us, no contact, it was like we didn't exist. It's still like that, he left my mum with nothing and forgot all about us.
I have never been able to understand how anyone can do that, but he did.
There was no easy way to tell anyone that, and we were never formally told, it's just when you grow up without your dad and hear stories from others about how his new wife and kids are doing, you figure it out.
I reached out to him once. He told me to go away.
So you can't sugar coat this stuff. You just have to be honest and let them know their father is trash.
Just be honest. Don't make excuses for him. Its not bad mouthing its simply truth.
I also think its perfectly fine to call a step dad dad if they are the ones fulfilling the actual role. In my book the title Dad comes with responsibilities and if the bio father doesn't live up to them then he has no right to be called it.
I'd caution after only a year though. That's far too early.
I've never made a big deal out of it.
I've always left the door open for my son's father to be a part of his life, I have always facilitated a relationship, in some case extreme measures (actually taking his father in and giving him somewhere to live). I can't say whether or not I have done the best thing, as my son definitely feels the loss of his dad when he chooses to bow out of his life, but he's always happy when he comes back and he looks forward to it.
Now this happens for months at a time. He will not see or hear from his dad, and he has asked why he isn't available for him. I have explained, in terms suitable for a 5/6/7 year old, that his dad is taking care of himself at the time.
I'm leaving it up for my son and his dad to face when he is of an age to realise.
The door is open, I can't ever be accused of preventing a relationship. I don't trash his dad to him. I'm leaving it for the future.
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