What to tell my 5 year old about why her father isn't in her life

G - posted on 11/17/2014 ( 10 moms have responded )

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My ex husband and I split up when my daughter was only 4 months old (he was traveling overseas and found someone else). With that said, he decided to marry her and live overseas never to return to see his child. He also cut off all contact and never asked about our daughter. She's now 5 1/2 and of course never remembers having a father. While helping with a thanksgiving school project the other day she started to cry saying how come she doesn't have a dad to be thankful for during the holiday. It broke my heart to see her cry and so emotional and ask why every kid in school has a dad and she doesnt. What is the best answer considering her age? I dont want to lie to her either, just how do you explain that he chose to run away from our life?
thanks, G.

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Guest - posted on 11/17/2014

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Not every child has a mom and a dad. I didn't have a mom, so I know how it feels.

First off, do NOT tell her that her father chose to run away from your lives! That will make her think that SHE is the one who isn't good enough to earn his love, or that it is somehow HER fault that he left. No matter how you word it, no matter how many times or ways you tell her that it wasn't her fault, or that she deserves his love, she will always believe, deep down in her heart that the reason he chooses not to be with her is because of some flaw in her character, that she is somehow "not good enough" to be loved by her father. Don't do that to her.

Instead, focus on what she does have. Explain to her that not every child has both parents, and some children do not have any parents at all. There are all types of families--some with only one mom or only one dad, some with a mom and a dad, some with two moms and no dads, others with two dads and no moms, and even some with two moms and two dads (step parents, not polygamy!).

In this case, the WHY isn't really important, because the only reason you need to know WHY something is, is so that you can change it in the future, but you can't change this, you and she just have to accept it and find a way to be happy in the situation you are in. Don't focus on the fact that he left, just focus on the fact that you are together.

That said, you do need to speak to him soon and legally establish the boundaries of their relationship. If he wants nothing to do with her, and you are okay with that, you need to make sure he signs away his parental rights so that he doesn't just decide to show up out of the blue one day. If he does want a relationship with her, you can speak with him about what HE thinks you should tell her about why he left, but avoid trying to force a relationship between them because if he doesn't keep up his end--and most people who run don't--he'll just hurt her. Unfortunately, until he signs his rights away, he does have the right to see and communicate with her whenever he chooses....and the time he chooses might not be good for her.

Sarah - posted on 12/11/2014

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Be very cautious because you are dealing with a 5 year old child no matter how smart mature you think she is she is still 5 years old. Easy on reading all the parenting books because over 50% of the authors do not have kids of their own. Right now she needs a positive male role model in her life(uncle, grandfather, trusted male family friend) because she first needs to see what a good dad is and how a dad should act that is worthy of being thanked to be a dad.

Sarah - posted on 11/17/2014

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In the mean time, even though he was clear to you that he wanted no contact with you or his child, you don't know if he may change his mind. You can pursue terminating his rights to her legally on the grounds of abandonment. The only reason I suggest this is just in case he does pop up, you have control of the situation. He does not have to be notified. It can all be done with him in absentia.
She does have a father but sadly he chose not to parent. However, she has a mother who loves her very much. Kids are unkind to each other and will be quick to pick on differences. The more you can do to build her confidence and reassure her how much she is cherished, the easier it will be for her to handle any questions.

Michelle - posted on 11/17/2014

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best thing is never lie, she is 5, don't go into big detail though... simply tell her she has a dad, but daddy decided to work far away. always make sure she knows she is loved and that it is not her fault... I am a divorced parent with a 4 and 7 year old girls... the baby doesn't remember her father and I living together but the older one does... she used to ask me why cant you two say sorry... its been 3 years now and I still struggle with the fact that they both want their father at home... I simply tell them that mommy and daddy just didn't get along and we couldn't be together anymore...

Guest - posted on 11/17/2014

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I see. If he left no contact info, I agree that you should not pursue him for the legal matters because doing so might inadvertently make him want to see her--and you don't want that. So for now, just leave him a lone and hope he doesn't show....he probably never will.

You can tell her that he isn't a part of your lives. You do not need to tell her WHY he isn't a part of your lives. You can just tell her that you do not know why she doesn't have a father. Do not say you don't know why he left, only that you do not know why he isn't here, because you do not want to tell her that he left at all, just that he isn't here.

Not all missing parents are missing because they left. Tell her that families are all different, and the best configuration for your family is just mom and daughter. Tell her some families need dads, and they are great for those families, but yours doesn't need one. If you have some good men involved in her life--uncles, grandparents, male friends, etc. point them out and describe the ways they fill the role a father would usually fill in her life. This will show her that she isn't missing anything, she just has several men filling the role one father would have filled. If you don't have any men in her life, ask her what kinds of things she thinks a father would do for her, what would he bring to your family? Then explain how you already do those things, or make an effort to do things that she thinks dads would do with her.

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Raye - posted on 11/18/2014

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Maybe take a look at 'The Family Book' by Todd Parr. It's written for very young kids.

I agree with the other posters who say to explain that there are a lot of different types of families, and point out that there's nothing missing by him not being there. Don't seem sad about it, just be matter of fact, and she will feel that it's just the way it is.

My father had kids by 3 different women (back in the 70's), and didn't want anything to do with any of them after his divorces. My mom never said much about my dad, never made me feel like I was missing out by not having him around. My Grandfather was a positive influence in my life. And I came to terms with my dad being gone. I don't feel like I needed him, and I don't need him now.

But, my half sister, raised by her mom and abusive step-father, still seeks approval, or validation, or some kind of relationship with our dad. He's been so mean to her so many times through the years, but she still tries and keeps getting her heart broken. I know she was brought up in different circumstances, but it's still hard for me to understand how she can still be so hung up on the man that doesn't care about us. Yeah, he's our dad, but he was never a father.

I was 6 when my parents divorced, and I think my half sister was 5 and brother was 7 when he left them. My oldest half brother I've never known and I don't think he ever knew our dad. I would think it would be easier, having never known him. For your daughter, it really depends on her having healthy relationships with you and others in her family. If she has that, she'll be just fine.

Dove - posted on 11/17/2014

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Definitely never, ever lie to your kid about her father. Fact is... even though he left to be w/ another woman... you don't know WHY he wanted nothing to do w/ his daughter. Even if he gave you a reason... you aren't a mind reader, so you will never be totally positive.

Simply tell her that she HAS a father, but he made choices in life that caused him to live a far, far, far way away. Do you have a picture of him she can have? Does she know his name?

Then you focus on what she DOES have... an uncle that loves her very, very much, etc..

She doesn't need a lot of details, but she does need the truth. She'll figure the rest out in time.

G - posted on 11/17/2014

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I dint intend to tell her that he is a bad man- my only dilemma is that as she grows up I feel she needs to know the truth instead of simply saying I dont know why your father left. Of course he hurt us (especially me) a great deal and would never think he would decide to never even ask of his own child's well-being; however i dont intend to say such things to my daughter, at least not for a long time. I'm just concerned that she will somehow feel short of not being able to get an answer as to why there is no father in her life. I do have a brother who is a great figure to her, but she did mention that he is her uncle and not her father and that she wants a father like other kids have. This is the part that burdened me with what i could possibly say that wouldn't sound wrong. At the same time i read some pointers from specialists and they most say no to lie to your kids about missing parents. But of course i know i cant tell her the truth, not for her own good and self-esteem.

Guest - posted on 11/17/2014

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Eventually, she will grow up, and one day she will know that he left, and she will do some thinking on her own come to her own conclusion as to the WHY he left. You can influence her now, and sculpt the way she views the world so that when that day comes, she will decide that he left because that was the best thing for your family, for all three of you. You do not want her to decide that he left because she somehow fell short, or worse because he is a bad person, because if she decided he is a bad person, and she knows she is made up of parts of him, she will also decide that she is flawed just as he was. It is important for her self esteem that you paint him as a good man who needed to be somewhere else, not a bad man who left you alone with her.

G - posted on 11/17/2014

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To the last guest reply:

Thank you for your advice. The problem in this case is that the father moved overseas and didnt provide any contact info. After our divorce he made it clear he wanted no part of her life so i couldn't even ask him to waive his parental rights even if i wanted to since I have no info on his whereabouts. So I'm hoping he doesnt just appear one day in her life unexpectedly- until then, Im trying to figure out how to keep answering her questions about him especially at this young age. I would never tell her he didnt want her or that he left her, of course her self esteem is important to me. But on the other hand i want her to know the truth that he's just not part of our lives

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